If you belong to any homeschooling groups on Facebook, or have a lot of homeschooling friends, you’ve probably seen this image floating around lately. It’s funny, partially because there is some truth to it. I know I met the woman whom I consider to be my best friend because we were both members of the same homeschooling group.
One thing I’ve noticed, among my homeschooling group at least, is that there seems to be an ease among homeschoolers, one exaggerated by the image above. Having homeschooling as a common bond between us, we do seem to connect with and quickly form friendships with other homeschooling families that we meet. We could speculate on the reasons behind this, but I’m no psychologist and I’m sure you aren’t either (well, okay, maybe you are, but the rest of us aren’t.).
I’ve met a lot of great people through homeschooling. I’ve met parents who’ve made me more relaxed in some areas, and stricter in others, from listening to and learning from them. I’ve met parents who’ve given me resources, ideas, guides and more that have helped me not only parent, but homeschool, more effectively. I’ve watched my kids meet other kids that they’ve clicked with and who help expand them beyond their comfort zone so that they try new things. I’ve seen them make friends, and I’ve also seen them realize that they don’t have to be friends with everyone and make their own determination as to whether or not they really want to be friends with someone.
In all of this, however, there’s been something else I noticed: the homeschooling community often seems very small. I’ve considered that this might be the result of where I live, and something fairly unique to my situation, but I don’t think it is – not if the wealth of Facebook groups, websites, books, and more that offer support, information, and community to the homeschooling community at large is any indication.
And the seeming smallness of the homeschooling community is what brings me to write today’s post. You see, something happened recently that has stunned many of us in my local homeschooling community. I won’t be using names in this post, as the individual responsible for this is entitled to innocence until proven guilty, and his family is entitled to their privacy. But it’s something I feel I need to talk about, and that all of us need to think about.
A family joined our homeschooling group roughly a year and a half ago, give or take a few months. Nice enough at first, I liked the wife and my kids clicked with hers. The husband made me uncomfortable from the very first time I met him, though I could never tell you exactly why. It wasn’t something that I could put a finger on, just a general feeling of unease around him. The closer his wife and I grew, and our kids grew, the more bothered I was by him. He seemed controlling, angry, and not very friendly. He would often get very angry when other people disagreed with him, and he would hold onto that anger for weeks.
As time passed, I began to feel a growing sense of discomfort with the wife, too. Again, like with her husband, it wasn’t something I could really point to at first. Eventually, I did began to see concrete things, such as when her children would do things that annoyed or hurt my children and she would ignore it or try to brush it off as no big deal, despite the fact that I, or my kids, thought it was a big deal.
I began to notice that she could hold a grudge much like her husband – going on about people who’d “betrayed” or angered her for weeks after, despite knowing that those people were friends of mine and that I didn’t want to get in the middle of it. She would lie, as well – little lies, mostly, but ones that were fairly obvious to me.
After some time, I began to realize that my discomfort around her had grown to such a degree that I never wanted to get together with her. Even talking to her online or by text had grown to be a burden, a weight that I never wanted to shoulder. My kids didn’t want to be friends with her kids anymore, and I decided it was best to create some real distance. The friendship ended earlier this year, and I felt the weight coming off my shoulders.
Last week, her husband was in the news locally, and probably not so locally, as well. I won’t get into great detail, but suffice it to say he was arrested after being found in the company of a teenage girl who had run away from home. She’d been gone for several weeks, presumably with him the entire time.
Not a lot of details have been released in the case yet – mostly we know that she was found safe, he was arrested and is being held on a huge bond that ensures he can’t bond out, and his wife has changed her name and marital status on Facebook since this all came out. All of this information combines to paint a picture that no parent ever wants to see.
This man was around my children. This man’s children wanted my children to spend the night at their house. This man was never alone with my children, but he could have been. And that is the thought that absolutely terrifies me.
The knowledge that a man like this was around my children, in our lives, and is capable of this, and I never knew. I didn’t know that he could, or would, do this.
But here’s the thing: I knew something wasn’t right. I couldn’t name the reason for my discomfort, but I was uncomfortable and I ignored it. I ignored it, and now I realize that choosing to ignore it could have put my children in a situation where I might never have been able to undo the damage that was done to them, had something happened.
What’s worse is that it’s not just him. I find myself wondering if my feeling of unease around his wife is because of this. I remember her claims of how close they were and how they did everything together, and I wonder: did she know he was doing this? Did she condone it, or even have her own role in it, despite the fact that she wasn’t with him? Or is she just an innocent victim? I don’t know, I won’t know, and that makes it even worse.
After this came out, some of us from the homeschooling group shared it. We began to share our thoughts and feelings not only on what he’s been arrested for, but also on him specifically – and the family in general. As it turns out, the general consensus among many of us is that we felt uncomfortable. Some even go so far as to say that they didn’t like them. But at a minimum, it seems that we almost all felt uneasy with him, and probably with the whole family.
Yet none of us ever said a word.
Which is what has me writing this today. I don’t think any of us could have stopped what happened. I don’t think any of us knew what he was capable of. I think, for all of us, it was that unnameable discomfort. But the question remains: what if one of us had spoken up?
What if just one of us had said, “Hey, you know, I can’t say why exactly, but I feel uncomfortable around him. Anyone else feel that way?” What might have happened then? Would we have all realized, much sooner, that we shared that feeling? Would we have done something at that point to remove his presence from our group? Would we have kept closer eyes on our children as they played with his children? How would things have been different when we saw his picture last week, connected to this teenager’s disappearance?
The fact that so many of us shared that same uncomfortable feeling about him, combined with his arrest, proves that the feeling was not unfounded. And that’s why I feel we all, everyone in the homeschooling community, needs a reminder that we can’t let our guard down just because the community seems so small and sometimes closeknit.
As single parents, we need to be even more vigilant. I still remember the movie Where the Heart Is, when Ashley Judd’s character was targeted by a child molester because she was a single parent. It happens – we’re one parent, with attention divided among everything that needs to be done. On top of that, some of us don’t have the other parent around, which can sometimes leave our kids craving that father (or mother) figure that isn’t there – despite our best attempts to be both. It can also be tempting, when we meet someone that we seem to connect with, to take them up on it when they offer, “You could use a break. I could take the kids to the park so you can have some time to yourself.”
I’m not suggesting that we become paranoid and be suspicious of everyone who steps into our lives, or who is already there (though I will confess to an immediate, and very intense, desire to background check everyone I know after learning about this man). But I am suggesting that we listen to that little voice inside our head that tells us something isn’t right, that someone isn’t right. Even if all that voice is doing is whispering, and you have to strain to hear it – listen to it.
It’s also important that we teach our children to listen to that voice – and that we listen to them when they tell us that someone makes them uncomfortable, even if we don’t get the same feeling. We should ask them what they think of people, especially if we’re feeling a little hinky. My kids told me, after we learned of all this last week, that they too felt uncomfortable around him – though they didn’t share the same feelings about his wife or his kids.
I also think it’s helpful, even if your kids are in their teens, to revisit the discussion about inappropriate touching. It might seem silly, but something apparently convinced this teenage girl that she should willingly go with a man nearly twenty years older than she is – that’s not something that most teens would do, in my opinion. I know I wouldn’t have. It would have seemed weird to me.
Trust your instincts. Talk to your kids. Talk to other parents. If you have a bad feeling about someone in your homeschooling group, talk to someone about it. You don’t have to make it a scene, nor do you have to talk to every member, but find one that you do trust, and see what they think. If it turns out your feeling is shared by even just one more parent, consider talking to the group’s leader. Even if it turns out that your feeling is unfounded, it’s better to have said something than to be sitting there at some point down the road, wondering if you could have stopped something bad from happening if you’d opened your mouth.