We all know that homeschoolers are home a lot of the time, right? And being at home makes it harder to meet people. Being a homeschooler, even if you're not at home a lot, our educational choice does separate us from the rest of the world. We don't have jobs where we have colleagues. Our kids aren't in school where they interact with groups of other kids on a daily basis. It is up to us as homeschooling parents to seek out those opportunities for socialization.
In fact, I believe that an important part of our job as homeschoolers is to help our children find friends, a challenging job but worth the extra work. This task also comes with benefits, though, since we get to pick their friends and make sure they are the type of friends we want them to have. And if we facilitate good friendships when they're younger, when our children start picking their own friends, hopefully they'll make good choices because they already know what type of friend makes a good friend.
Of course, it's not just about our kids, we need mom friends, too. We need women with us who are walking or have walked this way and can be a sounding board or a companion, to help us realize we are not alone. It helps us gain valuable perspective when we have other homeschool moms around.
When my family is seeking new friendships, I find group activities to attend, get to know a few people, and if there seems to be somebody that has either kids with similar ages as mine or I've had a conversation with them where we click, then we have a play date or family gathering with that family. That time helps us decide if a closer friendship is something we want to pursue. It's awkward, and kind of like dating, but it works!
Going outside of our comfort zone this way is a step that we sometimes have to intentionally make for our kids, because they're not going to make friends unless we get out of the house. Sibling friendships are super important, but having friends outside of the home is an essential developmental skill that kids need to learn at some point and definitely needs to be prioritized as they get older.
In the years since we had our first child, we have lived in five different cities across the US. Each time, we have had to find new friends, and I've learned some keys to what works best for Catholic homeschooling families. So here are my five tips for finding friends.
- Join a homeschool group.
How do you find these groups? If you know someone who is homeschooling, ask them. If you don't know anyone who's homeschooling, it can be more challenging to find groups. Homeschooling groups tend to not advertise in any public way. And there is rarely a centralized directory because the groups are all grassroots. Search Google and Facebook and other places for your city and the word “homeschooling” to see what you find. Some states have homeschool directories, usually informal volunteer-compiled directories of groups.
For those new to homeschooling, a support group is generally a group that's going to do activities and get together periodically. A co-op is going to have regular classes for homeschoolers, and parents are either required to stay and help or teach or pay teachers for their time. So these are different, and it's good to visit both if you can to see what is the best fit for your family.
You might have a support group or co-op in your area. Maybe it's Catholic; maybe it's not. But find one, visit if you can, and see if it's a good fit for your family. In less populated areas, you might have to drive quite far to meet up, but it’s probably worth it. As Catholics, look at any Christian group carefully to make sure that their statement of faith is not contrary to our faith.
If you can’t find a group in your area, it's still possible that there is an informal or small group. To try to find them, I recommend going places during the day where there are likely to be homeschoolers. Go to the library or on an educational field trip during school hours, see who has school-age children, and muster up the courage to ask if they homeschool and know of any local support groups.
Ideally, you can find or create (more on that another time) a Catholic homeschool group near you. If that’s not possible, then joining a non-Catholic group might be a good idea in order to have a circle of friends and people you can relate to. Such relationships can definitely bless your family.
- Get involved at church.
Your kids’ friends don't have to be homeschooled. In my experience, you're more likely to find virtuous friends at your church with families that are actively involved. Try to connect with families whose children go to the Catholic school or those who go to public school but are involved in some significant way in parish life. Get to know the families at your parish by joining a ministry and/or attending gatherings.
The primary difficulty with making friends who are not homeschoolers is that your schedules are going to be backwards. You're going to have more availability during the day and they have no time until evenings and weekends. But putting in the effort to figure out that scheduling to make friends might be worth it.
- Find friends online.
If you can't find friends locally, online is a great way for women to make friends with other Catholic moms. I have met some amazing women online! I have personally enjoyed getting to know many people through Facebook, messaging, emails, etc. Connecting kids online is a little more challenging, of course, but some of the Catholic homeschooling programs have online classes and/or forums where building friendships is encouraged.
So consider getting involved in some of the positive social media spaces that have homeschooling or Catholicism or both, and look for those people who say something that resonates with you. Try chatting and connecting with them and see how that plays out.
- Start a homeschool group.
If you’re seeking other Catholic homeschooling families but can’t find them, consider posting somewhere either at your parish or a local homeschooling page of some kind: Hey, we're a Catholic family, and we'd love to get together at a local park to celebrate Mary's birthday! If you keep it simple and also include Catholicism, you're more likely to find the right people. Get on some local Facebook groups or email lists to spread the invitation. This works especially well if you know there are a few other families nearby, but they need a little nudge to get together.
Once you meet a few families 2-3 times, you might want to expand to more regular gatherings. The easiest thing for us has been to start park days. There was a huge park day for Catholic homeschoolers in one city where we lived. They met every week on the same day, at the same time, at the same park. The moms chatted and prayed and the kids played.
I have since created similar park groups in the subsequent two cities that I've lived because it's super flexible, super easy, and has been fabulous for my children and for me to have that to look forward to every week. After first Friday Mass is a great time to meet up at a nearby park to connect with other families. Park days are very flexible and don’t require any significant commitment from anyone. Then, when you find families that want a little more than just park days, you can discuss planning field trips or starting a co-op.
- Be open to differences.
I mentioned joining local home school groups that aren't Catholic. I talked about making Catholic friends at church or online. But one trap that I fall into very easily is --- I would really like to just have friends who are just like me because they understand me and their lives are just like mine.
But it has also been a huge blessing in my life to nurture close friendships with women who don't homeschool and/or are not Catholic. I have had to step out of my comfort zone to develop those relationships, and it has been a tremendous gift to expand my circle of friends. Through those women, I learn more about myself, and I am a better person. So I encourage you to be open to those people that maybe don't fit the cookie cutter mold of what you think your friendships should be.
With my children, I do go out of my way to be sure they have close friendships with other Catholic homeschoolers, so they feel understood and “normal.” But of course, they meet other children in some of their outside activities, and I help them navigate those friendships, too. I’m cautious to guide my children, both to protect their innocence and also because I don’t want others to be too confused when my kids casually talk about St. Michael the Archangel! It’s sometimes a tricky balance, but it’s essential to teach them to be open to differences in a developmentally appropriate way.
BONUS TIP – Pray for friends!
Most importantly, ask the Lord to bring the friends into your life that you and your children need. Pray for all of the homeschool groups in your area that exist or will eventually exist. Trust the Lord to show you where to go and who to meet, so you can build the community that will support you through your faith journey, homeschooling years, and beyond. In the times when my family has lacked friends, and I have prayed for God’s help, He has sent the most amazing people into our lives.
God sends us friends to be our firm support in the whirlpool of struggle. In the company of friends, we will find strength to attain our sublime ideal. St. Maximilian Kolbe
We need friends. Our children need friends. We are not meant to live in isolation, and making the effort to seek and be open to building relationships with others is key to our sanctification. So, it's definitely worth the effort!
Man becomes an image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. St. John Paul II