Saturday, February 27, 2010

All Kinds of Family

Like most people, I have many kinds of family in my life, and they all come with their own unique ties and connections. And as a homeschooling mom, family relationships are important to me- the good, the bad and the ugly of them.
My oldest group of family is, of course, the one that I was born into. Blood relatives are the lot of people in life you have no choice in being related to. I'm probably lucky that most of mine are people I don't mind choosing to spend time with. They are the ones who share my history, and helped make me who I am today. They have different versions of my childhood stories, and share with my children about where it is we came from. 

Some of my genetic family I didn't even meet until I was almost an adult myself. Interestingly, in some cases, we have more in common than people I have known my entire life. But, some of us are actually so radically different that I marvel at how the gene pool works. We may not all agree on politics, religion, education and other touchy subjects, but I've learned to appreciate the differences. There are certainly plenty of things to talk about and do that we can agree on when we're together rather than fighting about the things we'll never agree on.

I love that my children can know their huge extended family, and they too can wonder how on earth we can be related to all these people. We live close to a few grandparents and great grandparents, so they get that first hand dose of family history on a regular basis. Emails and letters keep them in touch with the other grandparents and aunts, uncles and cousins, and it's a great inspiration for the kids to write. It makes me laugh that when my daughter sends my father an email, she gets a reply in 20 minutes. When I send him one, it is more likely to be a month. Grandparents are like that, I guess.

I also have the group of family I married into. I don't know if people really think about the fact that they are not just marrying one person, but an entire family. Again, I'm pretty blessed. My mother in law is the opposite of the stereotype. She's about as hands on as a grandma can get, taking the kids on 8 mile bike rides, playing board games, and generally being happy to just hang out and play with them. Knowing that we are not morning people, if I have to be at an early morning meeting at work, she will drive out to our house to watch the kids so they don't have to get up early. Not only that, she also seems to leave a little spot of beauty behind in her wake whenever she has been out to out home. It might be kitchen counters or the dining room table or anyplace, but there is almost always some little space that has been cleaned and made beautiful and peaceful to look at. It's quite lovely to come home to. And if she judges my slacker style of housekeeping, she is pleasantly quiet about it, as she is about my parenting choices. I know when we decided not to send our kids to school, she was most likely a little worried, but I could tell she worked hard not to give us any grief about our choices. Now, she has seen what a great choice it has been, and seems behind it 100%.

My most precious family, of course, is the group I created when I had children. I am continually amazed at how much I love to hang out with these little people. Of course, they are the inspiration behind this life learning adventure we are on. The #1 reason I am committed to homeschooling is my family.

We are also blessed with our wonderful group of friends. They may not be related by blood, but some are like the family we got to choose for ourselves. Right before my oldest daughter was born, I was fortunate to connect with a group of other women who were also pregnant. We ran into each other after the babies were born at La Leche League meetings, and soon branched out to forming our own mom's group that met weekly for years. Although we have all made different choices educationally and otherwise for our kids, I have always valued having this group of other women around my children. I think the kids all got different things from each of the different mothers, and also gained a lot just growing up together. A few of us moved to different towns, but 12 years later, both the kids and the moms still keep in touch and get together on a regular basis. 
In the 7 years since we've lived in our current home, we've met another wonderful group of people who we treasure like family. It is one more fabulous thing about homeschooling- we get to hang out as entire families. My kids know my friends, and are in most cases friends with the kids of those friends, and vice versa. I trust my kids with their friends' parents because they are most likely friends of mine. I know they'll try to respect our parenting and lifestyle even in areas that don't match theirs, and I will do the same for them. In a time when so many families are separated for most of the day, and disconnected from each others lives, I am glad that we have this luxury of families that hang out together.

I think my kids benefit and learn from all the kinds of family in their lives. The connections and ties to these other people, by blood, by marriage, and by choice all give us different experiences, lessons, and sets of eyes to see the world through, and we gain new and different things from each of them.
Far from the isolated and anti social existence some people assume that all homeschoolers live with, our lifestyle gives us time to experience and enjoy the full range of rich relationships family has to offer.

(From an essay originally published in California Homeschooler Magazine in January 2010)