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Having grandparents be involved in our kids’ homeschooling experience is a wonderful blessing that not everyone has. In some cases, grandparents have passed away or are too ill to help. In other cases, grandparents live too far away for anything more than the occasional visit. Sometimes, grandparents are working hard 9-5 or have other legitimate, pressing obligations that consume their time, such as looking after their elderly parents. But, even when healthy, active, and otherwise-involved grandparents live minutes away, involvement in homeschooling is not guaranteed. Most often, this is due to a conflict of interests.
Over and over on the various homeschooling boards I am a part of, I read of meddling grandparents, objecting grandparents, or totally disinterested grandparents – all who disapprove of this unconventional family choice called homeschooling. It makes my heart sad. Because, I’ve also read of involved grandparents who make a concerted effort to be a part of their grandkids’ lives. There are stories of grandfolks who come once a week to listen to their grandkids read. Or have the grandkids over for a few hours to spend time baking, cooking or tinkering in the woodshop. Or make an effort to support the kids’ extra-curricular activities by coming to events and shows. These are the “including grandparents in homeschool” stories that speak of incredible moments of learning and depth of relationship that is beneficial for everyone involved.
How does a family move from the one extreme to the other? It’s not always possible, but there are steps one can take to try to create an environment where grandparents are welcomed to be a constructive and contributing part of the homeschooling that happens in your family. If you’re brand new to homeschooling and your folks and in-laws are still reeling at the news, here are a few thoughts on how to handle it:
1. Be gracious
While homeschooling is the fastest growing educational model in the world at the moment, it is still quite a foreign concept to many people. For most of us, it took a while of researching and consideration before we bought into it fully ourselves. Expecting grandparents and others who have never explored the option to buy in immediately is probably unrealistic and a little unfair. My suggestion? Expect opposition. Expect questions. Expect concern. Prepare for it. But prepare answers that are gracious and kind. Your kids are your children, but they’re also their grandchildren. Acknowledging their concern and showing appreciation for their interest in their grandkids’ well-being and future goes a long way. In this initial period, they may ask all sorts of incredulous questions or be antagonistic and confrontational. This is the time when you get to practice your self-control and grace in very real terms! To borrow from the “keep calm” meme – keep calm and keep being gracious!
2. Give them information
But not too much! Overwhelming them with websites and stats and studies and blog posts and … well, you can imagine how that may be counterproductive! When we first chose homeschooling, both sets of grandparents had their doubts and reservations. We gave them the book , Should I Homeschool? by Dan and Elizabeth Hamilton to read as it was the book that convinced my husband and me that this was a good option. It is an easy read, aims to be as balanced as possible and covers all the typical questions we all ask when first confronted with homeschooling. They weren’t all convinced, but they could see that we had not made the decision lightly.
3. Be firm
Sometimes grandparents overstep their boundaries, aiming to have more influence over the nuclear family than is healthy. If you find that your relationship requires some firm boundaries, be prepared to set them firmly, but kindly. Once I read of a family who said something like this: “We really appreciate your concern; it means so much to us to have grandparents who care. We know this seems like a very strange choice, but it’s a legal choice that we’ve made for our kids. We may well change that in future, but right now, after careful consideration, we’ve chosen this as the best route for our kids and our family. We hope that you’ll be able to be involved in supporting our decision, but if not, we ask that you give us and the kids the space to begin this journey without debate or opposition.”
4. Realize their loss
Grandparents of homeschooled children lose their “bragging rights,” so to speak. You know how it is when grandparents get together with their friends? The topic of conversation is often about the grandkids and what school they’re going to now, the awards they got in assembly, the sports teams they’ve made, the grades they’ve achieved. Grandparents of homeschooled kids come to the party with nothing to show, really. Certainly not in the early days. They also miss out on the grandparents’ days and the school plays and all those other things that are familiar to our school cultures. Add to that the kids are homeschooling, they have to try answer all the questions their contemporaries are asking – and that will be difficult when they’re not convinced themselves. Of course, they could get involved in helping with homeschooling and have all the relational rewards that go with that, but it’s quite an adjustment to their thinking and, in a sense, I think they deserve the space to mourn the loss of this expected grandparent role.
5. Invite them in
At some point on your homeschooling journey, inviting the grandparents to take part is a worthwhile pursuit. I’ve heard of and experienced countless moments of joy between grandparents and children learning together. Maybe your parents or in-laws are not feeling too comfortable with the concept of homeschooling, but they love spending time with the grandkids. Invite them to join you on a homeschool outing, or when you have them over for dinner, ask them to have Johnny read his first reader aloud to them. Over time, as everyone gets used to this new way of life, you can invite your parents and in-laws to take part in many other things, such as:
- coming along to a co-op or park day
- coming to watch extra-curricular activities like sports, drama, dance and so on
- spending time with their grandkids sharing their favorite hobbies or stories
- helping out by watching the kids during their schooling time while you have a doctor’s appointment or an errand to run
- having them read aloud their favorite book from their childhood to the grandies
- encouraging them to ask your kids what their favorite read aloud has been (ask them not to quiz the kids on their facts!)
- asking the grand folks for advice – good ideas they remember from their schooling for spelling or times tables memorization tricks
- perhaps having a special granny and grandpa morning or afternoon where the grandfolks get to learn alongside the kids
Recently, my dad spent some time in the mornings with our kids supervising school work while my mom and I took my visiting-from-overseas nieces out shopping. My second daughter declared that she wanted grandpa for her second language teacher forever because she had so enjoyed having him guide her through her Afrikaans reader and comprehension passage. Grandpa had fun answering my check-up calls with, “Hayes Homeschool, this is the substitute principal speaking!” Yup, he thoroughly enjoyed playing school with his grandkids! My in-laws are also always encouraging of the kids’ achievements from tying shoelaces to winning gold medals. These are special bonding moments that both child and grandparent will treasure for years to come. Nurturing these opportunities is so worthwhile.
Sadly, many families experience dysfunctional relationships with grandparents. All manner of hurts and frustrations exist, and the question of homeschooling may just compound them. You know your family and your circumstances. If this is your situation, may I encourage you to keep persevering in grace and kindness? Sometimes grace and kindness means strict boundaries and no visitations in extreme cases, but more often than not it means keeping a hand of welcome extended. And, who knows, perhaps your family’s grandparents will join you on this journey, and together you can experience the joys of involved grandparents who love to be a part of the homeschooling experience.