I'm dreading Zoom calls with relatives on Thanksgiving. There will be no easy change of subjects - like "Pass the Bean Dip!" Instead, they're all going to be staring at me asking what my kid is learning! We've been deschooling, so he's spending a lot of time on Minecraft. And that is not what they want to hear!
This new way of hosting/attending Thanksgiving this year does present its challenges!
But I have some answers you can tap into that may give you the reassurance you need.
Remember this first...
Even though it seems they're all "staring" at you on the zoom call, they're probably not. They're messing with something on the desk or table, fiddling with the controls, looking at their own hair/make-up! Sometimes when we're nervous, we think everyone is looking at us, but they're not really. And as new unschoolers - or even not that new but you know you have critical relatives - you can feel pressure that maybe isn't even there yet.
But... let's say you're right. Maybe your relatives ARE looking for some answers about what your child is actually learning. You know your family - you probably already know what their questions are going to be.
So you can do a little prep for that, based on what's bugging them about your educational choice. They're probably not necessarily looking for an entire syllabus on it. A few quick answers that show you're in control will do the trick!
Let's Dive Into Possible Scenarios
How long are you going to do this homeschooling thing?
You do have the Cover of Covid here for a few more months - so use it! Tell them you're planning day by day. Sometimes, they just want to know that you haven't "drank the Kool-Aid" from Some Unknown Internet Guru! I would avoid using the word "unschooling" though. It seems to set people off even more than the word "homeschooling." Go with what's more familiar. Unschooling is, after all, a form of homeschooling. You can always use the term with those who genuinely want to go deeper into the subject with you.
You can always say,
Oh who knows? We'll see how it goes!
Then even though you don't have the "Pass the Bean Dip" response option available this year, you can modify it. Shift to being the questioner instead of the one being questioned.
How's their kid doing in Zoom classes?
Or how's their garden now that the seasons are changing?
How are the kids' schools handling sports and extra-curricular activities?
Or how's their favorite sports team doing?
It's time to shift to whatever they like to talk about.
He says all he does is play computer games all day! You're not really going to let him do that, are you?
This one kind of cracks me up, since the cousins are on Zoom calls all day long. At least yours is actually paying attention to what's happening on his computer.
It also reminds me of the typical school kid response to the question, "What did you learn today in school?" ... "Nothing."
So you can remind yourself that kids don't necessarily share things accurately. And maybe you can remind the relatives too.
I know! We've found some great educational tools that he uses and enjoys. He learns - AND he feels like he's "just" playing games!
This is actually true, even if he is on Minecraft for a lot of hours each day. He's learning a lot! It actually IS an educational tool. If you need to remind yourself about what he's learning, use this free PDF. You can even offer it to the questioning relative, if they'd like to see too!
What Kids Learn Playing Video Games
Playing with technology offers a variety of opportunities for skill development. So much is happening under the surface! Various games will emphasize some skills more than others.
Since many parents did not grow up playing a lot of video games, you may need help knowing what to look for!
This 1-page Free PDF will help you identify skills your child is learning while they're having fun with their games! Win-Win!
Maybe they're persistent...
I'm worried he'll fall behind.
Is it really about him falling behind? Because those kids sitting on Zoom calls all day long are probably not retaining a lot. Sometimes this is just the classic concern people sling our way. And when we remind ourselves that no one in our extended family actually has a say over what we choose for our own kids, we can move toward answering more confidently.
We have a couple of options as responses:
I understand you're worried. We can talk about it in more detail separately from this Thanksgiving call though. Let's talk about something else right now.
I'm not worried at all. I've seen what's happening on those Zoom calls.
I'm not worried. I've got this.
You don't have to launch into the idea that "falling behind" is something that matters in school - but not in your unschooling home. You don't really have to do any explaining at all.
I recorded a video several Thanksgivings ago. It might help you figure out what is going on, why you're responding the way you do, and how to move past it.
You're An Adult
So often, these family get togethers push us back into roles that no longer fit us. We're not the child any more. We're competent adults who are gathering information about how to raise our children in a very different world. Sometimes it means we have to remind our family members that we've grown up. We don't have to be difficult in these conversations... and we certainly don't want to stomp around defensively. 😉
But it's ok to leave an uncomfortable Zoom call. It's even easier than packing everyone up after traveling across the state to get to Grandma's house! You can bow out with whatever "excuse" feels right at the time.
It's getting chaotic over here/something is burning on the stove/I can't seem to make this technology work right.
I've got to go! Love you all!
More Helpful Responses for Handling Critics
Could you use a few more ideas?
Over the past 25 years, I've heard a lot of responses to critical friends and family.
When we try to remember that, usually, they have our best interests at heart, we can respond to them from a position of confidence.
Confidence! That would be nice, right?
So borrow these ideas and you might be surprised how much better the situation can go!