Sunday, March 11, 2012

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: The Social Isolation of Homeschooling

What do homeschooled girls and trash cans have in common?  
They both only leave the house once a week.

This joke was well-received among homeschooled youth because it rang true for so many of us.  For almost all of my teen years, church was the only social activity that I engaged in, the only time during the whole week that I might have a chance to interact with people who were not my immediate family.  Making friends in that context, especially as a shy teen girl, seems daunting.  However, I had an even greater obstacle to deal with: I was not allowed to participate in youth group.

My parents were absolutely terrified of teenage rebellion.  Thanks to various books and speakers popular in the homeschooling community, my parents believed teen rebellion to be a recent American trend due to indulgent parenting and peer pressure.  A rebellious teen was more than just an annoyance in the homeschooling community: that teen was turning his/her back not only on the parents, but also on God.  What a tragic waste of years of sacrifice and careful training by the parents!  This type of thinking motivated my parents to maintain careful discipline and to shelter us from almost all contact with our peers, even at church.

I distinctly remember the conversation between the youth pastor and my mom.  I was probably 14 or 15, and so shy that I would start shaking if anyone tried to talk to me at church.  Although social interaction was painful, I desperately needed it, and I think the youth pastor noticed that.  He approached my parents after church one day to invite us to Sunday school.  My mom asked for the materials that were being used in Sunday school, and took them home to peruse them with my dad.  I heard the decision the next week at the same time as the youth pastor: "Our kids will not be attending Sunday school."  The reason?  Apparently the material mentioned a teen who was frustrated with his parents, and it was dangerous for me to think that frustration was a valid or normal feeling for a teen to have toward parents.

The tough thing about social phobia is that it is often self-reinforcing.  In my case, my severe social anxiety displayed itself in uncontrollable muscle spasms, and anticipating the shaking made me even more anxious about interacting with people.  What if someone noticed me shaking?  I used to cry myself to sleep at night quite often, occasionally trying to get my mom to notice my tears by sniffing juuuust loud enough for her to hear as she walked by my door.  When she came in to ask why I was crying, I would say something like, "I don't have any friends" or "I don't know how to talk to people."  The answer to these was always the same: "You have us" or "You're talking to me right now."  In the morning, life would proceed as usual.

Unfortunately, the "usual" for my life at home was very empty and quiet.  My dad was working long hours and was permanently in a bad mood when at home, and my mom was always sapped of energy for various reasons.  She left us kids to do our schoolwork independently much of the time; we even corrected our own errors from the answer key.  Later, due to mysterious and debilitating health problems, her energy was so low that just going to the grocery store was often too much for her to handle.  It was simply understood in the family that we shouldn't harass her about wanting to leave the house.  Since I wasn't able to get my driver's license until I was 18, I was stuck for hours, days, weeks, months, years with little-to-no mental or social stimulation.

Little-to-no stimulation is not an exaggeration; obviously, a teen girl who can't even go to Sunday school due to "bad influences" is going to find many other things forbidden to her as well.  Our home did not have a TV; we watched few movies; we only read pre-approved Christian or classical books; we did not have internet access; and we certainly did not listen to most music.  My one musical joy was listening to Steve Green and going to his concert with another homeschooling mom.  When I tried to add Rebecca St. James to my CD collection, my mom almost had a meltdown because of the beat and the heavy breathing; it didn't matter that almost every song was a verbatim quote from the Bible.  I knew my role--honor your parents--so that CD went straight into the trash and I tried to feel happy that I was obeying God.

What did I do with my time at home?  I dragged my school work out to take up most of the day; I spent large amounts of time spaced out, lying on my bed; I wrote in my journals; and I made my own clothes.  My homemade clothes were the outward sign of my feelings of isolation.  Starting at about age 13, I was responsible for furnishing my own wardrobe (within the boundaries of modesty my parents provided, of course).  I had $25 a month to work with, and my mom could tolerate shopping at fabric stores much more than at clothing stores, where everything was "immodest."  (And that was in the women's clothing sections--I didn't even know that clothing came in junior sizes until after I had graduated from high school!)  Out on various errands or on family vacations, wearing my very odd, ill-fitting clothing, I felt the stares and desperately wished that human contact was unnecessary.  "I wish I could just be a hermit!" ....this sentence occurs a little too frequently in my teen journals.

My first friend of my teenage years came from Hope Chapel, when I was about 17.  Pastor Reb Bradley, with the support of the homeschooling families of HC, would not allow a youth group in the church.  Finally, I was not so odd!  It was easier to strike up a conversation with someone, knowing they might be just as desperate and nervous as me.  It was easier to not feel judged when the other person's clothes were just as odd as my own.  I could more easily feel successful at conversation because it was not full of cultural references that I had no idea about.  I became a little more confident socially, strengthened my atrophied conversational muscles, and got a little more hopeful about life.  I was even able to add a second church friend by the time I was 19, someone who lived closer to me that I could see more than just at church.

Now I'm 30 years old, with four years of college and eight years of work between me and my teen self, yet I still feel the effects of the isolation I experienced growing up.

First, I still feel significant social anxiety in even the most non-threatening situations.  I am particularly at a loss in group settings full of new people.  What do I say? When do I say it? Whom do I say it to?  How/when do I end a conversation?  Even in a circle setting, when it's my turn to say my name, my blood pressure skyrockets.

Second, in the whole world, there is no place and no group of people where I feel like I belong.  It's like I was raised in a different culture, with the distinct difference that I can never go "home" to it.  I'm permanently a foreigner; interacting in this foreign culture takes a lot of attention and effort.  I've tried to catch up on the culture I watch the movies, to listen to the music, to see pictures of the clothing styles.....but it will never mean to me what it means to you.  People always use cultural references and nostalgia as a way to build community and connections between people; for me, they create distance and remind me how different I am inside.

My profile photo is of the 80s star Molly Ringwald.  The first time I ever heard her name mentioned was at my first real job, when I was 22 years old.  God bless my dear gay boss, who saw through my awkwardness and gave me a chance at the job because I looked like his favorite childhood actress!  When he learned that I had no idea who she was, his jaw hit the floor.

These days, I manage to avoid shocking people too much, unless I decide to tell them about my past.  To me, the biggest compliment I can receive today is, "You were homeschooled? Wow, I can't even tell!"


  1. (This is the first post I've read on your blog, so I apologize if you know about this and say so later on.)
    I have social anxiety disorder and I have said some things in this post almost verbatim. My family wasn't fundie (though we have plenty of our own issues). Seeing a psychologist who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has helped a lot. CBT concentrates on changing your thought patterns using exposures and exercises. It's a lot more useful in day-to-day living than classic talk therapy.
    I found your blog via No Longer Qivering, and look forward to reading more of your posts!

  2. Oops, sorry, forgot something. It's late and my brain is halfway asleep already.
    I meant to add that the CBT has helped me control the "invisible" anxiety- I function decently but inside I can be a wreck. Similar to how your blood pressure still skyrockets sometimes. Basically I've gotten a lot better at telling that "voice" inside me that panics that I'm ok and it needs to shut up. So it's not just about functioning, it's about enjoying social situations as well. OK, I hope this all makes sense. :)

    1. This information is very helpful. I've been wondering lately about getting some kind of therapy, but had no idea what type of therapist to look for. I tried talk therapy years ago with different therapists, but it didn't seem worth the money after a month or two.

      I try not to tell people I know in real life about my social anxiety because it just increases my stress response....which means I can't really go around asking for advice about dealing with it then, haha. So thank you for sharing about your experience with this!

    2. I, too, have had good luck with CBT, not for social anxiety but for a tendency to see myself in a very negative way that was fueling depression. I'm still working on it.

      I didn't grow up fundie and wasn't homeschooled, but I did grow up Catholic and attended Catholic schools -- including an all-girls Catholic high school -- until college. My parents expected me home right after school on weekdays, and took me away to a weekend house every weekend, in a rural, mostly retirement community; they were trying to protect me, but as a result I was hopelessly shy and antisocial when I entered college. I was almost as hopelessly shy and antisocial when I graduated, having made only one or two friends during my entire time there. I married the first guy who was really interested in me; fortunately, it's turned out to be a reasonable marriage and we'll celebrate our 32nd anniversary this year.

      It was in the working world that I learned to greet people, to make small talk, to be friendly and open, to make friends, to speak up for myself, and even to speak in public. All these things were required of me, either to be happy in the workplace or to do my job. All these things scared the hell out of me at first, and I had to pretend to know what I was doing. I pretended pretty well. In fact, I got so good at pretending that I started to really believe I could do these things, and... I can. In social interactions, there's a WHOLE lot to be said for, "when all else fails, fake it."

    3. I second her recommendation. CBT helped me with social anxiety a great deal. While I wasn't anywhere near as isolated as you, I did have a similarly isolating childhood. My father was in the army and we've moved a great deal. I attended 11 different schools. Anyways, I highly recommend it for anxiety, it can be hard work but well worth it. And as Karen said, faking it works -- after awhile it just becomes your habit.

    4. CBT is amazing! I have Asperger's with anxiety, and it really helped me. It took me several tries for it to "click" with me, and what helped the most was MoodGYM: . This might be because it was the third time, it might be because I do much better with written instructions than verbal face-to-face ones (due to the Asperger's), but it might just be amazing.

      On the topic of your blog - I'm amazed that a joke like that passed your parents' censorship.

    5. Wow. My story is almost exactly the same, except I'm a guy. Same thing with youth group, Christian music, etc. My parents thought they were protecting me and it turns out a year after I leave the house I'm overdosing on heroin, the next year I'm going to rehab for meth addiction. In and out of jail the whole time, my parents thought they were going to raise a saint but they raised a gangster. I've lived on the streets, I've been to jail multiple times, I've dealt drugs, I've rapped on stage in front of hundred of people, and still there's something inside of me that's missing. I feel like I don't hear people right, I never know what to say, and I'm uncomfortable around everyone I don't know. I'm writing an argumentative essay on homeschooling right now for my English final. thanks for your essay

  3. Well... you are sharing a remarkable story, and I thank you for opening up about yourself. I'm looking forward to reading your future posts.

    I can kind of relate in some ways, although my upbringing wasn't NEARLY as severe as yours. I went to a public school but I felt like I didn't belong there. I went home and I felt like I didn't belong there either. I was as different from my peers and my parents as could be. We got along, but I did more of a routine of "going along to get along".

    I grew up in a wealthy Jewish area (we aren't wealthy), where the clothes and the cars were the thing and it was all about impressing the neighbors. You had to dress and act a certain way to gain acceptance. I will never forget the anxiety I felt in a certain clothing store and even hearing the name nowadays will fill me with dread. I was a square peg.

    I am Jewish, although much more spiritual and involved now than I ever was as a kid. But growing up was like having the whole neighborhood in the house, and free thinking was scorned and ridiculed. Now when my dad says something to my kids like "don't listen to rock music, waltzes are the most beautiful music ever made" I know to tell my son to not listen to him, I say "listen to whatever you like". I mean, who would say that to a kid? I always though my parents, both extremely bright, made all the right decisions. Goodness knows, they are good people, but I know now, if they say 'down' I say 'up'. I never ask their advice anymore. I love them, but no. My mother was full of anxieties, a chain smoker, smoked like a stack. Who wouldn't be in that situation? We could never measure up, and it took it's toll on our family in a big way, BELIEVE me. Not good. At all. But later on we found out... it was all a sham. No one measured up, but we were always led to believe that so-and-so's son was doing so well and making so much money. PS, he's in jail now. That kind of thing.

    Now you have a fantastic opportunity of discovery ahead of you. And people will just love to share all this stuff with you, when you're ready to let them. Even I can think of some awesome things, jazz, Cole Porter, that you just MUST hear. Granted you didn't grow up with some of these things, but that doesn't mean they won't belong to you in their own special way. People will want to hear all about you. If you feel comfortable opening up about yourself, people generally won't judge you and you'll find you have a rapt audience. And you may be surprised to find that people with entirely different backgrounds share some similarities growing up as you. And you will raise your son and have a wonderful relationship with him because you will be tuned in with his feelings, his nature which will be entirely different from yours and you will accept that and embrace it and love it. What better gift can you get than that?

    1. Thank you Carol, and thanks for sharing part of your story as well. Needing to put on a show to earn acceptance is a terrible message for a child, and it seems like there are unfortunately many ways to deliver that message. Good for you that you see through the facade now, and can move on with your life.

  4. I thought I'd offer two posts I've written on this topic. First, But what about socialization?" You're so not alone in this!

    1. Thank you so much Libby Anne! Those are both exactly what I've been feeling and trying to express! It's so encouraging to know I'm in good company :).

  5. I am so sorry you had such a difficult childhood and homeschooling experience! My heart goes out to you! However, in defense of homeschooling, I will say that it totally depends on HOW you are homeschooled (which boils down to parental decisions/issues) To me, it sounds like the problem was much bigger than the fact that you were homeschooled.

    I will say right up front, homeschooling is not for everyone and it should NEVER be viewed as the only right way to educate. I homeschooled my three boys for 8 years and the last 5 of those years have been as a single mom. This year I am sending my two youngest sons to a small Christian school (for various reason I won't get into here). A number of those years we were involved in a wonderful homeschool group in a wonderful supportive community. Where we live now, it is required to do achievement tests every year and while I know I was not in any way an extra ordinary teacher (some days I wanted to pull my hair out! :) it is rewarding and reassuring when your children test way above their level. My oldest son is in the process of signing up in a college where he will be able to get duel credits his senior year of high school and college. He has extremely high goals of what he wants to do and where he wants to go. None of my sons are in any way what you can call lacking in social skills!

    I say all of that to bring out the point that not all homeschooled children have experiences like yours. It is very unfortunate, and I am so sorry you had such a difficult time. I am thankful you have had the opportunity and the strength to rise above all of that and prove that you can reach for the stars! I encourage you to keep reaching forward to all the opportunities in front of you rather than grieving the opportunities you may have missed in the past.

    Be blessed!

    1. Thank you for your comment. I agree that it is possible for homeschooling to be a positive experience for a child, and the point of this post was not to say that all homeschooling is bad. However, I wanted to point out a weak point of homeschooling: that it inherently involves less interaction with people outside the family. Parents who are aware of this and try to compensate for it will better prepare their kids for life and relationships after school. Unfortunately, for some parents (like mine), the isolation is a feature instead of a bug, and that can have a snowballing effect.

      I know you mean well in your comment, but sometimes it is appropriate to grieve. Sometimes that allows people to heal and then move on.

  6. Thank you for this blog. I think what it points out is that different homeschoolers have different experiences, just as different schooled kids do. If you visit a site like Yahoo answers the users will vehemently deny your experience could ever happen. IMO that hurts homeschooling, as it looks like a cover up. So do parents who make it a point to speak for their children. I wonder how your mother would tell others about your homeschooling now. Homeschoolers are varied and there is no typical.

    1. You're right, there are many possibilities. And sometimes people don't realize at first how they were affected by an can take time to see the effects and notice a pattern. It's especially hard because within fundamentalist culture, people are trained to blame themselves and their lack of spiritual maturity for every problem and every negative emotion. When I was in my late teens, even at my lowest point, I would have defended homeschooling as the right option for my family and all Christian families. I blamed myself for everything and felt like I was letting down the Christian homeschooling movement.

      With time and life experience, and after taking a step back to get a clearer view, I completely reversed my opinion of my homeschooling experience.

  7. I always felt like I could never speak of the bad effects my homeschooling had on my life out of respect for educational choice. That said, homeschooling parents really need to look hard at what they're doing; if they're not going to provide an alternative peer group and social experience, homeschooling can easily become an isolating and detrimental to normal development.

    I have social anxiety and while I think homeschooling didn't CAUSE it, it certainly didn't help; if a kid is labeled shy at a young age, word of advice, DON'T take them out of school and start homeschooling them (even if you think it's God's plan or whatever)

    1. Yes, exactly this!

      I was shy as a child as well, and I didn't have the chance to learn any coping mechanisms. So when I finally entered society as an adult, I had the worst possible combination of childhood shyness, teenage self-consciousness, fundamentalist perfectionism, and absolutely no idea how society or even basic conversation worked.

  8. Hello,
    I was also raised in a homeschooling family, though not as strict as yours, I still get gawked at when I tell some of my stories. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to go to public school when I reached high school (I think, because my parents had realized the harm that social isolation had done to me and my siblings). However, as a struggling 20-something, I am now trying (as I have at several stages in my life) to face the issues that my social isolation has left me with.
    I found your blog while looking for scientific articles about upbringing and social anxiety. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of material out there about the connections, but I'm sure based on many of the homeschooled kids that I know that there is at least some correlation.
    I'm not sure what I'm trying to say here, but I guess it's good to know I'm not alone, and so I thought I'd add my voice to show some solidarity.
    I have yet to come anywhere near to functioning in society in a way that makes me happy (I definitely related to feeling like I'm from an extinct culture), but I'm beginning to work to create the tools I need to travel the world to see the commonality in everyone.
    Thank you for sharing your story, I hope that you are making progress on your journey.

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  10. Wow. I literally just got chills reading this because this is exactly what I went through. From the no youth group thing to being in almost complete isolation to not getting cultural references to recovering from social awkwardness, literally everything you wrote I can identify with. It is almost like I am reading my thoughts. Would love to chat with you sometime. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Abigail, thanks so much for sharing! I think people need to know that social recovery can happen, although it can be a very slow and painful process. Your comment might give another person the courage to keep pushing for progress. If you are looking for conversation on the topic of recovering from homeschooling, I'm part of an online support group that you might be interested in. You can find it here:

  11. I Never before have I read something so close to my life story. Only difference for was that I was allowed to attend youth group(2 other people) and I went to a fundie christian high school. The high school was very small but it was too late. I had severe social anxiety. I remember crying in the first week of ninth grade in class. Almost no social interaction for the first 14 years of my life. I didnt know what to do, what to say, how to dress. High school was miserable for me. I met one friend who had a similar upbringing and we basically hung out in an empty classroom together for our high school careers.

    College was a little better. A little. I know I came off as a complete jerk because of my social anxiety. If I saw someone I knew I would still avoid them. I would avoid parties, busy cafeterias, anything with social interaction. I left college with one friend. The combination of social anxiety and religious isolation made me feel like I was from a different planet.

    After college was done, I decided to stop making excuses and get myself out there. I joined co-ed sports leagues and clubs. I literally forced myself to attend. I was a nervous wreck but I did it for me.

    Today I am 23. I am doing much better. I have thrown off religion and moved out on my own. The culture clash between me and the world is still very evident. People are shocked at my story. I very much resent homeschooling and religion. I feel ill prepared for life and am still struggling with my demons. Put it this way. At 23 years of age, just recently I had my very first kiss and held hands with a girl. Thats something that for most happens at around 12-14. I feel like everyone has a massive head start on me in life and I have to play catch up for the 18 years that were stolen from me.

    I try not to be resentful but I cant't help it. I was being groomed for a life of religous servitude, marrying a christian girl(how can you with sever social anxiety?), have 8 kids and homeschool them too. I resent the fact that the choice was made for me.

    The ONLY reason home schooling is acceptable is when it is a last resort either due to expulsions or other extenuating circumstances. Sheltering just means your children will have to play catch up when they escape from the religious stranglehold and mark my words parents, they will never forgive you for it.

    1. I hope you recover good! Be strong. I went through the same experience, except it was the other way around for me. I went to a physical elementary school, then stayed at home for homeschooling. By the time I was thirteen I felt like I was going to go crazy. Being at home day and night, having no friends, not even making friends in church, etc. When I was sixteen I decided to go to college- I could not wait any longer. Now I am older. Still in school, studying to be a doctor. Everyone thinks that I am the model kid- the success story of homeschooling. But the truth is inside me I feel so much instability. Being part of the society when I was nine and then suddenly reconnecting when I was sixteen was a massive culture shock. The world had changed so much since I had last ventured out and I do not fit in, there is so much to catch up to. I dress differently, and even though I am all-american I managed to have a thick accent since I did not speak much to anybody else aside from family members. I am younger than all of my classmates and never go to parties or clubs. Unlike you, I kept my faith in God, but only because he is the only one that made me survive all those years of severe isolation, when I thought I was going to tear my eyes out and die. Also, my mother once was in the ICU due to her blood pressure dropping and she began seeing our family dog. That day when we drove home, our dog was dead (he was old) and we all realized my mom had seen him as an angel. That was the day I stopped questioning my faith. Since then I had a good relationship with my mom, I do not blame her for what happened to me. Ironically it was my choice to home-school (due to bullying) and my parents were both full-time workers, they never realized how badly isolated I became or the demons I began to struggle with during my teenage years. My brothers, who both went to public school all their years, would never be able to understand.
      This is a bit long, but it is essentially my story. Us homeschoolers think we are alone in our social isolation, and we have a lot to catch up on once we leave the wing of our parents. Some go a bit crazy on this newfound independence while most just become nervous wrecks of social isues for several years. You are right in your last paragraph- that sheltering your child is NOT long term and they will eventually find out all the "naughty things" when they become adults. In fact, over sheltering even increases their chances of leaning into the "naughty things". I hope you recover well! Best of prayers to you! You seem like a very strong person- all of us other homeschoolers are rooting for you! ^^

  12. I just discovered your blog, and am so excited to be here! Thank you for your bravery in sharing your story, it is a comfort to know there are more of us out there. :) I am from a homeschooling family, oldest of 8, and can completely relate to your story. Although my parents were less intentional about the isolation, I learned I was separate and different from everyone outside of my family, and if I did end up interacting with someone, I was to save their souls with my sheer overwhelming (and very quiet) godliness and kindness. :) I am now 31 and have made a huge amount of progress since I "graduated" from "high school". I've worked my way through a crippling depression, addiction, and just a bunch of crap, and I am functioning much better now (although I'm still getting up the nerve to go on a date or have a relationship with a member of the opposite sex…but I'm finally getting good at flirting). :) Anyway, I just wanted to share a resource that has helped me a lot in understanding what's wrong with me. Adult Children of Alcoholics is affiliated with AA, but is a group for adults who were raised in abusive/addicted and or dysfunctional families. I thought maybe the fact that my parents won't touch alcohol would be a distraction for me, but it hasn't gotten in the way at all, the symptoms are still the same for me (and I've observed in my siblings as well). There are meetings and books, the main text is available at I've been to a few meetings, and one thing that has really helped me, is that I get to be in a room full of people who missed out on a normal childhood. So there's no need to feel stupid for not knowing what is normal, because they can all relate. There is strength in solidarity. Hopefully someone finds that resource helpful. Again, thank you for opening up this opportunity to share common experiences, and everybody hang in there-it gets better every year! :) Amanda

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  14. I too have just found this blog and love it! I grew up in a strictly conservative LDS (Mormon) household and though I can't claim the same intensity of experiences as you, several of my memories do resonate with your reports.

    Several years ago, I got into an argument with some of my family about homeschooling. My sister was afraid to send her children to public school and I thought that it was because she was being a paranoid religious fanatic. I bristled at the thought of her keeping her children cooped up in the house so they wouldn't have to hear about evolution or rub shoulders with Mexican immigrants. I hated the idea of people weakening the public school system - the best hope of the disenfranchised - by keeping their children away from the riffraff and from the dangers of Secular Humanism.

    But I hated school. It's important to say that I loved to learn: I always have. But I had trouble in public school, even in well-funded schools of affluent suburbs in progressive Minnesota. For one thing, I wouldn't do my homework. After a while, teachers succeeded in convincing me that I was guilty of unrighteous rebellion. I don't buy the "secular humanism" thing, but there was definitely an ideology of religious character or at least force that found me guilty of a sin. If you care to read it, I wrote about it at some length on my own blog:

    For a long time I was convinced that my school problems were because of the other kids. I now am satisfied that the structure of school causes those problems. It's important to acknowledge the authoritarianism of conventional schooling, and it's hugely important for children, youth and their parents to know that there are other options besides public school, snooty private schools and authoritative, stifling homeschooling.

    Education is the best hope of the disenfranchised, but education is not schooling. Socialization is vital, but the socialization of school is training to be subjects, not to be citizens. There are long-standing, numerous and growing movements for *unschooling* and other educational alternatives, like the Sudbury Valley School and others that follow the same model. Unschoolers might describe what they're doing as "homeschooling" for legal purposes, but what they do is opposite the insanity we see here. Their aim is to get their children out of their house, to let them discover the world with all the different people and all the different points of view, and to direct their own education.

    Not everyone can do it (I'm having to send my child to Kindergarten this year, something I didn't want), but if more people are honest about what school does to you (I did poorly in school *because* I like to learn, especially because I like to read), then they can work to make more alternatives to the meager choices they see before them.

    1. Such an important statement - "education is not schooling". I want to homeschool if I ever have children - but because I want to unschool mostly. I want my kids to learn how to ask questions, find information and evaluate it for themselves. Sadly, this type of education seems to be lacking in many public schools. I myself met up with just enough public school teachers on my way that encouraged this kind of learning that I was able to be successful in spite of going to public school. And I'm certainly not averse to public school generally - I think it fairly likely that any kids I may have would go to public high school in order to participate in sports, band, and have a diploma that is more generally recognized - but it takes a very involved parent to make it work, and even then it doesn't always. (My brother is a great example of a guy who, like you, is an avid reader and loves to learn but HATED school and was written off as a slacker because he didn't engage with the format of public schooling)

  15. It might seem hard to interact and socialize with other people when you were isolated from the start, but it's better than not trying, right? Anyway, I agree that CBT is really helpful, because this therapy can help you cope and adjust more easily. But I think going out of one's comfort zone and meeting other people, even if it's just to strike a conversation, is also a good therapy. Blogging also helps if you’re not comfortable with having face-to-face interaction, because it allows you to interact with other people and see different perspectives.

    Felix Stewart @ Frontenac Youth Services

  16. This post is exactly what I needed. Found it while researching isolation for a school project. My isolation while homeschooled wasn't as bad as yours, but it is the reason I can't concentrate on things I as much as others. When my sister address my mom on the lack of social activities with our peers growing up, my mom blamed us. She claims that WE should have tried to find more activities ourselves for her to bring us too. She fails to realize that most people are introduced to them rather than actually finding them(sometimes this includes adults). Honestly, she could have did more to introduce us to these things and had a clear idea what we might have liked. Your mom didn't seem sensitive enough to your emotions and neither was mine. My mom spends all energy advising and none or little on the emotion. She doesnot understand that sometime you just need someone to listen. She thinks she's listening but isn't. Her conversations are lectures, she cuts, you off, then she spend so much time thinking of a response to what you said that she doesn't interpret you. Then, she is so set in what she thinks, that she doesnot change no matter what. Im still recovering from lack of peer communication as a child...

  17. Thank you for this post. My life until 16 was very similar, also home schooled with just one older sister for company, always being accused of rebelling, not being allowed to participate in youth group and Sunday school, church as the only social activity, all the late 90's baggy clothes were immodest. We moved churches a lot, too, which made it worse for establishing any kind of friendships. I heard all the time "Oh, well, public school kids can't talk to anybody but their peers. You can interact with all ages!" What a load of garbage. My mom was also paranoid about bad influences, with the result that eventually, any (Christian!) friend I made would be judged to be a bad influence with bad parenting. Heck, even the Christian all-girls summer camp was a bad influence. There was so much constant judgement of other Christians, so much shaming, so much pride in the "correct, godly" way to do things, as dictated by anybody wearing a denim jumper who wrote a book or gave a seminar. I think back on the sub-culture, now, and wonder just how miserable a lot of those people must have been to think that what they were doing was a good idea.

  18. I am so glad you wrote and shared this. I had analogous experiences, and it is so encouraging to know that I'm not the only one out there.

    Parents who homeschool or who are thinking about homeschooling, please listen carefully to alums! Please seek to understand us and our stories on their own terms. I'm sure in some cases homeschooling works out fine, but it's inherently so much more risky than almost any other option out there. And this is not limited to religious homeschooling, I might add: by choosing to homeschool you are creating a scenario in which all of the supports that a public or private school offers will be harder to access, and one in which your own abilities - your strengths and weaknesses - will have an enormous impact on your children. By being a parent you already have a huge amount of influence on your children, for good or ill, and homeschooling necessarily tends to amplify that influence.

    I could say a lot more about why, as a homeschool alum, I believe that homeschooling should be legal only as a very last resort, but I would like to simply state one reason that is, I think, one of the most compelling for avoiding homeschooling if at all possible:

    It is very difficult - perhaps impossible - to fairly and accurately evaluate your child's work and at the same time to show unconditional love and acceptance to your child.

    So please, if you are homeschooling or considering it, listen to those of us who actually experienced being homeschooled. You are probably a wonderful parent, but that does not mean that homeschooling is the best option. In fact, it probably isn't.

  19. Thank you for writing this post. I know it's several years old, yet new readers like me are still finding and appreciating it. When I searched for social isolation in homeschooling, all the top results are about how well-socialized homeschool kids are and how this never happens, laughing off all concerns about socializing. Well, it does happen. My family, along with yours and so many of the people who commented here, are living proof of that.

    My parents are not deeply religious and were never abusive, and while there was no effort to keep my brother and me away from peers, both of us grew up almost completely isolated. After my father began homeschooling me, he put me in Girl Scouts. When the troop disbanded a couple of years later (and it was the only social interaction I had), he made little effort to find something else. I grew up from about age 11 with zero friends, going out once a week when my parents went shopping. Nowadays, I might go outdoors once a week or once every two weeks, always with a parent.

    I am 25 and am completely helpless in the real world. I don't know how to do anything, how to talk with people, how to navigate social situations or even everyday things like how to use an elevator. I have no clue what to do with my life, and my mother blames me for my lack of socialization, saying she often tried to take me out, but I never wanted to go with her. This is true: she often offered to take me out when she had to run errands or sit in a hospital or pay the bills. Ask any 12-year-old if they want to accompany you to wait three hours in a bank line, and they will likely say no. But I guess it's all my fault.

    My poor dear brother got it worse. By the time he was ready to be homeschooled, my parents didn't even try. He is fifteen, has never had a friend in his life, and goes outdoors maybe once every month. He can go months without stepping foot outdoors, and when he does, he simply can't interact. A shopkeeper will ask him a question, and he literally just makes a sound because, as he explained to me, he freezes up and finds himself unable to talk. He doesn't seem to be able to understand what people (strangers) tell him unless they repeat it several times, or I or my mother explains it to him. It's heartbreaking.

    I don't want him to grow up like me, already a third of the way through my life and still feeling like a frightened, hopeless ten-year-old. But I have no idea what to do for him. I've tried reaching out for help with family members, but everyone is too busy with their own life to really care. I feel like no one quite understands how incredibly unusual our life has been, and how damaging.

    Please, please, please don't do this to your children. Don't hide them from the world. Teach them how to take care of themselves. Teach them the basics of life that you take for granted. Teach them to not be afraid. Help them make friends, and don't let them sit between four walls for months on end.

  20. This is so much like my story in so many ways. My parents however were more cultish than religious. And they believe if you spare the rod you will ruin the child. They also believed that a woman's place was at home, married to a good christian man and to raise children.

    My dad also worked long hours, and would sometimes not even be home for days at a time because he commuted and it was a long commute. And looking back on it I know that my mother had to have been deeply depressed, she has all the classic symptoms, including lack of energy.

    So with both parents being extremely absent, and their views and beliefs, I received almost no education. Witch having almost no education on top of no knowledge of social facts, so finding friends and fitting in has been a practically impossible.

    There was one thing that got me out of the life, I am a lesbian. And when I came out my parents they sent me to conversion therapy. When that had the opposite desired effect I was disowned. And have no contact with my family. So while that has been hard, and honestly good for me, I have been left in an unusual predicament.

    With a really terrible high school education, (I didn't know what a noun was, or a verb until I was nineteen. Nor did I know anything about algebra, how to do anything other than extremely simple math, and I still struggle with math.) and no financial support from my family, I have no way to better my education, so I am trapped. Unable to get a better education, working a really terrible job.

    In my experience homeschooling should either be outlawed, or have much closer, much better regulations and checks and balances. instead of just some random church friend who runs an umbrella homeschooling company and does nothing other than just look through the books to make sure that things are written in them, and not caring if the work was properly done.

  21. Thank you for the well written article. It is amazing to know that I am not alone... I grew up incredibly isolated without even the opportunity to attend church regularly or see my older siblings. It was just me and my parents... for weeks and sometimes months at a time. We lived in the country... too far to even sneak off to be with friends, even if I had been allowed to develop friendships. My parents believed that even church people were a bad influence and might try to turn me against them.
    When I left home, I was horrifically unprepared to function in the real world and develop healthy relationships.
    It has been over 20 years for me, and I still don't fit in anywhere. I was never allowed to establish roots, and they did everything they could to clip my wings, all in the name of "love".

    The social anxiety has gotten better with time. I have learned to laugh at myself. But reading your story brings back a lot of memories.
    Thank you for sharing.