Changing Social Needs
By Annie Regan
As we’ve moved back into seeing our friends and doing activities this year, after the lockdown of 2020, I was feeling that things were different. At first, I thought it was just the weirdness of being able to go out and to see people again, then realised that it was more than that. We’ve moved into a new stage in our home ed journey, which has happened several times before. As the kids have gotten older, their social needs have changed, and so has my role in helping them meet those needs. (Their learning needs have also changed, which is a topic for another time).
When we began home educating, we had three kids under five. We were friends with several families with kids around the same age—some of them began home educating as well, others sent their five-year-olds to school. In most of these cases, I had become friends with the parents first, and the kids all happened to get along. The kids all loved playing together and were happy to do so at our house or their friend’s houses or the park. My guys were also happy playing at home or the park without their friends. Most of our playdates happened because the mums wanted to get together, and it was a great way for us to socialise while keeping the kids happy. The mums would sit and chat between taking care of the needs of our babies, toddlers and young kids, watching them play and joining in when needed. All the kids from each family came along to whatever was happening and everyone played together. As my eldest started to do a few organised activities, my other kids would come along as well and I’d entertain them while she did her activity, or they’d play with other siblings who were there. We’d have a few catch-ups or activities a week, and we were at home several days a week.
As they all got a little older, we started to attend home ed groups and activities and met many more families. The kids made their own friends and then I met the parents, and usually, our whole family befriended their whole family. We had a lot of social contact at park days, gymnastics classes, and other activities, and also organised to catch up at other times during the week. All of the kids still came along and everyone played together. The mums had perhaps a little more time to chat as the kids were a more independent, although we were still close by. Friends and I would share childcare, dropping off all our kids at each other’s houses while we had appointments or needed alone time—then have a good chat when we picked the kids up. Several of our activities were things that all three kids could do, or if not, I’d drop my eldest off and I take the others somewhere fun (the park, a friend’s house) while she was there. Our social interactions were still predominantly all of us enjoying being at the same event, but the focus was more on doing things and seeing people that the kids wanted to see. Usually, this still meant I was hanging out with friends, and we were out a lot more often—or our days at home involved having people over.
As my older two reached their tween years, each child developed friendships with their own set of friends, so it didn’t always work so easily for us all to go to someone’s house. There was a bit more of dropping one or two kids off and going and doing something with the others. I usually stopped in for a cup of tea at drop off or pick up, and there were still families who everyone was happy visiting. Shared childminding continued to provide opportunities for the kids to play together and the parents to catch up. We organised evening activities so anyone who didn’t want to come could stay home with one parent while the other one went to the activity. We started going to camps around this time which met everyone’s social needs exceptionally well. I still needed to be close to my youngest so I would chat with the parents of whoever she was playing with, while the others were off with their friends. There started to be a lot more sleepovers, the beauty of home educating meant that kids could stay for several days and have a lot of time with their friends. I was still responsible for organising activities and catch-ups but the kids were a lot more active in saying who they wanted to see and where they did and didn’t want to go. They had a strong need to see friends nearly every day, so we were pretty busy. I saw most of my friends regularly and easily as part of getting the kids to where they wanted to be.
Now that my youngest is a tween and the older two are well into their teens, things are different again. The teenagers organise their own catch-ups and activities and often use public transport to get to them, so sometimes there are no parents involved at all. They talk to their friends online and don’t always have the same need to see people regularly. They are old enough to stay at home when I go out, so when I do take a child to a friend’s place or the station or an activity, it’s often just me and one child in the car. This does lead to some awesome chats and one-on-one time which I’ve not really had much of before. At a friend’s house, I might stay for a cuppa when I drop kids off, but I don’t necessarily stay for the whole visit. Even my youngest is happy there on her own now. In some cases now I don’t know the other parents very well, so the kids’ social visits aren’t always social for me. After I drop them off I sometimes use the opportunity to go and visit other people or do some shopping or something for myself. I don’t always need anyone to look after the kids when I go to appointments now, and fewer of their friends come to our place to be looked after. This means as parents we’ve needed to be a bit more proactive in organising to see each other and making sure that our kids who are less able to organise their own activities, still get time with their friends. We still do park days and other activities which are great ways for me to spend time with the other parents, and the kids to see their friends. Camps continue to be a huge part of our social calendar. When I am with other parents, we have a lot more time for uninterrupted conversations since the kids are more independent. On the whole, my current role in the kids’ social life is mainly transport and logistics. I’m still very involved in helping them get to where they want to be, but it’s a lot more individual now.
It’s been interesting to look back at the different stages we’ve moved through and see the benefits and disadvantages of each. When the kids were younger I had much less time alone, but my social needs were very easily met at the same time as theirs. As they’ve become more independent, I am less tied to what they are doing, but I’ve had to put more effort into making sure I still see my friends.
A couple of things haven’t changed though, and these seem to me to be some of the main benefits we’ve received from home educating. The kids have always been happy to have me around when they are with their friends—even as teenagers they are willing to include me in their games and conversations and outings. And when one of us makes a friend, the whole family tends to become friends with that person and their family. Older kids are happy to have younger siblings around or spend time with each other’s parents. I love being greeted with hugs from my kids’ friends of all ages, and knowing that my kids feel comfortable with the parents and siblings of their friends as well.
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