i like the expression “coming out of the closet”. i’m not sure why it’s pretty exclusively used for gay people, since most people i know have “skeletons in the closet”- so i look at coming out as a corollary to that. as a coming clean, of sorts. as a bringing something hidden into the light of day.

so, i’m going to empty one of my closets here. or maybe more than one. let’s take it one at a time and see how it goes.

quite frequently i am in a position where i have a moral dilemma. somebody will be talking about a certain issue. if i come out as having a stake in that issue, i may cause my family to be an object of derision or ridicule or scorn. if i stay quiet, i risk having someone ignorant perpetuate a stereotype that is inaccurate or harmful.

i’ll give you an example. *h brought home a friend from work. this friend became a regular guest, and as such, he got to see a lot of “behind the scenes” bass stuff.

since *h was in publishing, many of his friends were the scholarly sort, and most were either intellectuals or at least pseudo-intellectuals (they knew enough to pretend and to fake out the average bear). one or two were freaky geniuses, and this particular friend was one of them.

so, at some point, this friend- i’ll call him j.- realized that we homeschooled. he remarked that we were not the kind of family he imagined would homeschool. we didn’t fit his picture of homeschoolers. comments like this always intrigue me, so i finally got him to describe “typical homeschoolers” and he basically said, “you know. religious fundamentalists. they don’t think; they just perpetuate dogma. they don’t know how to question. they live off in the woods or something and the mother wears a denim jumper and has her hair in a bun (i’m not even making that up!). the kids are all backward because they are so isolated socially. honestly, i feel bad for those kids. those parents scare me.”

ed. note: i shouldn’t actually have put that in quotes, since they were not his exact words- but i did it that way so you could imagine him speaking. did it work?

i remember reading an article in a homeschooling magazine that took the position that families who homeschool have a moral obligation to be public about it. the only way to overcome the negative stereotypes, it said, were for all the great families who homeschool to be open about it. that gives non-homeschoolers a chance to interact with folks who homeschool, and they will know that family was homeschooled, and they can form a more positive picture of homeschoolers in general.

so, that’s all well and good if you can/want to be the ambassador for a given cause. if you are articulate and educated and well-informed about that choices you have made for your family, perhaps you really can be that “poster child” who will change minds and warm hearts.

i will tell you that after many rigorous discussions, j. left our house having more respect for homeschoolers, and realizing that maybe his “realistic picture” had been really wrong.

but alas, lots of people who do something different are not in a position to stand up for “the cause”.

i know people who are train wrecks as parents, but it happens to be that they nurse their babies and advocate family beds. do i agree with these positions? yes i certainly do. would i want that particular family to inform people’s choices about those concepts? no i certainly don’t.

most homeschoolers i have met (both in person and online) are truly great people. i have come across exactly one person who was a religious fanatic, and she was not warmly looked upon by other members of the group. i have come across exactly zero people who are so dogmatic that they cannot think, and to the contrary, i think they and their children ask more probing and insightful questions about learning and about life than the average non-homeschooling family. they have to, or they never would have questioned “the system” and never would have come to homeschooling.

am i saying they are better than other people? of course not.

do i like them more than other people just because they homeschool? not ever.

are there homeschoolers i personally know, but i would cringe- internally and externally- if they became the spokesperson for homeshcooling? oh yes indeed.

so, just because you do something, it doesn’t make you qualified to be an advocate for the cause.

i will give you another example. i think raw milk is a great idea. i don’t want to debate you on it, i just want to put it out there. in michigan i looked into getting a cow share, and we were all set up to start getting some raw milk- and then we moved out of state.

that said, i have never even tasted raw milk. none of my children has ever even been in the same room with raw milk, at least as far as i know. but i am interested in trying it, and always interested in learning more. obviously i have researched it, or it would never even be on my radar.

so- do i tell random people i’m a big raw milk advocate? not necessarily.

and this is where it gets dicey. raw milk is actually a great example to use, since we are not currently getting it, and have no immediate source for it. but let’s say i did. let’s say my kids have friends over, and i have to remind them not to give milk to their friends without the parent’s permission.

let’s say we come across a medical sort (sheep the lot of ’em! ok, honestly it’s just lots of them, but i thought the initial proclamation had a lot of pizazz!). we come clean about using raw milk (remember, this is theoretical). they think we are loony, and don’t want their kids playing here, and assume we do all kinds of weird voodoo stuff, and my kids start getting teased.

and if you think it doesn’t play out like that, you must not have kids who do non-mainstream stuff…

so my kids are crying and hurt, and wondering why we can’t “just fit in”. and i’m defensive and angry because why should someone else accuse my child of something evil when i have simply made a parental decision that i feel is in their best interest?

so do i advocate or hide?

i know someone who does not vaccinate her children. she used to carry around an expand-a-file with studies and notes and xerox copies for people she met who would challenge her decision. she was prepared to be the crusader, but how did that play out with her family? i honestly don’t know, but i’m guessing they didn’t have such an easy time.

can some families handle it? absolutely. can you stress to your children to be proud of who and what they are? of course you can- and should (regardless of the choices you make). do i know families who i am proud to know and proud that they are associated with a certain cause or way of thinking? yep.

but in real life, my children are different people. they have different strengths and different personalities. some thrive under a microscope and some wilt.

one of my daughters is very passionate about homebirth. she wants to be a doula, and maybe one day a midwife (she will actually be starting her coursework in a few weeks, so this is not just theoretical). another daughter will be hospital births all the way.

same mother. same information. same family. one is happy to talk about birth choices with anyone who will listen, and the other wants to crawl under the table if it is even brought up.

so- do i or do i not crusade for home birth?

or raw milk?

or not to vaccinate?

or to homeschool?

or to homestead?

or to do any one of a zillion other things that make up the fabric of who i am and how i raise my family.

because now it isn’t just me on the line.

and although i do see the value in being a role model or a leader,

this mother bear is all about protecting her cubs.

so, would you care to join me in my closet?