Editor’s note: This article first appeared on Charlotte Mason Living.
Friendship is not something that has ever come easily to me. Don’t get me wrong, I have always had friends, but, except for my husband, my best friend since I was eighteen, I have always held back something of myself. For eleven years I worked in hair salons, a highly social environment; I enjoyed the company of many people, but our relationships were always hovering just above the surface. I was a listener and an observer, not only to my clients, but to my coworkers. I had actually given up hope that there was anything more than this for me and I was okay with it.
When my oldest daughter was nearly four years old, I stopped working to take care of my family full time. Even before I quit working I knew that I was being called to homeschool our children. It occurred to me then for the first time that I was going to have to actively pursue friendships for their sake. I still accepted the unlikelihood of making any real friends for myself. Honestly, I saw it as a necessary sacrifice for the good of my children. I should say here that although I have always been around people, I am extremely introverted. When I meet people on my terms, in the salon, presenting a workshop, I am at my ease. But to walk up to a stranger and start a conversation for no reason is just awful for me. Anyway, in an attempt to make friends for my children, I signed up for a co-op.
This was in my early days of Charlotte Mason, so I had no idea what I was doing. I signed up my four and a half year old for a kindergarten co-op at our church. I do not recommend joining a co-op with children as young as I had, and I do not recommend joining a co-op that is not Charlotte Mason specific, but I learned a lot and I am thankful for the experience. The most important thing I learned is that my oldest daughter is just like I am! She is an introvert and she values relationships with individuals and small groups of people. Right around this time I got deeper into Charlotte Mason’s philosophy and I came to realize that I actually did want some friends with whom I could discuss these ideas.
So we made some big changes. To start, we did not sign up for any co-ops the following year. We left our very large church, with parishioners in the thousands, for a very small church that has a body closer to one hundred. The difference to my girls was clear. Next, I set out to start a Charlotte Mason discussion group.
There were already a couple of Charlotte Mason discussion groups in my general region, but they were just far enough away and in the evening that between my husband’s schedule and a nursing baby, I couldn’t make those work. I used our local CM yahoo group to see if there was any interest in starting a discussion group that would meet during the daytime and include the children. I hoped to find an experienced Charlotte Mason practitioner who would divulge her wisdom and answer all of my questions, ease all of my fears. What I found was a bunch of women looking for the same thing! All of us were just starting out with Charlotte Mason, most of us had very young children and all of us were trying to figure things out.
At first I was a little disappointed that no one knew any more than I did, but I was already seeing potential for something really good. I knew that our family and these families we had just met had the same need for community. It seemed that most of us had trouble finding a place within the larger local homeschool community. I am a planner, but I couldn’t really see where this was going, so I just started doing the next thing. We started with some park days to get to know each other and after a few months we moved on to discussion group. From there, our community quickly grew. Not in size, but in richness.
In a future blog post I will tell you how we got to where we are, but for now I would like you to know what this community has meant for our family.
First the difference in my oldest daughter (now eight), she is still the one most like me and the one who experienced all of my community experiments. She used to change from the silly, creative and opinionated child I knew at home into a quiet and shy observer. She seemed to become visibly smaller, patiently waiting until it was time to leave. At our Considering Lilies meetings she is now the same person that she is at home. She has real friends. She laughs freely at inside jokes (which she narrates to me later, and which I totally do not get!) and shares interests that only a fellow Mason homeschooler can really understand. She is always looking forward to the next time she will see her friends.
My two younger children are not old enough to remember the difference. They have grown up in our little community; it is all they know. The older children act as helpers to the little ones, who eagerly follow their lead. My six year old daughter runs to one of the bigger girls whenever she sees her and is immediately and sweetly carried around as if she were a baby. My three year old son recently had an entire battle with one of his friends using The Force. It was hilarious! Because of our little group, he can play rough and tumble games that his sisters do not appreciate. There is a level of comfort and trust because of our shared values and common focus that has created a sense of comfort and freedom for all of the children.
As I said before, making friends had never been something that comes easily to me. I had given up on the idea of having any real friends. My intensity and intelligence can be off putting, so I have learned to hold my tongue, keep ideas to myself and go with the flow. Except in my home and with my family, I always kept back a part of myself. This holding back always kept others at a distance. Charlotte Mason’s philosophy gave me new opportunities and opened up a whole new world. Not only a new world of ideas, but a community to share them with. I now have friends. Real friends. Friends who support me, and challenge me. Friends with shared interests, shared passions and friends I can count on. We have grown as people and as a community through Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. Together we have grown in our understanding of education, our role as parents, our children as Image bearers. We have asked questions and sometimes hotly debated the answers, but we have done it in love and friendship. We are all very different people with very different children and life circumstances, but God and Charlotte Mason have brought us together and in that we are united. I find now that my feet are set in a large room and they are not set there alone.