Dear Helping Hand,
There's a support group in my town that looks like it would be wonderful, but I'm really not sure I should take time out of our already busy schedule to go to its activities. What are the pros and cons about joining a support group?
The primary purpose of a support group is, as the name implies, to offer support, yet the manner in which groups offer support varies as widely as do the personalities of those they serve — therefore the pros and cons vary too.
Support groups can provide occasions for interaction with other adults (a thing moms of young children seem especially to appreciate) and equally gratifying fellowship for your children. This alone is a thing to be considered. There are times when only a fellow homeschooler can appreciate the challenges you face, and the friends you have gained through your support group are able to hold out the lifeline you need.
Most support groups also provide valuable services. Newsletters keep you up on events in the local group and the world around you. Phone trees alert you to bills that are up for consideration and other governmental happenings. There are field trips, public speaking days, resource libraries, parent taught classes, mom's nights out. . .the list of potential helps is enormous.
Cons? That depends on your situation. If you don't need a support group, that may be a con. Also support groups don't run themselves. Any organization requires some combination of time and money to function. What can you give? The group may require that all members accept some responsibility, helping to carry the load. If this is the case in your area, you would need to consider whether you were able to make such a commitment.
I think that, usually, it is the people themselves, and how you feel about them, that will determine whether or not you find a group beneficial. Are these people open and willing to discuss a variety of topics and homeschooling options, or have they decided how homeschooling should be done and don't care to discuss any method but theirs? Is the group comprised mostly of either new or experienced homeschoolers, or is it a mixture of both? Are these people ‘chatty' or do they have full schedules that require them to ‘hit and run'? Any of these possibilities might be just what you need; I only ask the questions to help you decide how well you will fit in with potential companions.
Have I had any bad experiences in support groups? Absolutely. (See my answer to the next question.) One of the most ill-mannered boys I have ever encountered was in one group, and I cringed every time he acted up on a field trip. I've sat for hours on the phone listening to the perpetual complainer's woes, unable to figure out how to say ‘goodbye' gracefully. I've seen homeschool meetings turn into gossip sessions, and I've seen arguments.
I have also had opportunity to form lifelong friendships, to go places and do things I would never have otherwise, and to get to know some who had years' more experience than me. I've seen homeschooling and education through a hundred sets of eyes, I've borrowed friends' resources when I had no money to purchase my own, and I've both cried on others' shoulders and offered my shoulder to be cried on.
My suggestion: If it at all fits into your schedule, give the support group a try. Get to know the people and feel comfortable in the activities. Then, if you decide this is not for you, all you're out is the first year's dues and a portion of your time.
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