It happened again today. Someone from back home asked me if Sally and Bobby were going to be followed by eleven more siblings. There’s an expectation some have people—even among church people not in conservative homeschooling circles—that I will follow among my parents’ footsteps and have a dozen or so children. They assume it’s what I want, even though I never told them I wanted that and I’ve been grown up and away from home for close to ten years now. And when I say it’s not, they are surprised.
Is it normal for people to assume that children will replicate their parents’ life choices? Why can’t we see children as individuals who grow up to make their own choices, some of which may be very different from those of their parents? When people raise children, they are not raising clones. They’re raising little people, individual little people with their own interests and desires—and their own choices.
I suppose it can happen in secular circles too. People assume that the son of a high school football star will play high school football himself, or that a child will attend the same college as their parent, in a family tradition of sorts. Many people assumed my husband Sean would make the same occupational choice as his father, so much so that he often felt the need to justify his choice not to follow that same career path.
And sometimes, when children don’t make the same choices as their parents, their parents view that as a sort of betrayal. I think that’s incredibly unfortunate.
Next month, Sally will begin attending kindergarten. We’re sending her to the local public school. The day is fast approaching when I will put my sweet baby on a school bus and watch as it pulls away. I never had that day myself, because I was homeschooled. But that’s not the hard part. The hard part is that my mother interprets my decision to send Sally to public school rather than homeschooling her as a betrayal. She sees it as an indictment of her own decision, which it is not. I’m not her, and she’s not me. We’re two different people making with two different decisions. That should be fine, but to my mother it’s not.
I didn’t sign up for this. I never asked for my choices to be judged against those of my parents—or for my choices to be seen as an indictment of my parents’ choices. I feel like I was thrust into this position with no say in the matter.
If I cap my family at two children, that is seen as a judgement on my parents’ choices—clearly the big family thing didn’t work out, or Libby wouldn’t have chosen to have such a small family. If I send my children to public school, that is seen as a judgement on my parents’ choices—clearly Libby doesn’t think homeschooling worked for her, or she wouldn’t put her children in public school.
Why can’t my decisions just be my own, an attempt to find what works best for the family I have formed? Why do my decisions have to be seen as a referendum of sorts on my parents’ decisions? Don’t people understand that I and my parents are different people making our decisions in different contexts? What is right for one person may not be right for another person. Two people can make different choices without either of them being wrong.
I feel like I’m backed into a corner. Whether I like it or not, my decisions will be viewed by others as a judgement on my parents’ choices. I don’t want that. I didn’t ask for that. If I could get my mother to understand one thing, it would be that my decisions are not a judgement on her decisions. I wish—how I wish—that she could accept my different choices without feeling judged by them. I wish she could see that this is not a betrayal. Maybe that’s not possible, I don’t know. But I wish it was.