There are several aspects of homeschooling in regards to siblings that have left a strong impression on me. For one, I believe homeschooling can help parents ensure siblings remain friends versus apathetic house mates or worse, enemies. Secondly, the challenges involved in being a sibling and having a sibling serve as great practice for children when it comes to living with and communicating closely with others. Homeschooling usually means a lot of time with siblings and more opportunities to establish a life-long bond. Third, I find that basic principles of good parenting and relationships take care of instilling healthy sibling behavior no matter where kids attend school but I think this is easier to do when one is not being undermined by negative outside forces.
I have a brother who is only a year younger and we attended school mostly in the 80s and 90s. My parents claim we got along wonderfully, until we started school. This is what I remember, too. My brother became tough to handle over the years as he was a quick learner, highly active, and self-motivated. Our parents didn’t know how to peacefully guide him. I was very sensitive and the constant rush surrounding the school schedule and environment made me very anxious and stressed. We both consistently tested very well but struggled despite our grades. It was hard to get along while we were both so stressed. Things got worse once we entered middle school and were inundated with cultural messaging like, “girls rule and boys drool” and I remember hearing that if you got along with your brother or sister, you were a “weirdo”. It was normal not to like your sibling. My brother and I fought like cat and dog most of the time. Parenting has a lot to do with this but school culture was reinforcing the idea that we were supposed to be enemies and that I was better than him because I was a girl and he was a stinky and hyperactive boy. My brother was sensitive to the subtle injustices served to boys at school and by age 12 he outright declared that he was going to do the crime since he was doing the time, after all.
Contrast that experience with my children, boy/girl twins who at age 11, have a completely different dynamic compared to what I lived with my brother. They are friends and allies. To their mutual benefit, they are brutally honest with each other but they also pay each other genuine compliments, and look out for each other, too. They’ve occasionally encountered those cultural messages about girls somehow being morally superior when we go out to the library or other public places and their reaction is telling. My son gets extremely upset and wants nothing to do with the place or people. My daughter gets confused and weepy. She doesn’t understand why there is some sort of negative view towards boys and why there is such an emphasis on “girl power” and female achievement. She loves her father and brother. Most people find out as adults that having a sibling who supports you, helps you move into your new place, shows up on your birthday, babysits your kids, and tells you when you’re being selfish would be a huge asset in life. Tragically, too many aren’t close to their siblings and thus don’t reap these benefits.
Siblings who are homeschooled spend more time together than siblings who attend public school. I’ve realized that my kids have had to learn how to share small spaces, cooperate, and negotiate with each other without the long break a public school day would provide. It’s a learning process as they grow up, but they successfully manage to respect each other’s wishes, personalities, capabilities. This is a valuable thing to learn and practice with different personalities.
Homeschooling siblings who get along depends heavily on parents who get along. I’m sure of it. When there is stress between my husband and I, it is quickly evident in the way our kids behave with each other. My daughter will generally sound like me and my son will sound like his father. Sometimes they’ll sound more like the parent whose personality they can relate to, but mostly we notice male/female dynamics at work. Homeschooling has helped us become aware of ways in which we want to communicate and ways we don’t, because our children mimic us and we know we can’t blame “public school”. While we’re glad they’re not out copying random kids and teachers at school or characters on tv, we realize that puts a lot of responsibility on us as their primary influence. We’ve used this as motivation to make our relationship the best it can be so that our children will pick up positive behaviors.
We all make mistakes as parents and hope for the opportunity to try again and do better. Homeschooling provides a lot of opportunities to work on the behavior we want our children to see. My husband and I are so pleased at what our kids have picked up at home from two loving but imperfect parents. I’ll share two recent instances of what I mean. We have chickens and my son is in charge of feeding them each morning. One day he woke up groggy and tired. His sister noticed this and told him “Wow, you don’t look like you slept well!” He groaned and threw his covers over his head. She said leaned in and said quietly, “Don’t worry about the chickens, I’ll feed them for you.” He thanked her and later emerged from his room in a very good mood. My daughter has type 1 diabetes. She has to take glucose with her everywhere she goes for her safety. The other day before taking a bike ride she realized her clothing had no pockets and her brother said, “I already have back up glucose for you in my pocket, let’s go.” My daughter said, “Thanks! Wait, I thought you didn’t want to go outside right now?” My son replied, “Yeah I changed my mind, I know how much I like company so I’ll go with you.” This sort of reciprocal behavior, any adult would agree, is priceless in any relationship. Maybe my kids would have been just as nice to each other had they been sent to public school. Yet, for this and other reasons, I didn’t want to chance it.