A Personal Examination of Socialisation
by Beverley Paine, Feb 2014
I was thinking about the subject of happy to be alone yesterday - actually it's been a bit of theme of my thoughts for some time now, in reference to me learning and accepting things about myself. But thoughts about my children slip in there too, mainly because of the unusual (little or no school) childhood they had.
My parents and my partner's parents were happy with their own company but considered themselves social people, which basically meant that when they went out they got along with people with whom they found themselves chatting. Friends that came to visit them were rare and they seemed okay with that frequency level. Robin and I find ourselves in the same pattern. Our parents went to school and we went to school. Our children had a different experience in that regard but nonetheless it looks like they've adopted a similar structure and frequency to their social life.
I find myself asking, "Is this normal?" It isn't what is portrayed as normal and when I'm out and about on the weekend, say at the beach on these fine hot nights, notice clumps of same age(ish) people hanging together. More often than not these clumps are either all male or all female, though the ones with grey hair tend to have a mixture of both. I am wondering if this reflects the pattern set in school, and if so, why did I miss out? I was never one to belong to a girls group at school: I hung out with a mixed group of kids that didn't fit into any of the other groups. Was this because of the way my parents behaved socially?
I had a social life outside of school all the way through, first through Brownies and then Guides, and for most of my childhood through an active rock and mineral club which featured lots of field trips and camps with other families. No one could say I was deprived of social opportunities: as kids me and my siblings played with the other kids in our street after school. But here I find myself, happy with my own company for most of the time, content with companionship of my partner. My life is full and busy and I mostly socialise with my children (except online of course - I have a very active online social life!)
I don't feel 'normal' though. I keep thinking that something is missing from my life, that it's wrong and unhealthy to live like this, not being social with a large range of people, not wanting to be out and about meeting and making friends, getting to know almost everyone in my street and neighbourhood, etc. I feel like my social skills are inadequate because I don't have lots of friends (outside of cyberspace), just lots of acquaintances. And that set me to wondering, where do we learn our social skills?
Many people argue that school is where children are socialised. There's no question we are socialised at school: my concern regarding that is the quality of the social interaction and the motivation behind the kind of socialisation children experience there. But perhaps the primary socialising agent in our lives is our early life with our parents together with effect of our inherited genes.
I was taught to be well mannered though perhaps not polite. My parents encouraged me to be polite but I think I didn't notice enough of it in action: I definitely grew up suspicious of the concept. I wasn't taught how to be interested in what other people are doing or saying. Looking back now over fifty years of friendships most of us seem intent on hearing what we have to say, telling others what we're doing, how we responded to similar situations, etc. Being genuinely interested in the life of others isn't something that was modelled to me in my formative years or reinforced and encouraged through experience during my adult years. So where does one learn how to do that? It is something I'm learning to do now, by being mindful. It doesn't come naturally to me and I suspect that once upon it did but that natural ability was trained out of me.
I watch babies and toddlers and little people and although there are beautifully self-centred they are also amazingly social creatures, studying others intently, soaking up the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate life among others. That's how I know I once had the ability to notice, listen, pay attention and be mindful of what is important to others, it was important to me, I wanted to belong, to be like them. And maybe that's what happened: I became like the people I was closest to as a child. Not the school kids in my class, nor my teachers, but my parents.
I didn't reflect on this when my children were young. I was too busy bolstering my rejection of school and its socialisation paradigm, plus getting on with living with all its complications and demands. I'm not sure what my reflections are saying or pointing to now. But I'm thinking that being mindful and genuinely attentive and caring about the lives of others, what they are doing and thinking and feeling, is worth pursuing and living and modelling: it feels like the missing jigsaw my personal socialisation puzzle.
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We began educating our three children in 1985, when our eldest was aged five years. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn as they grew and explored and discovered this amazing world since the moment they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. I hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was!
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