My kids asked me if I’m voting for Donald Trump. I could give a million reasons why the answer is no, but I wanted to give a thoughtful answer that would generate a conversation. So I said, “No. I don’t think he supports community.”

We talked about that. We talked about the border wall he wants Mexico to pay for, we talked about how he wants to children born in the US to live in Mexico. Then my son said, “Mom, how do you support community? We don’t really do anything in our community.”

Crap. I have to remember as the kids get older it’s harder to get on a high horse about anything.

When we first moved to our rural home I was actively trying to improve the community by way of the school. I met with the principal a lot to talk about how to make improvements for the kids.

Then I got frustrated and took my kids out of school. Since then, we have made our life on our farm and in Madison and the northern suburbs of Chicago. I don’t know very many people in Darlington, and neither do my kids.

I struggle to feel like I’m part of a community. When the kids were smaller we joined all the other families when the carnival came through town. Now, not so much. I look for ways to contribute even though we are rarely here, and also, there is a huge cultural gap between me and my community.

The truth is, most of the way I contribute to community is to vote for people who want to put resources toward supporting people at the bottom rungs of the community. I should have said that to the kids.

But really, saying stuff like that to the kids just sounds preachy and self-serving and they smell it a mile away.

While I was fretting about that, I remembered that my older son asked to work at a soup kitchen. I couldn’t find one close by and gave up. But then I looked harder and found a food pantry looking for volunteers. It was close to our home. So we went.

I tried to be casual while we were packaging ears of corn. I said, “It feels good to be contributing to the community.”

The boys looked like they didn’t hear me even though I know they did, which meant I couldn’t repeat it.

So we took our places in the line: Older boy handing out carrots, Younger one handing out bananas, Me unloading carts.

I was shocked that no adult supervised them.

At the end of the day, I asked them how it went. My younger son said.

“I saw a friend here.”

There were no other kids volunteering, so I knew what he meant. I said, “How did that feel?”

“I was surprised,” he said. “And I didn’t know her family is poor.”

I nodded. This was one of those times when I want to say something profound and nothing comes to mind.  I said, “What did you say when she saw you?”

He said, “Well. I gave her bananas. And then I talked to her just like I would if I saw her at the pool.”

You can teach kids empathy. There are a million ways and I’m not linking to them. All the sappy parenting sites tell you what to do. The reason those parenting magazines tell you about empathy is because it’s an absolute joy to watch your child exhibit empathy when it really matters.

The thing those magazines don’t tell you is that if you send your kids away for the majority of their lives, you miss the majority of moments when your kids shine. And the same is true for community: if you keep your kids away from community, for eight hours a day, you miss the opportunity to make them feel like they are part of a community.

Homeschooling is not about having values no one else does. And it’s not about having curriculum no one else does. It’s about giving time to kids—not as a teacher or a spiritual leader but as a parent who shares the joys of day-to-day living.