Homeschooling with Depression
Depression and anxiety are issues I deal with on a daily basis, and have for many years now. I rarely mention it, because I tend to think that most of the posts about depression disorders are along the lines of ‘hey, I have depression, too, but I got better and you will, too!!’, which is both annoying to me and completely unrealistic. Or maybe my perspective is off; maybe their depression was situational, or seasonal and they got over it – which is great for them, but really annoying when you’re dealing with the kind of long-term, cyclical, never-ending depression that I’ve been dealing with for years. I wanted to write about it, because I don’t see depression talked about often in homeschool blogs, either.
Homeschooling parents deal with a lot of stereotypes. There’s the martyr, who sacrifices everything (including her sense of style) for her kids; the saint, who has many, many children, and just blesses each and every one of their little mischievous hearts without ever losing her cool (or mind); the overachiever, with only two or three kids, but all of them play a sport, a musical instrument, have each started a charity or their own business by the age of 10, and have private riding and fencing lessons twice weekly… and the rest of us, who just muddle through each day trying not to lose our minds. But chief among all of them, across the board, is the idea that homeschooling moms are, first and foremost, happy all the time. They are endless paragons of patience and bastions of knowledge and kindness and absolutely satisfied with every aspect of their life.
Oh, that it were so, but it’s definitely not. Here are some of the areas that I find to be challenging:
Motivation is a huge issue for me – probably the main one I struggle with as a homeschooling mom. There are days when I just can’t. get. out. of. bed. Or just can’t manage to get it together and actually get the kids started on their work. It’s not that I didn’t plan well, or that we don’t have things to do – we absolutely have things to do, and I often find myself scrambling at the last minute to get ready to go, even for things I really want to do. It’s frustrating.
So far, I’ve found that, surprise! Nothing helps. This is a matter that I deal with on almost a daily basis. Some days to a lesser extent than others, but getting out of bed is a daily struggle. Homeschooling has been a double-edged sword in that we’re not tied to anyone else’s time table, which is great, because it means that I can adjust when we start and stop the school day. On the other hand, I’m not tied to any particular time table, which means that it’s entirely up to me to make it happen. So, I do what I’ve always done and complain about it in my head and just do it anyway. Some days, I manage it fairly well. Other days, school runs later into the day than I’d planned. It’s helped a lot that the kids are able to work independently more and more as they get older, but someone still has to plan the plans and keep track of things and be dressed when it’s time to go do the thing. I wish I could end this with a platitude or strategy, but I haven’t found one yet. The search continues, which is something, I guess.
Dealing with Bad Days
Bad days are bound to happen, depression or not. But with depression, bad days seem to linger. It’s almost like depression is a tangible fog or miasma that infects everything. The kids aren’t immune to my mood, either. As the mom/teacher, when you’re homeschooling, you often set the tone for the day. If I wake up in a bad mood, my kids will inevitably follow. If I wake up with a (forced) song in my heart, then they’ll likewise, generally follow suit.
As we all know, exercise helps. Having an exercise routine is a good thing – sticking to it is difficult. When a bad day peaks, movement can help get you out of the funk. If I am anxious, sometimes physically getting up and walking away from my problem (or the source of my stress) can put the problem back into proper perspective. If inside is gloomy and doomy, then hitting the sunshine and connecting with Mother Earth does wonders for my mental state. We school ‘on the go’ quite a bit, because staring at the same four walls would drive anyone crazy. Schoolwork outside has always, always been a great thing.
Meditation is a good way to re-center and re-charge also. We have mind jars that are between 5-10 minutes of glittery peace. Mindful movement is another non-stressful way to integrate movement and exercise into your day. A friend of mine has turned me on to ‘restorative yoga‘ – it’s amazeballs. Dance is another good one – a silly way to move your body, get out of a funk and connect with the kids. We favor Latin dance music for housekeeping – I recommend it.
As a homeschooling parent, everything rests on your shoulders. All of the responsibility of educating your children – their successes and failures all reflect on you. What’s crazy about that is that even if they excel in several areas, if they fail in even one area that someone who feels they’re more qualified than you to decide what’s important, you’re still cast in a bad light. Maybe that’s my anxiety talkin’, but I’d wager most homeschooling parents would agree with that to some extent. As the sole arbiter of education, that’s a tremendous responsibility. Depression already casts the weight of the world onto your shoulders, it seems like adding the burden of homeschooling on top of that is insanity. There are days that ‘The Worry’ gets me, and I have a hard time snapping out of it.
Managing anxiety and depression are key in those moments. I use a few apps that help. My favorite is Mood Tools. I use it every time my anxiety starts getting high, and it honest-to-goodness helps. My most-used tool in that app is the Thought Diary. It takes you through rating your initial state, works you through your cognitive distortions, gives you a place to verbalize your fears and thoughts, and evaluate them, then re-evaluate your anxiety levels and I almost always am able to get a reality check and control it.
In a homeschooling context, the best tool I have is ‘some is better than none’. That’s not a crutch or an excuse not to do the thing… even public school teachers have days where they bring in the video cart and let the kids watch movies all day. What it does is release some of the pressure for getting things done today. Tomorrow is a whole new day, and things may be very different then – my mood may be better (or the kids’ moods); the sun may be shining…. brand new day.
When you homeschool, sometimes it doesn’t seem like there’s room for ‘real life’, so housework can get shuffled to the side. I like the idea of making everyone who is capable of physically doing the job responsible for his or her own messes/cleaning and care of personal spaces. That way, my workload is diminished, and the kids learn to do for themselves – win/win! Community spaces are community responsibility – just like in real life.
Stuck in a Rut
Homeschooling can be tedious, especially when, for whatever reason and despite your considerable effort, your kiddo just isn’t getting it. Or maybe things are going along as normal, and you just feel ‘blah’ because every day is routine. It doesn’t happen here very often, thanks to my ever-increasing sphere of interests and willingness to experiment, but when it does, how do you break it? For me, personally, I am prone to restructuring from the ground up. I can only handle doing the same task for so long before I go cuckoo-bananas, so we get a remodel of pretty much everything maybe once every other year or so. I make smaller changes about every few months – simple things like colors and fonts on printed materials, or shelving something that’s gotten dreary in favor of something with more pizzazz for a while.
In a larger sense, I plan our year so that I have different areas of focus at different times of the year. We plan for the fall semester to be the bulk of the text work, while the winter is more literary-based, leaving spring for unit studies. Summer is a mixed bag of catch-up and prep for the fall. I structure things so that I don’t have too long to focus on one thing. We also schedule our year so that there are built-in breaks every 4-6 weeks or so, rather than one long break.
When I need a quick fix though, even just a change of scenery for the day can do the trick. An impromptu field trip, or going to visit my brother for a couple of days – anything to break the monotony.
Asking for Help
Asking for help is one of the hardest things to do, especially when you’re ‘supposed to’ have it all together. Combine that with the stigma of mental health issues, and it’s no wonder that people suffer silently. But I know there are more moms out there who are making it work, every day, step-by-painful-step. If you’re one of them, I’d love to hear from you.
I hate platitudes, especially ‘it gets better’, because it doesn’t always. I’m a rather pragmatic sort, and one of the best, most practical things I’ve seen is the ‘Everything is Awful and I’m Not Okay: Questions to ask before giving up‘ list. I have it in my planner, I gave copies to my kids. It’s on the bulletin board in our kitchen. I like it because it’s something to help me focus ‘small’. Depression is ‘big’ – it looms over me; it takes up a lot of space in my head, in the room, in my life. It’s overwhelming and ever-present. The list is ‘small’. It’s useful. It’s something I can focus on right here, right now, that helps keep the despair at bay.
So, like I said, this isn’t one of those ‘and now I’m all fixed’ posts. I’m not; I’m still broken and struggling, every day, and it’s really damn hard.
- Simple Homeschool – Homeschooling with Depression
- Bright Ideas Press – Homeschooling with Depression
- Psycho With 6 – Depression and the Homeschool Mom (podcast; Christian based)
- The Pelsers – How to Homeschool with Depression
- Ben and Me – Homeschooling with Depression (very religious)