Note: I am not a doctor. This post is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. If you are struggling with your mental health, please reach out to a healthcare professional who can help you.
A question that I sometimes see in homeschooling groups is “How do I homeschool if I have depression/anxiety?” While there are many mental health illnesses that someone may struggle with, depression and anxiety are the two that I see most often asked about. Today, I would like to talk about them, as a I am myself, a homeschooling mom with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I have also struggled with depression in the past. I am not a therapist and I am writing this post from a place of vulnerability and honesty and I hope you will appreciate that in your response.
The way I see it, yes, it is possible to homeschool if you don’t have perfect mental health. According to the National Institute for Mental Health, almost 20% of adults in the US have a mental illness. This is millions of people – it’s not a small number. We’re here, we exist, and for most of us, we still have to find a way through our daily lives. For some of us, that daily life includes homeschooling, just like for people with smaller children, it will include parenting with mental illness.
While I love and appreciate science, in this post, I will be drawing mostly on my personal experience of what has been helpful for me. And a lot of what is helpful to me is planning. In this post, I’m going to cover a few different plans you need if you are homeschooling with mental illness. Planning is always something that I have found very helpful – and homeschooling is no exception. So what are the plans you need?
Have a General Homeschooling Plan
For me, having an overall homeschool plan helps me to homeschool. In a way, it’s very grounding. When I am feeling overwhelmed and anxious, I don’t have to start from scratch thinking about what we need to do in school today – I can look at the plan. Currently, our plan is a loop schedule, which has been the perfect amount of structure and flexibility for us. But what your plan like will look different for every family. Maybe your family is an unschooling family – in that case you will need an unschooling “plan.” I usually create our plan over the summer during a time when I’m feeling good so it is there to fall back and start our rhythm every day, good and bad.
But, before I continue with any of the other plans, I have to tell you a very very important thing about plans. No matter how much you want your plans to always go perfectly, you need to be prepared to give yourself grace on the days when they don’t go perfectly. Honestly, this is still a struggle for me. I really, really like plans and when they go astray, it can be a struggle. But we are all a work in progress, right?
There are a couple of other plans you need when you are homeschooling.
Have a Plan to Take Care of You
Your mental health condition needs regular care just like it would if you had a physical condition. Having a plan to take care of you will help you homeschool successfully with a mental health condition. What are your plans for how you will take care of yourself. This can be broken down into two categories: preventative and crisis.
Preventative plans include what you are going to do to take care of your mental health on an ongoing basis. This can look like medication, therapy, exercise, proper hydration and nutrition, meditation, etc. What that will be comprised of will depend on you and what you need. None of these things are magic. But keeping up regularly with what does help is better than doing nothing.
Crisis plans include what you are going to do when you are really struggling with your mental health. This might include having trusted people in your life you can reach out to when you’re struggling and written index cards with strategies you can use when you are struggling. When you are really struggling with your mental health, it can be hard to think about what to do or how to get out of it. So having these plans in place beforehand can help you have a path forward. Write them down if you need to, to help you remember. If you have a spouse or another trusted person, help them to know where your written plans are so that they can gently remind you of your plans if you can’t remember.
These plans will make a difference in your homeschool and hopefully, in your life.
Have a Plan to Take Care of Your Kids
I know all too well the guilt that comes with having the homeschool plans not work out because my anxiety is too high to focus on teaching. So having a back up plan of acceptable homeschool days can be really helpful. This can include things like
- Having a board game day
- Having a documentary day
- Going to the park (if outside time helps you)
- Having an art day
Having a plan of alternative activities that you find acceptable and low stress can help you to move through your homeschool day even when you are struggling. It can help boost your mood and it can serve as a distraction to help you get through the day. It can be tempting to think that a day where you’re struggling with your mental health is just a wasted homeschool day, but having a plan for what you need to accomplish that you can consider “good enough” can be helpful to make it through those days.
Know Your Resources
What resources exist for you in your community? Knowing these can be very helpful to taking care of your mental health and homeschooling at the same time. You can put these resources into two categories: homeschooling and mental health.
Mental health resources that would be good to know in your community are a therapist and a primary care doctor, mental health support groups – including postpartum depression support groups, and the numbers of crisis lines that you can call or text in your area. If you don’t have local support of a therapist that you trust, there are many options nowadays for telehealth therapy or even counselors you can text. I know that in America having access to these things is a luxury, but I promise you that taking care of yourself will be one hundred percent worth it.
Homeschooling resources that would be helpful include things like a homeschooling co-op for your socialization, homeschool friends that you can talk to when you are having a bad homeschool day, and supportive online communities. Surround yourself with groups and people that are both realistic about the challenges of homeschooling but also keep an overall positive vibe. It’s a tricky balance to find and I hope that I am able to be a cheerleader for you too!
It is possible to homeschool with a mental illness, but I also want you to know that if you find that homeschooling is doing a disservice to your mental health, it is okay to stop homeschooling and put your kids into a brick and mortar school. Homeschooling is something that needs to work not just for your kids, but for you as well. It’s easy to focus in on the kids, but you are a big part of homeschooling and if it isn’t working well for you then something needs to change. You are not a failure if you choose to put your kids into a brick and mortar school so that you can take care of yourself. You’re also not a failure if you need to put your kids into brick and mortar school for their benefit. I’ve shared in this post what helps me, but you will need to figure out what helps you! And if you would like someone to walk through your homeschool plans with you (not your medical plans! Again, I’m not a doctor), reach out to me, I am happy to help you figure out what homeschooling plan works for you.
Homeschooling with a mental illness is possible. It’s impossible to be a perfect parent, but you can be a good enough parent. You can work to get your mental health in a good place so that homeschooling – or any of the challenges you want to take on – are possible.