Homeschooling and depression.

Not an easy topic to address. But necessary. Perhaps you are a homeschooling Mum who suffers depression. Perhaps you know someone in this position. Or maybe you are a Mum considering homeschooling but think that you can't because you suffer depression. Read on.

My own experience with depression is not something I usually talk about openly, but I have suffered depression on and off since adolescence. In recent years I have improved a great deal.

There are many reasons for my improvement, but perhaps that is a story best left to another day, as today I want to focus specifically on depression in relation to homeschooling.

I contacted the well known homeschooling, and in particular, natural learning advocate Beverly Paine. Beverly has home educated her children through to adulthood while dealing with depression. She was very gracious and honest in answering my questions.

*****************************************************************************  Before you began homeschooling your children were you concerned that your depression would be a problem?

"It didn’t occur to me at the time that it would, although I do remember being concerned before my youngest was born if I’d manage parenting another child – but by then I’d already committed to home educating all of them! I think I’d already integrated parenting and education as being one seamless activity. Our baby was due a few weeks before we ‘officially’ began home educating our eldest. I’d been suffering undiagnosed ante-natal depression for almost six years by then. My husband was actively co-parenting in a hands-on way, offering considerable practical support throughout each day."

    What were your main concerns (if any?)

"On my ‘bad’ days I felt immobilized, lacking motivation and felt ‘lost’: on those days I mostly sat and played with the children or did very simple art and craft activities. I couldn’t plan or organise or even supervise, simply ‘being’ with the children seemed to work best. As it turned out, this was the perfect thing to do and not only helped me to build close relationships with the children but helped me ‘parent’ myself.

There were other significant stress factors at play in our lives at the time: we were owner-builders and the house in which we lived still required considerable work to finish it; I had inadequately managed chronic asthma and sinus infections; we were living on an incredibly low income, and I wasn’t getting on at all well with my parents or my in-laws!

As a home educating mum in these early years I doubted my ability to teach the children what I thought they were supposed to learn: little by little my children demonstrated that even with considerable ‘down time’ from their teacher-mum they progressed through the curriculum anyway. Simply playing and living, doing the chores, taking part in everyday family life looking after our needs, proved to be an okay educational approach.

I worried quite a bit about what other people thought, and frequently wondered if I had the right to perform this social, developmental and educational experiment on my children. Back then few families were home educating – we began in 1985. Time has shown that it wasn’t really an experiment: school is actually the experiment! "

    Through your homeschooling journey, did you find that these initial concerns were well founded or not an issue?

"My concerns arose from ignorance: reflecting on the children’s learning experiences and ours as a family allayed them, along with my continuing self-education through reading magazines and books about home education. I also started what I believe was South Australia’s first home education support group and newsletter. Sharing doubts and reassuring each other, as well as celebrating our homeschooling journeys together, helped considerably.

Once we decided to home educate the children we never seriously considered it as an option. Our children were free to go to school if they wished, but being very involved with their education in a hands-on way was always going to be a part of our lives. It was not negotiable, not even when my mental health deteriorated to the point that I had a breakdown. My children were an important and active aspect of the healing process, the journey toward mental wellness."

    Looking back, do you think your depression disadvantaged your children in any way?

"I am sure it did but it also advantaged them too. I saw this also with my nephew (my sister suffered from depression as well, and she also had other chronic health issues). These young people are caring and sensitive adults with a heightened sense of self-knowledge and empathy towards others. They practice assertive conflict management strategies and approach life as learners: open to learning new ways, embracing change as a natural part of life. They are sensitive to their own and other people’s moods and are aware of their personal boundaries."

     What coping mechanisms did you use for the harder days?

"Some days I could do very little and felt incredibly frustrated that these days were ‘wasted’ crying or raging. I felt very out of control. In hindsight I needed professional help and regret that no one felt strong enough to help me seek it. My husband met the children’s needs on those days. We are still dealing with the toll my depression took on his health and our relationship. I worked much harder to repair any damage I did to my relationship with our children than I did with him. I would definitely do things differently if I had my time over!

I did whatever I could do on the harder days. I created ‘lists’ of the things I needed or wanted to do and eventually accepted that it was okay if I managed to tick only one thing off that list: in fact, one task done was cause for celebration, it became a goal for the tough days. I learned that tomorrow was another day and that quite likely the ‘mood’ will have passed and it was okay to tackle today’s chores tomorrow. I learned that it was okay for others to do those chores instead of me, especially if they were willing, happy to offer. I gave myself permission to sit and write. I read books about self-development. I learned about the different things that triggered my mood swings and bouts of depression. I began to avoid those triggers. I avoided social over-stimulation. I learned it was important for me to be in bed by 11pm at the latest. Most of all I gave myself permission to focus on being an attentive parent, enjoying simply playing with the children and exploring enjoyable past-times with them." 

Thank you so much for your valuable insights Beverly. Beverly's natural learning website, The Educating Parent, can be found here. She also has a permaculture website that you can visit here.

So, can you homeschool your children if you suffer depression?

Yes, absolutely! With the right systems in place. Here are my tips:

*Know your triggers.

*Don't allow yourself to get overtired.

*Avoid unnecessary stress.

* You time. Make time to do things that nourish you.

*Let go of unrealistic expectations and accept that this is part of you.

I hope this has helped you in some way, please feel free to continue the discussion in the comments.


Nanna Chel said...

Such good advice for your readers, Kelly. I am very familiar with mental illness and the more people talk about it and the fact that it is such a part of so many lives, the better it will be for everyone. Well done!

Kelly Casanova said...

Thanks for the positive feedback :)

wren64 said...

Thank you both so much

Kelly Casanova said...

You're very welcome :)

Kelly's hand woven, perfectly hemmed technique.

I won't tell you how long these towels have been sitting on my creative table waiting to be hemmed. What is it with final techniqu...