I have bipolar disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.
And yes, I am a mom. And yes, I homeschool my kids.
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In addition, I am not a doctor or mental health professional.
The following is simply advice from my own personal experience, and is not intended to be taken as professional advice.
Can I Homeschool My Kids??
When I first caught the “homeschool bug”, I delved deep into research, reading books, blogs, and more on homeschool lifestyles, curriculum, and consulted my friends who were already homeschooling. I wanted to know it all.
I remember combing through these books and blogs, taking in every bit of them, getting more and more excited about this idea of bringing our daughter home. I ticked off the reasons to just do it, and the more I learned, the more it sounded like the right decision.
And then I read something in one book that stopped me in my tracks: you shouldn’t homeschool if you have a serious mental illness.
I’m sorry, what?
I stared at the book, a little taken aback. Okay, a lot taken aback, because there was no elaboration. Just a simple aside, as if the author wanted to clarify that she thought that kids would end up neglected or abused if someone with a mental illness happened to decide to homeschool. She was clearly a huge advocate of homeschooling or she wouldn’t have authored the book, but now she was randomly popping in to say that any parent who happened to have a mental illness would be better off sending their kids to a school.
Okay – long story short, we of course ended up disregarding this woman’s ill-informed opinion, because we made the decision to homeschool anyway. And, if you’re a mom or dad who happens to be living with a mental illness and are wondering if you can homeschool, or continue to homeschool your kids – I want to encourage you. Yes, you can do it.
After just three years of homeschooling my kids while living with a mental illness, I have learned a few things I’d like to pass on:
1. Seek professional help
Yes, this one is important. Many of us with mental illnesses require psychiatric medication to remain stable. There is absolutely no shame in this. The brain is a part of the body as much as the heart, and you wouldn’t deny yourself life-saving heart medication, so don’t buy into the lie that medication for your brain is any different. There are even DNA tests available that report which medications work best and which will do you harm. I have taken one such test, and since modifying my medication regimen to align with the report, my mental health has significantly improved. Psychiatric medication can truly be a life-saver.
In addition, if you are able, establish a relationship with a licensed mental health counselor, and see them regularly. They can provide you with objective insight and guidance, and help you remain emotionally regulated. In addition, a good doctor and counselor can also vouch for you if ever anyone does call you into question.
2. Practice self-care
Take care of yourself. This looks different for everyone. You know what you need. Practice this every day – take care of your body and your mind. If this means taking a long, hot bubble bath every day, do it. If it means blasting your favorite music while you shower, by all means, crank up the volume and sing your heart out. If it means getting up early to have time to yourself, make sure you don’t let yourself sleep past your alarm so you can have that much-needed me-time. Or maybe you do need to sleep in one day, or every day. Allow yourself the luxury. Not only does self-care make you a better parent and teacher, it’s a good example to set for your kids so they also learn to take care of themselves.
3. Maintain a good support system
It truly does take a village to raise a child. Lean on your village. First, take care of your relationship with your partner, and work out a system with them in childcare and homeschool. They are your equal in parenthood – may they be just that. Plan for ways to share teaching responsibilities. In addition, if you live near supportive extended family, allow them to help. The same goes for the community around you – be it family friends, neighbors, or members of your church. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to maintain a system of support – healthy, even. Your kids will be enriched for it, too.
4. Be transparent with your kids
When you’re struggling with your mental health, share this with your kids in an age-appropriate way. “Mommy doesn’t feel well in her mind today,” is helpful with younger children. They need honesty when they see you in a hard situation. It helps build trust, as well. They know they are safe with you when you are honest and open with them. In addition, make sure they know that none of your struggles are their fault. They’re no one’s fault. Mental illness is an illness, simple as that. Children need to know we need to be gentle and caring of ourselves when our brains are ill. They are capable of understanding more than we give them credit for, too.
5. Be Flexible & Pace Yourself
This is something I’ve learned as a parent and homeschooler over the years. Coming from a teaching background, where everything is strictly laid out for each day, this is how I first approached homeschooling – “school at home”, if you will. Over the years, I have learned our need to be more flexible. We have certain goals for the week, but I “plan from behind” – meaning my planner is more of a log than it is a list of set things to do each day. So my planner is not a shameful list of things crossed off and moved around – it’s a list of achievements instead! This works better for my kids, too, as it is also more interest-based and child-led. This has led to greater daily freedom, less pressure and less stress, and therefore, for us, a healthier approach to each day. And yes – taking breaks is always okay when you and your children need them. Always.
So, a take-away?
This is important: Only you and your family can make the big decision to begin or continue to homeschool in the face of mental illness. The above list is simply my advice and lessons learned in my years of homeschooling and parenting while living with a mental illness. I am not a doctor or a counselor – and I cannot give you medical or professional advice, only my own personal insight. Make your decision with your family, your community, and your team of professional support. Give it ample thought and prayer. I am only here as a testimony to say that yes, it can be done.
May God be with you, friend.