After my youngest son was born, I had four children eight years of age and under. All of them were either ADHD or Asperger’s. Looking back, I wonder how I survived. God made it clear that we were to homeschool them. My heart ached at the thought of sending them to public school, a place where I had suffered ten years of bullying and abuse at the hands of other students. While I felt trapped and alone, I didn’t expect depression and homeschooling. I participated in a support group, but how many other moms have four special needs kids?
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Possible reasons for depression and homeschooling
Friendship and support challenges
For me, depression and homeschooling paired up for a variety of reasons. First, I often felt like I wasn’t doing enough with the older ones and I struggled with guilt. In addition, my family lived an hour away and my sister is a public-school teacher. No support coming from them. In fact, whenever I happened to voice some of my challenges, my mother told me to put my kids in school. Sometimes, she shoved a book in my dyslexic son’s face, expecting him to read on demand. (Never mind that such a child freezes up when put on the spot). On top of that, the pastor of my church at that time openly criticized homeschooling. I felt so alone.
Even so, there were a few homeschooling families at that church, and I developed a friendship with one supportive mom. One mom out of nearly one hundred that I knew. Our discussions encouraged me but I still experienced depression, guilt, and loneliness for a while. I still dealt with moms who observed my children’s behavior and instead of offering compassion, they judged me.
I struggled with my own thoughts. Doubt and guilt plagued me. Were those moms right? Was I doing something wrong? Can I actually homeschool all these special needs kids successfully? Sometimes, I felt imprisoned by our choice. I knew that public school wasn’t the answer. We couldn’t afford private school (and they don’t handle special kids very well) and so, homeschooling was the only option. And, God told us to do it in the first place. But, some days I felt so overwhelmed and exhausted, I sank in a heap in my room and cried. And cried.
How often do depression and homeschooling occur together? I don’t know, but worldwide, about 5% of the population experiences depression regularly. Even if not clinically depressed, many homeschooling moms burn out at some point.
Even with the challenges, I never stopped homeschooling those four kids. By mid-2018, I graduated my oldest two children. How did I overcome the guilt and depression and continue homeschooling? This is what I did. Maybe it will help you.
Conquering depression and burn out
Get out of the house.
Take the kids somewhere.
Sometimes this included the kids, but I made sure to get out without the kids, too. When I got especially upset about the havoc that two kids with ADHD create, I announced, “Today is field trip day.” We packed up a lunch and went somewhere, anywhere, where they would still learn something and I wouldn’t have to deal with the mess and the craziness. My favorite places were: natural settings, children’s and child-friendly museums, art activities, and other places that offered interesting, fun, stuff for kids.
Take yourself somewhere.
At one point, I met with the mom I mentioned once a week for coffee. My husband and I went on a date at least once a month. One year, I participated in a library-sponsored book club. Later, I invited a small group of women into my own home once a month while the kids hung out in the basement. Some women I know meet daily to take a walk or run. The point is to take care of your own social and emotional needs separate from homeschooling. You are still a wife, a sister, a friend, a woman. Nurture yourself.
Chase away demons.
You know those voices in your head? As I mentioned, I heard them, too. They told me things like, You’re not doing a good job, You should be doing more, Those kids aren’t disciplined enough, You are not a good mom, and many other discouraging, accusing, depressing accusations. Those voices come from the enemy. My favorite way to chase away these whispered lies is to play worship music and sing along. Click HERE for some creative worship ideas.) Another thing that I did, and still do, is to write down a list of all the good things that I see happening because of homeschooling. This has also included Bible references that assure me of God’s faithfulness to those who obey. One way you can do this is with a prayer journal. HERE are some inexpensive ones.
Change the way you homeschool.
I had depression in homeschooling because I compared myself to others and thought that’s what I should be doing. Because my kids are cognitively normal, I sometimes forget that they have issues. Even if your children don’t have special needs, comparison is a poison to homeschooling. I felt guilty if my children weren’t doing some of the same things that others in our group were doing. I bought curriculum and felt guilty when we didn’t do everything listed. Then, occasionally I felt guilty when I broke free from curriculum. Guilt and depression accompanied me a lot because I couldn’t live up to my own expectations of what homeschooling should be. I talk about legalism in homeschooling and its damaging effects here.
The Lord spoke to me about this and I stopped comparing. I read a lot of books and changed the way I taught my children. Sometimes, our expectations of ourselves and our children are not in line with God’s expectations. Changing our methods and philosophies can help us have more joy in our lives.
Change your diet
This may sound strange, but diet plays a part in mental health. When I had to go strictly gluten free because of a severe reaction to wheat, my mood improved. I had more energy, too. Later, I found that gluten can cause inflammation in the brain that results in symptoms like anxiety, depression, brain fog, memory issues, and more. Perhaps changing your diet would help you, too.
Another contributing factor in brain health are B vitamins. Most B vitamins come from animal sources, such as beef and eggs. Birth control and certain other medications deplete B vitamins, so supplementation is sometimes necessary.
I would also add that skipping meals lowers blood sugar, which can also negatively affect mood. The studies cited in this article suggest that symptoms of hypoglycemia include depression, anxiety, irritability, and being tearful. I know I have been guilty of skipping breakfast or lunch because I was in the middle of doing something and didn’t want to stop. Then later, I suddenly feel like I want to cry. As soon as I eat, I feel better.
Depression and homeschooling don’t need to go together
Using this arsenal of helps, I did overcome depression and burn out. You can, too. If you feel called by God to teach your own children at home, don’t quit. You don’t need to feel trapped and alone. Guilt doesn’t need to be your constant companion. Try some of the things that helped me before you decide to give up. And, don’t be afraid to seek professional help if the depression doesn’t lift. We live in a fallen world and our bodies sometimes just don’t work right. There is no shame in asking for help.