Homeschooling without depression is like a bushwalk that’s a little beyond your fitness level.
At some points you want to quit, but the regular glimpses of beauty are reward enough to keep plodding along.
Homeschooling with depression is like climbing Mount Everest.
With no Sherpa.
In a blizzard.
Wearing a bikini.
There’s no great view. There’s no positives. Just a really hard slog that seems neverending.
And sometimes it’s so difficult that laying down in the snow and drifting away permanently seems like a good idea.
Homeschooling requires the parent to stay positive, to carry the children along in their enthusiasm, and be carried along in theirs.
It requires creativity, motivation, the ability to be nearly constantly switched on and accessible, and (most importantly) a deep and intimate connection with each child.
All things that are really, REALLY hard when depressed.
Problem is, it’s something many of us will have to deal with at some point. With 1 in 7 Australians experiencing depression in their lifetime (and that’s without mentioning anxiety and disorders such as bipolar), there’s an awful lot of us out there, muddling through as best as we can.
My experience with depression is not something I’ve ever spoken about publicly, but I think it’s time I did – silence and pretending to cope doesn’t help anybody, especially me.
I had severe depression for about two years, and it’s only recently reached the stage where I’d classify it as mild.
I now have more good times than bad, get by without medication, and can deal with the milder bad times. I still have trouble day to day, but compared to the worst times it’s a breeze.
During those worst times I was essentially non-functional for days to weeks at a time – my daily goaIs were reduced to having a shower and keeping everyone alive. Dealing with the normal daily needs and requests of five children was totally overwhelming and required everything I had to manage.
But even during the hardest times I never thought they would be better off at school. Things may not have been ideal, but the children were still learning. They were still happy, confident, and busy.
Now I have (some) brainpower back again, I can look back and see why. Here’s what helped me during my worst times.
Have a great foundation
I was lucky in that I’d already spent many years homeschooling, and put in a lot of thought to our foundation. We already had a family culture of learning, of homeschooling as a lifestyle. We were clear on our goals, we knew the activities and curriculum we did and didn’t like, and the children had great habits of working diligently and independently.
If you don’t have a great foundation, start building one right now. You never know when it may save you.
If you’re not sure where to start, Zero to Homeschool walks you through the process.
Attend to priorities and avoid busywork
With my limited capacity I needed to make sure that the activities I did do were important ones.
I would ask myself questions constantly.
Do I NEED to organise the spice drawer? Not at all.
Do I NEED to mindlessly scroll through Pinterest? No way.
Do I NEED to help Forrest edit his letter to a penpal? Definitely.
Of course, I’m not perfect. Some days I would fritter away all of my time on rubbish and neglect the important activities.
But by trying to spend my limited energy on the important things first I made sure that many priorities got done. Even if I wasn’t doing everything I should, I was still doing some of it and we were still moving forward.
Keep up physical contact
I retreated into myself often – I couldn’t deal with myself, let alone others. I still craved intimacy, but just wanted it without any talking or questions or demands.
I regularly slept with the children. Nearly every night found me in one of their beds, spooning them, breathing in their familiar smell. It was reassuring and calming, without being at all overwhelming (after all, they didn’t do anything).
I also kept reading aloud. This is something I can do even when I’m distracted, full of anxiety, or feeling mopey. I have a multi-track mind, and one track could continue absorbing the words and speaking them while another track raced through my head at warp speed, screaming gibberish at me. While reading aloud, we snuggled. Again, we had physical contact and intimacy, with peace.
While I’m not particularly comfortable talking about depression (or any other subject I find intensely personal), I did tell the children the basics. I have depression, it makes me feel sad and blah and tired, that’s why I take tablets every morning. I would tell them if I was having a bad day. I would ask for help if I needed it.
I wanted to make it very clear that it wasn’t their fault.
I know the husband has talked to them more about it, but honestly, I don’t know what he’s said. I trust it is appropriate.
Find zero-effort educational activies
Things like documentaries, audiobooks, board games and puzzles are educational, but required no real effort from me. If I couldn’t manage anything at all I knew David Attenborough or Michael Mosley would take over our education for an hour or two. Having a few books of papercrafts or educational colouring books stashed away was reassuring – if a day got too much for me I could pull one out and gain a few hours of relative peace.
Ditto to going to many places. As we were travelling we could take full advantage of new and interesting places. Many days we would go to the museum, botanic gardens, national park or other attraction, and I would plod around in a haze while they explored, collected and learned.
We would also go to homeschool group. Sometimes, I would say hello to the parents and wander off to sit by myself. There’s probably parents all over the country who think I’m a horrible snob (sorry). But my children had a great time, and that’s all I cared about.
Finally, we used more open-and-go curriculum. I didn’t have the energy or creativity to build units from scratch. Mystery Science, MOOCs, and Story of the World were usually manageable. I kept on searching out living books and other resources I knew they would become immersed in. And we joined every library we could along the way and visited them regularly.
Take advantage of your good days
This was incredibly important. If I had some energy and attention to spare, I’d pull out the activities that were usually overwhelming for me. I’d cook extra dinner and a few loaves of bread to put away for a not-so-good day.
In essence, I’d play catch-up. I’d always knew the things I’d neglected that I really shouldn’t have, and I’d do them as soon as I was able.
This really helped to keep guilt somewhat manageable. I may not have been performing anywhere near as well as I’d have liked to, but I was still doing a reasonable job.
Would you be happy to help out someone that’s struggling?
Usually, the answer is yes – helping people is something that makes us feel good, and we all love to feel useful and needed.
Guess what? They’d probably be happy to help you out too.
Give them the opportunity to feel good, build your community, and strengthen your relationships with others.
If you can afford to pay someone to take over the busywork, like housework or errands, do so. Homeschooled teens are usually keen to earn money if you can’t afford to pay business prices.
If you need your partner to help with anything, ask them.
If friends or family offer to help in any way, say yes. Or take a deep breath and ask them.
My husband did most of the cooking and housework. He would take the children out so I could sleep (hypersomnia was a huge problem for me – it still is to some degree). He’s turned down a couple of good opportunities because they required him to be out of the house for long hours – and we both knew that I couldn’t cope with that at the time.
Hopefully, some of the tips here help you through your bad times. Please remember to get help – Google depression help line (and actually call), see your GP, and if you’re in Australia take advantage of free medical help with a mental health plan.
And remember, you can still homeschool through depression. It’s incredibly hard, but with the right management you’ll still be pleased with what your children are learning and the type of people they are.
Thank you so much for sharing. I have a friend who is going to benefit from this encouragement.
You’re very welcome Bec, I hope it helps.
So, depression is something that has plagued me for decades. I’ve actually been really good the past year in a new job I loved, but lockdown has forced me to be home, schooling my children most days. It’s hard to get them into it, but my slipping mood and motivation is making it feel impossible. I googled homeschooling with depression and up this popped.
Thank you so much! There’s a lot of good advice, some of which I already use, some of which I can’t do right now as in lockdown, but reading the things you’ve done has made me feel less guilty about doing them myself.
I hope you are well x
Hope you’re still doing well and are dealing with lockdown if you’re still affected. It can be really hard when we lose our coping strategies – I’ve been unable to run or exercise this entire year due to an injury and it has definitely affected my mood and motivation. I need those endorphins! But I’ve been using other strategies and they’re keeping me reasonably well, so I’ll go with that and keep trying to remember that I’ll be uninjured again someday.
Hello, thank you for sharing this, it will help me and I can benefit from this information! I want to share what I’m going through, Maybe I can get tips that will help me for the time that I will have my 3 kids home. It’s been overwhelming, with this pandemic going on. I pray to God, to guide me in this difficult times. I found That Im not the only one and that I can find comfort in what I read. That I’m not the only one going through this. And homeschooling would be a challenge for my husband and I, I got really stressed out anxious, things aren’t going easy. I’m have been going through depression anxiety, and stress but now that I have my kids at home I feel like my routine that I just got used to I feel unbalanced! Now I have to get a routine, structure& a schedule that can help me but even that overwhelmed me. My 11 year old son is in the 5th grade his doing good academically, but he is stubborn. I ask him to do extra school work at home to help him get ahead with school,& because I want him to take any opportunity that will help him learn new things and help him academically. My 9 year old son is in the 4th grade he got diagnosed with ADHD last year on November, and needs a lot of help, he has trouble reading, spelling, doesn’t like to write! I do my research on things but it seems like I just can’t remember at times what I read or I forget what I read, I sometimes even forget to be mentally present, when all my thoughts are thoughts and I don’t say what I want to say, I suppress my feelings. However I try my best helping him, even though he doesn’t like my help because I make him take his time on doing his homework and doesn’t like to read because it takes a lot of time, according to him. I feel guilty at times when I raise my voice at him because he takes his time not wanting to do his work, and when he is doing his work he doesn’t focus. He likes my husband helping him out because he would give him the answers and arguments will rise! my son doesn’t get that he needs to learn and try to make any efforts from his part. My 6 year old daughter is in Kindergarten, she’s shy, stubborn, and sometimes lacks focus on school she try’s but says school is sometimes boring. My husband and I try to help her as well on the subjects and work that she is falling behind, she loves to watch YouTube videos, and I guess that’s what replace me when I was into a deep depression and I didn’t seek help, my husband is and was very helpful, but I was to hard on him I would criticize him because he wouldn’t do all that she had to do for homework, I was a negative person, and didn’t thank him for the help, patience, and the effort he did. it was difficult to even sit my daughter to do any homework, I feel at times that is my fault because I’m not consistent at times I just give up, and don’t do anything and I just lay in bed! This is my first time sharing on website about my situation, thank you for opening up this would change my thoughts! God bless you and your family
Thank you for writing this, it makes me feel ‘normal’. I didn’t pick to do homeschooling but after traditional and Steiner schooling failed my children it was the only rational choice I could find. My 3 children have Aspergers and ADHD and I have ADD. We work really well together but their black and white, rigid Aspergersness, pushes my buttons and becomes very overwhelming for me and I experience depression-like symptoms. Thank you for you suggestions of what to do during the difficult days.
Unfortunately those feelings ARE normal RedMaple, especially in a challenging situation like yours. Make sure you look after yourself, have regular breaks, and recognise burnout while it’s still treatable.
Thank you so much for sharing. This was my first year of homeschooling and there were times that I really struggled with depression. Now, I have an “action plan”
So glad you got something from it. Keep looking after yourself and don’t beat yourself up – I’m sure you’re doing the best you can.
Wow, I am so glad I kept reading. I really needed this. Thank you!!
So glad you could write about this I have struggled for many years but it has only gotten worse the older I get. It’s nice to hear we can continue to homeschool and not mess up the kids too bad. Thank you so much.
Hi Teresa, I’m glad it helped. I hope your situation improves – mine has, and I didn’t believe it would.
Thank you so much for your thoughts.
You’re very welcome.
I just discovered this post today and it absolutely made my day! Your openness about your struggles will go a long way towards helping other moms realize they are capable of providing their children with an excellent and loving education despite dealing with depression.
As someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety on an off for 20 years, I can also speak from experience: We don’t have to have everything together to homeschool our kiddos. If we can adjust our expectations the way you talk about, we can feel good about the work we’re doing for our children. We are good enough!
Thanks again for sharing your story!
Thanks so much Leah – I’m not a public sharer so it’s great to know that my uncomfortable-ness was worth it.
Hi Kelly, Thank you for sharing this. I have had a lifelong journey with anxiety and depression, and while I have enjoyed homeschooling for the last 2 years, I have a newborn now and have started to feel like I can’t do it anymore. I am very conflicted, but I want so badly for it to work. Perhaps I need to take a different approach and make it work for us during this time. Anyway, thanks for your openness and willingness to share. Having this vulnerability is so important for our world today.
Thanks for commenting, so glad it’s been useful. Hope you find a way to make it work for you.
I have just started homeschooling my son this term and on bad days I experience complete overwhelm and just want to hide under my blankets where i feel safe, and feel like a failure at homeschooling, but I see here that it doesnt have to be the end of the world, as long as we calmly continue and he gets something done (reading, mathletics), while im out of action. Thankyou
Hi Theresa, so glad it helped, and I hope you’re having more good than bad days.
Thank you for so bravely sharing your struggles. It is amazing how much you did do. I’ve had my share of encounters with ‘dementors’. But when I saw the title of your article, I was thinking “finally someone is talking about homeschooling depressed KIDS!” Getting out of the public school took care of 50% of the depression, anxiety, self-harm. But with the other 50% it is has been slow going. There are days when my kid struggles just to get a shower & get out of the house to dance classes (her passion) and feed the rabbits. She is doing a lot of puzzles and lots of scrolling on pinterest and the like. I’m waiting patiently for that natural growth that happens out of sight, under the earth and trusting to philosophy of unschooling. Would love to hear from other homeschooling parents struggling with the same.
Your daughter is so lucky to have you helping her recover – hope you find the community you’re looking for.
Thank you SO much, everyone says just put them in school.
A mother with depression or mental problems can do more damage then public school… that’s what everyone keeps telling me..
Hi Amy, there is a correlation between exposure to a depressed person and developing depression, so it is important for your child to interact with non-depressed people. But if you have friends and family and manage to get out of the house regularly you can combat that – just keep an eye on your kids and get someone you trust to tell you if they think it’s harmful too. Hope you start having more good days than bad soon xx
Thank you Kelly for opening up. I struggle with depression. The past two years have been brutal. Those coloring books and educational videos, the good quality ones, really do make learning less of a burden on me. I so relate to the physical contact aspect. My youngest is 8, but my older daughter will still request a quiet snuggle.
You’re very welcome Lisa Ann.
Mikhaila, How are you doing? Would love o talk with you . My email is email@example.com
And THANK YOU Kelly for writing this !
Hi Kelly, thank you for being brave enough to post this. I have been struggling with Bi-polar, (now in a depressive state forever!) I have fibromyalgia which keeps me in pain all the time and my best friend, my dad, died several months ago. My lovely kiddo has adhd, sensory processing disorder and other learning disabilities. She is very resistant to being taught, To be honest. All that said, I would never put her back in public school! – No matter what anyone says! Problem is I am really not teaching her much, and at a loss HOW to teach her with her resistance and to be honest, lots of times I am too sad and in pain to care. I feel like a complete FAILURE! I WANT to be a great mom and teacher. I am just lost. I’ll read your post again, perhaps I can find some ideas to inspire me. Thank you so much. Keep up the great work.
How are things going with you now? It looks like you wrote this a couple of years ago. I have 4 kids 8 yrs down to 8 months… we’re on year number 5…I’ll check out zero to homeschooling resource…
Hi Telcia, I’m much better now thanks. It was a slow road but I got there in the end. Hope you’re well xx