Homeschooling for mental health

Written by Jamie C. Martin of Simple Homeschool

I was 12-years-old when I first began to starve myself.

I don’t know why exactly. Just that it made me feel in control, and being thin brought positive attention my way. That subconscious choice launched a decades-long struggle with food, eventually morphing into bulimia, depression, anxiety.

A deep love for my own kids finally helped me turn the corner in my relationship to food and begin to make peace with it. I spent the first half of my life hating my body, and there’s zero chance I’m going to do so in the second half. I choose to honor each laugh line and wrinkle, celebrate every silver hair I’ve earned.

But I think my struggles back then pale when compared to the load modern day tweens and teens are asked to carry.

I can’t imagine shouldering social media and cyberbullying on top of homework, active shooter drills on top of exams, peer pressure on top of a lack of ownership. Of course it’s not this way for every traditionally-schooled teen, thank God, but it is for many.

Something has been stolen from our kids, and it’s a tragedy.

Kim John Payne, educator, counselor, and author of the book Simplicity Parenting, often talks about the fact that all kids have quirks. Quirks are normal. However, he goes on to suggest a formula he’s noticed, that “A Quirk + Ongoing, Cumulative Stress = A Disorder.”

The truth of this equation and its results are currently on societal display in record numbers.  

A healthy homeschool, on the other hand, frees adolescents from carrying these extra loads. It gives them back their childhood, gives them back their lives and educations. A loving homeschool is good for kids’ mental health.

It offers margin, time for cultivating passions, a safe space where differences are respected. Kim John Payne often shares another equation with parents and educators: “A Quirk – Ongoing, Cumulative Stress = A Child’s Genius.” Yes!

If you brushed aside every other potential benefit of homeschooling, this is reason enough. I look at my three teens and see plenty of typical issues, but not the deep fears and insecurities that I dealt with at their age.

I see adolescents with struggles to overcome, but not individuals about to crumble under the weight of meaningless societal pressures. I see young people given the chance to thrive by developing strengths instead of being forced to dwell on weaknesses.

And mamas and papas homeschooling kids with mental illness? You are my heroes. You give beyond what I can even begin to comprehend, all for the love of your babes. Some of your children were at one point in the system, and you witnessed firsthand the horrors it brought your family. 

Because how dare we suggest that dealing with bully torments and teenage cliques are necessary “socialization” required to raise whole human beings? That is like saying that being cooked in an oven is necessary in order to know how to heat up a lasagna.

Regular life is full of challenges, and yes, we need challenges. We need to learn how to handle difficult people in the real world. But fake challenges that arise when we put groups of precious kids in a fake environment, strip them of freedom and then ask them to shoulder the emotional fallout is not the real world.

I’m in awe of every reader out there who is, in many ways, taking an extra load onto yourself in order to keep your kids from bearing burdens that children were never meant to carry. And that leads me to the second part of this post.

Because we cannot talk about mental health without talking about our own. 

A healthy homeschool is good for our kids’ mental health and in many ways, it’s also good for ours. We don’t have the morning out-the-door rush or the evening homework rush, both of which lead to stress. We’re not being hounded to join the PTA or sell wrapping paper that nobody wants.

But in other ways, whew, this responsibility is intense. It is easy to feel inadequate, to give in to fears and worries, to wonder if we’re doing it right, to lose sleep over a child’s struggles.

We can never give to our kids what we ourselves lack. May I encourage you to do whatever it takes to model the hard work of protecting your mental health?

We don’t have to be idyllic examples of perfection, not at all. We simply need to be real about our issues and address them. That could mean counseling, medication, nutrition, or exercise. And yes, it could even mean putting your children back into a traditional school.

There is NO one size fits all here. There is simply discovering what’s right for you and yours in this season of life. 

I see you, moms and dads. Your tears and concerns. Your sacrifices. I see, also, your laughter and joy at the lifestyle you’ve chosen. We are beautiful messes, held together by grace, grace that restores.

Your work is valid, urgent, important. It matters—not just for your kids’ academics but for every part of them: body, spirit, and mind.

I’m in awe of you. Keep going. 

Have you found homeschooling beneficial for your children’s/your own mental health?

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About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.

Comments

  1. Love you, Jamie!

  2. As always a great post Jamie. Thank you for sharing this part of your life and how encouraging this is to families who may be dealing with those very issues. I know that had to be difficult to put out there to the world.
    I know for my family homeschooling was a major game changer for us. We have had to deal with a few issues and because my kiddos have been home with me we are able to address them quickly, lovingly and in a safe environment where they can express themselves without ridicule. I know how it would have been for me 20 years ago in school dealing with certain issues, I can’t imagine how hard it would be now.
    As for myself it helps to have the love and support of my husband and family. Also other homeschool families like yours and many others who share their stories to encourage me. Support and Love is key. Thanks you Jamie!

  3. I love this post. Thanks Jamie!

  4. Thank you so much for writing this article. I am also mom to international kiddos who I adore but who have come with some unique challenges. I tried homeschooling for the youngest who begged me. Within a year she was so lonely (even though we participated in many outside activitie) she wept when we drove by school playgrounds. Though she struggles with learning she truly loves the “noise” and activity of our large public school. Next year she enters high school and we plan to homeschool a couple classes and have her go to school for part of the day in order to help her where she needs it most. Just wanted to share so others know there are so many different ways to “do school”. Make it work for your unique kiddo.

    And thank you, thank you for emphasizing the need we have to take care of our own mental health, which can really take a beating as a mom.

  5. Yes! Switching to homeschooling has drastically improved my children’s mental health as well as my own. I was a public school teacher and my girls attended public school until 3 years ago. This is our 3rd year of homeschooling and each year has brought further and further healing emotionally and spiritually. This year, we are all in counseling, we’ve cut way back on outside the home activities, and made connection with each other a priority. It’s a huge blessing and I thank God each day that we are able to homeschool and receive our lives back this way.
    I couldn’t agree more with your post!

  6. Angie Rogers says:

    But fake challenges that arise when we put groups of precious kids in a fake environment, strip them of freedom and then ask them to shoulder the emotional fallout is not the real world.

    YES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  7. Angela Willis says:

    Thank you for advocating for mental wellness. We didn’t find out until too late that our precious, talented Tori was having these problems. She took her own life on 12-3-16. Not a day goes by that I don’t regret sending her to school. We can never understand all that they are experiencing. Again, good work on helping parents feel safe in homeschooling.

    • Oh dear Lord. Angela, no. I cannot even begin to imagine your pain at losing your beloved girl. I am so deeply sorry for your great loss. Thank you for bravely sharing your experience with us. May God’s peace comfort and surround you.

  8. This post. Yes. As I have had an extremely difficult past 6 months and am contemplating putting my two boys into traditional school for next year, I’m so torn with life. This post is all that. My mental health is just as important and needs to be addressed. Thank you for communicating grace to us stretched-beyond mommas.

    • Oh yes, Anne. So much grace to you and yours! God bless and guide you in your choice. You’re an incredible mother!

    • I just want to encourage you if you choose to transition from homeschool to public. Our kids learned a tin at home and were in activities 5-6 days per week but they lacked “everyday” friendships. Now they have been in school and are thriving academically, emotionally, as nd socially. And I love having time to exercise everyday (without my kids in childcare), shop,prep and cook whole, healthy meals and snacks, clean the house- basically I get everything done while the kids fill their cup at school and my mental/emotional health has improved 110% . Even my marriage has deepened and my friends have broadened. Anyways, I realize this is a place for homeschoolers to find encouragement, and I’ve found this blog so helpful while in the thick of it, so it was really great to see mention of the health of the mother. Every situation is different, and some families will thrive with school. I am most surprised and thankful to have experienced the good in both worlds. Best wishes.

  9. Thank you Jamie. You are an inspiration. God bless you. ❤️

  10. Thank you for sharing this. God put homeschooling in our minds wayyy back when our oldest was a toddler. We had no idea the challenges we would face . She has a severe mental illness and it hasn’t been easy, but being in school would have been torture for her. Thankful for the time and space homeschooling has given us.

  11. Pamela R says:

    This is an incredibly important post. I wish we could talk about these things more openly so that others don’t feel like they are the only ones going through these things. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  12. Bethany F says:

    So well written!! Thank you!!

  13. Inspirational, experiential, compassionate , insightful, and as always covered with grace. Love you Jamie x

  14. This post seriously gave me goose bumps (or chicken-skin we say here in Hawaii ;)) from head to toe. I could not agree more! I will be sharing this everywhere.
    XO Monica
    Monica Swanson’s latest post: What a Mom Needs Most from Her Family: 25 Things

  15. Thank you for your post, I made the decision to home school when we lived in Colorado.
    We lived in NY, FL. and Co we had issues in all schools, but when my son who is high functioning autism spectrum told us that the teacher would tell the kids things like ” That’s a bummer” if something didn’t go right for the child that day. Instead of caring for their feeling. NY was worst, when my son was in kindergarten another little boy gave my husband the finger!! My son would come home a totally different child and very angry.
    I said this is crazy cramming in h. w and bath time and who cared about eating because it was so late. We now live in NJ where you don’t have to be a certified teacher in order to teach your kids, and no meaningless state testing or pre approved lesson plan- what ever you want to teach you can teach on your own schedule . We’re a truck driving family and on the road, NJ I found to be a fit for my homeschooling. It took 3 different states but my son who is 10, is worth it.

  16. Such a brave and inspiring post, my friend!
    Caitlin Fitzpatrick Curley’s latest post: Your Homeschool Questions Answered

  17. Two of my three children are diagnosed with PANDAS/PANS, and I am so grateful that they can learn at their own pace through homeschooling, especially when they are plagued by obsessive thoughts and sensory issues due to their diagnoses. What a great reminder this post was for me. Some days we end up reading a lot of books, playing outside, and watching shows, even at ages 11 and 13. I can’t even begin to imagine the toll school would have taken on them. Agh, now I’m crying. Thank you so much. Now to focus on me, alongside them. Have you ever watched Julie Bogart’s BraveWriter youtube video on Awesome Adulting? It takes into account that we are learners in the family too, we are humans too, etc. So good. Much love to you.

  18. This post is one of the many many reasons I love your writing Jamie! Thank you for your vulnerability and courage to share. I struggled with addiction as a teen, and I’m so grateful for the growth in my own life and how I get to structure my own daughter’s life in a different way than the things that led to my addiction. You are inspiring!

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