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A lot of things threaten our homeschool peace. A lot more than I’d like to admit originate with me. I’m creative, fairly intelligent, I love my kids, and I really enjoy homeschooling. But I’m also controlling, perfectionistic, and, hardest of all, I’m anxious.
I’ve had an anxiety disorder my entire life. I can remember worrying about the various ways someone could break into my home as a first grader and the panic attacks as a sixth grader. Insecurities were magnified, sleep was a struggle, and my racing thoughts never seemed to slow. Things haven’t changed a whole lot since then, except now I have the added weight and worry of being responsible for my child’s education. Solely responsible. Solely, anxiously responsible.
You might ask yourself why, if worry is my greatest skill and control is the elusive unicorn I’m forever chasing, I might choose to homeschool with anxiety. Don’t I have enough on my shoulders? Isn’t leaving the house hard enough some days? Don’t I fret over whether I’m teaching a math concept correctly or whether his handwriting is developmentally-appropriate or if he remembers that grammar rule we haven’t touched on in a year or if he’ll ever find friends without attending a co-op or if he’ll need to someday demonstrate a masters-level ability with the watercolors we never use? Don’t I worry that I’m messing it all up and condemning my beloved babe to a lifetime of mockery, catching-up, and overcoming the damage I’ve likely caused? Yeah. Daily.
I worry almost constantly. But if you, dear reader, also have intimate experience with anxiety, then you know it’s not just worry. It’s a racing heart and rushing wind in your ears when you’re watching your kiddo attempt an art project, a science experiment, or scrambled eggs. It’s irritability and anger when homeschool day at the zoo is busy, full, unstructured, chaotic.
It’s shortness of breath when you keep trying and trying and trying to get your child to listen, when he’s just not grasping the math problem, when you’re not grasping the math problem, when you feel out of options and patience and don’t know how you’ll get past this point in the lesson plan.
Sometimes it’s the lesson plan itself, the pristine, unreached pages in the back that you still haven’t gotten to. Sometimes it’s the fatigue, headaches, and nausea that you can’t shake or explain. Anxiety manifests in many ways beyond worry, and they can all derail your homeschool day, robbing you of the peace that should come from this beautiful thing we call home education. Fortunately, we’re not powerless against it.
One of the most appealing aspects of homeschooling is the flexibility. Our kids don’t have to sit in rows, learn within 4 walls, or ever even touch a worksheet if we so choose. Our kids can attend co-ops or learn one-on-one, sit in a desk or lie on the grass, read a book or watch a documentary. We can school in the mornings, in the evenings, on the weekends. We can take breaks, double-up, plow through or slow down. We can do what we want. We can do what our kids need. The good news for the anxious homeschool parent is that we can also do what we need.
We don’t have to school how everyone else does. I know, I know, you’ve heard that before. But instead of saying it in the context of forest schooling vs. Classical Conversations, consider it with regard to your anxiety. If the blanks on a worksheet or the unchecked boxes in an implementation manual give you anxiety, toss ’em. If the thought of operating without a net causes you stress, then choose a curriculum that includes a handbook with instructions. If racing thoughts keep you up late, then start school in the afternoon. If glitter gives you jitters, then ban that crafty pest.
As much as homeschooling is about doing what’s best for your child, it has to also be about what’s best for you. Schedules make me stressed, tense. I feel the constant weight of expectation and failure when I tell myself that we have to begin – or end – at a specific time. Rather than focusing on the learning or the conversations, I’m focused on the constant countdown and very aware of how much time is being “wasted” by stopping to Google the reproductive habits of pink velvet worms (they’re hilarious, trust me). It builds pressure and breeds anxiety, so I tossed the schedule. Really.
We have a list of subjects to get through, and we do them. In whatever order we choose that day, for however long we want, until we’re satisfied. This idea may give you more anxiety – that just means it’s not for you. You may need a very detailed schedule with boxes you can check to reassure you that you’ve really done enough that day. But for me, in my homeschool, it is freeing.
Curriculum – or lack thereof – will not cure anxiety, though. You can find ways to alleviate or eliminate triggers, but anxiety is a chemical reaction, something your brain will produce regardless of state standards and alarm clocks and just so much glitter. You, the anxious homeschool parent, will need to find ways to treat your anxiety, to bring your tired mind some peace. Maybe it’s finally time to call that therapist your friend recommended. Maybe it’s time to start taking the kids to enrichment classes so you can be alone for a bit and take a bit of the load off your shoulders. Maybe it’s time to talk to your doctor about medication. None of these options signal failure or weakness or an inability to parent or teach. All of these options signal that you value your mental health, and yourself.
Homeschooling requires sacrifice on your part – sacrifice of time, of resources, of a clean house or maybe a formal dining room. Homeschooling has never required that we sacrifice ourselves. There is no honor, award, or pride in giving so much of yourself to the homeschooling journey that you don’t make it out the other side. It is impossible to teach well if you feel like you are dying inside.
If you are anxious, dear parent, it will not go away if you just tell yourself to calm down. It will not go away if the kids get all of their work done by noon. It will no go away if you send them to public school. Anxiety is a beast that must be battled. It’s not intimidated by neat handwriting or tidy houses, so stop hoping you can feel better if only you could just get it together. Find yourself some help, and get yourself cared for.
You can homeschool with anxiety. You can function and parent well. You can also really suck the joy out of homeschooling – and life – if you live in constant fear and agitation. So take some time, take some breaths, and take the next steps you need towards releasing that tight band around your chest. Your kids will be better off, but most importantly, so will you.