Homeschooling, Mental Health, and the Trouble with Parents

I never set foot in a proper classroom until I started community college at 19, because I was homeschooled from K-12. This is why I am forever wary of parents who choose to pull their kids out of school. Some parents do it for the right reasons, but a lot don’t know what they’re getting into. They don’t know what they’re taking on, and what they’re agreeing to be responsible for. I’ve seen my share of horror stories to know that well enough.

My parents didn’t choose to homeschool their children for bad reasons, per se, but I don’t think they knew what they were doing. When I reached schooling age, we lived in a really poor area within a notoriously underfunded school district, and I already had a history of pretty severe anxiety/depression. I had panic attacks, always felt compulsively guilty for mistakes I made, and would frequently withdraw. Instead of going back to work, my mother decided to continue staying home to start homeschooling me. Then once I was about ten, maybe twelve, she turned to focus her attention on my younger brothers, and I was left to educate myself.

When I was eight, they moved us to an isolated rural community. I had friends, sure; they lived in our old neighborhood and I got to see them on weekends. And for a while my parents tried to get involved with the local homeschooling groups, but that was disastrous. (See the above about horror stories.) So for much of my formative years I was largely alone, in a big farmhouse, teaching myself all the way through high school. It was unconventional, but it was what it was.

But…my parents never got help for my anxiety or depression. Maybe it was better that I wasn’t in public school, but I didn’t get a chance to find that out for myself. If having outside input would have helped; if having other people in my life would have helped. They never even took me to a doctor for my behavior, and had stopped trusting doctors altogether by the time I was in my tweens. I was supposed to get magically better, or “grow out of it.” Homeschooling was the best thing for me, my mother would insist, because I was smarter than the other, average kids. Because I needed to be separated from the other, average kids.

That was their story, and they stuck to it. Even when I was over-eating. Even when I was harming myself. Even when I was ripping my own hair out by the handful. Even when I was suicidally depressed. Even when I would cry for no reason. Even when I withdrew from what friends I did have. Because, as my petty tyrant of a father would often tell me, “friends make you weak.” He would often scoff and sneer and scream at me for getting upset, or angry, or crying. He would often dress me down over every little thing I said or did or thought that he didn’t like. He was like that (and still is): too busy tearing down his children the way his father did him, all the while swearing up and down he would never be like his old man. Because it wasn’t his fault, my mother would say, because my father was damaged by his parents long before I came along. And I was trapped there, every minute of every day, with no other adults to turn to. No help.

They were both so clueless why I would be damaged; like I was just overreacting to the desperate sense of isolation I was drowning in. They both just scoffed at the idea of me needing therapy, or medication, or any help outside of their care. Because I was supposed to be above all of that, by their very peculiar standards. That’s why I couldn’t be in normal school with normal kids. But I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I shouldn’t be so sad, or angry. After all, they did everything they could for me; they gave me the best advantage they could offer. I was so great and I was so smart and they were so proud of me. I was embarrassing and I was pathetic and I needed to stop being that way. I was Schrödinger‘s Disappointment.

I don’t blame my parents for homeschooling me. I don’t blame them for not knowing what to do with an emotional hurricane for a child. I do, however, think my parents are stupid, selfish, and short-sighted people. I do think they had good intentions, but that neither of them had any business raising children together. I do think it bothers them that all their children suffer from mental health problems of one stripe or another, but that they’re more concerned with how it looks on them as parents than how it affects our every day lives. I don’t hate my parents, but it is hard to love people who are so willfully out of touch. It’s hard to love people who denied you a real education, then take credit for your achievements in adulthood.

It’s hard to love people when you weren’t really taught how to. You were just given a book and sent on your way, and told to sort yourself out. It’s hard to love people when you were never taught to love yourself first