Having just come off of Spring Break week, with all my kids home, I was struck by the constant change our family is always going through. When mental illness is present in your family, there is not a ‘typical’ day.
Times like Spring Break are especially difficult because when children who have trouble with transition or anxiety about change, it is difficult for them to shift from the everyday routine of school, where typically (at least in therapeutic schools) they know what to expect all the time. Suddenly, they are back with a week of unstructured time and it is difficult for them to handle.
My two boys that suffer from mental illness have always had trouble occupying themselves and want constant entertainment. It doesn’t matter if you do one thing in a day, or ten, it is never enough. They want to be constantly moving sun up to sun down. Add some incessant questioning to that, “Where are we going?,” “What are we doing?,” all day long, and it is a recipe for stress. That, of course, does not even account for the meltdowns.
When we began homeschooling my oldest at age four, I believed we would do it forever. I love homeschooling and treasured having my children around all the time. We even continued to homeschool through my oldest’s most difficult times, in the throes of psychosis and varying behaviors. When my third child began displaying many symptoms of mental illness, just as my oldest had, I knew that I could not keep up what I had previously been doing. I wasn’t even sure that it was healthy to do so. When every single day is a huge battle, it is very wearing, and not just on a caregiver. My two neurotypical children were having significant difficulties coping with the household chaos.
Now, all these many years later, three of my children are in special schools and my daughter is the only one left homeschooling. We are in a transition phase as many of her homeschooled peers are now going on to high school, and she is going to enter her 8th grade year. While I know that she is equipped to handle the challenges of high school if she wished to go early, we have decided she will continue to homeschool, at least for the year ahead. I am leaving space open for whatever she chooses, to go to high school, or homeschool through.
My oldest son is successful in his therapeutic school, but still struggles to make friends. He feels lonely much of the time and even though he attempts to put himself out there, he is not finding the friendships he so desires. My third son faces the same challenges. He is doing very well at school, but socially is struggling terribly and is very lonely. My youngest, struggling with some learning disabilities is having success in school and likes it, thankfully. This is not the picture I held for any of my kids, however, it is our reality.
When one son is doing well, the other generally isn’t. It is an up and down roller coaster of emotion and chaos. We never know what each day is going to bring, and I am just thankful for the days that are relatively peaceful.
Then, there is the question, “What is normal, anyway?” Well, of course, the answer to that is, there is no normal. All everyone does every day is the best they can. I’ll confess, “normal” wouldn’t appeal to a homeschooling, alternative health promoting, non-GMO advocating, tree hugger, anyway. I’ll settle for okay.