Fake It ’til You Make It: Unschooling and PPD

Jayden is almost eight years old now, and while I consider myself to have overcome my battle with PPD, I cannot say that we have overcome the effects of that experience. While I was struggling with postpartum depression, my mom was Jay’s primary caregiver. I wanted nothing to do with him, and I felt nothing towards him. While it pains me to say that, that is exactly what I felt. I went through this for the first eight months of Jay’s life until I realized what was going on with me, and it took a very extreme and scary experience for me to come to that realization.

Jayden was about eight months old, and I was home alone with him. I could not put him to sleep or get him to stop crying. The crying was driving me completely and uncontrollably insane. I was rocking, shushing, re-swaddling, checking the diaper, trying the bottle, and all to no avail. After hours of this, I had pretty much lost my sanity, and this visual passed through my mind that if I just threw him against the sliding door, that might somehow help. As soon as that passed through my mind, I became very afraid. I put Jay on my sofa (crying and screaming), walked to my room, grabbed my iPod and put on a playlist of soothing music. I turned the volume all the way up, put on my headphones, took a few minutes to get his crying out of my head, and calm myself down. I also texted a good friend at the time telling him I was afraid of being with Jay alone because I was afraid of what I might do. After a couple of minutes, I came out, picked up my baby, and rocked him to sleep. My friend came over shortly after and stayed with me for a few hours.

It was in that moment that I recognized what my problem truly was, and that I needed to take decisive and serious action from that point forward. I always knew something was wrong, but I didn’t really know much about PPD, and it is not something that is talked about very much. I will say we talk about it more than we did when I was battling it, so I feel for all of the women prior to even eight years ago. Anyway, after that experience, I made the expression “fake it ‘til you make it” my motto. Why? Because that day, I decided that I was going to do the things that I didn’t feel like doing for him: feeding him, bathing him, playing with him, etc. (Thank God for my mom because I don’t know what would have happened to Jay had she not been there basically as his sole caregiver. He was well taken care and well-loved by her.) So I started doing everything I should have been doing all along. Slowly but surely, I came out of it. It was when Jay was about 1.5 – 2 years old that I felt good and that I really cared for my son.

With all of that said, Jay and I have never had a strong bond. He was more attached to my mom, and rightfully so. As he has gotten older, and those first two years of his life are further and further behind us, things have definitely gotten better; but, I have to say that there are still times when I feel the strain on our relationship because of the PPD from those early years. So how does unschooling fit into all of this?

First off, we have to consider the time line. It wasn’t until Jay was about two years old that I would say I was completely over the PPD. Keep in mind, I am a single mother and at the time worked full time and traveled for my job. Jay started school when he was five years old. That leaves us at three years of me actually being an attentive mother, but still only for limited time. He still spent, on average, more time with my mom than with me. Enter five years old, and Jayden goes to school for about four hours/day. I usually dropped him off, but had to work, so someone else – usually my mom or sister – picked him up from school. I spent a lot of time volunteering in his classroom, and he really liked that, so that was a plus. However, when I would get home from work, guess what I always had to fight with him about? Homework, taking a shower, and going to bed. Move onto first grade, and take the previous year’s problems, and magnify them. What it boiled down to was that the very small number of hours I was spending with Jay, was spent arguing and fighting over school. Fighting about homework, bathing, going to bed, getting up for school, getting him out of the house and getting to school on time. Add in being sick all of the time from the germs at school, and receiving threatening letters from the school district about attendance, and I’m sure you can visualize our misery, or maybe you know that misery first-hand.

Again, how does unschooling fit into all of this, and how does it relate to my relationship with my son? Unschooling means that Jay is with me a lot more. I work part-time, and my boss allows me to bring him to work, so he comes to work with me a few hours a week. When he is not with me, he is still with my mom or my sister, but I have to emphasize that he is with me way more than ever before, and this has made all the difference.

I have to admit that I have delayed writing this post because the past two weeks have been a living nightmare with Jay. It has been so bad. He is like a teenager in a little boy’s body, and I could not reconcile in my mind how I could write about this topic when I felt like I could not stand my child. And, yet, unschooling fits perfectly well into that scenario as well. Why? Because unschooling REQUIRES you to spend a lot more time with your children. If you want to have these everyday life learning experiences available to your child, guess what? They need to be out and about with you to learn! And when you spend a lot of time with your child(ren), a lot of things happen; one of which is developing a tighter and closer bond with your child. Since I pulled him out of school and started unschooling, Jayden WANTS me to do things with him. In many ways, he has really become attached to me, and it’s really weird for me because I am not used to him wanting ME. And as sad as that is to say, read and write, it is 100% true.

Regarding our hellish last two weeks, they fit into unschooling too, but I did not see that right away. In fact, it took a facebook memory to remind me how these last two horrible weeks fit into my unschooling plans because honestly, I was wondering why I would ever choose to unschool. My facebook memory reminded me that a huge reason for me to unschool was to focus on behavioral health. The last two weeks was ample opportunity to work on behavioral health, but I do have to say that I failed pretty miserably to capture the many opportunities that became available almost non-stop from the time he woke up until the time he managed to fall asleep. We came out of these two weeks alive and in my case, I feel a lot better. In fact, his horrid behavior continued on through last Wednesday, and I had enough energy and clarity of mind to overcome the awful behaviors in a healthy and productive way at that point. Prior to that, not so much. I was losing it, and pretty much a basket case. But, I had to think about the past two or so weeks, and consider how much worse these past several days would have been if he had also been going to school. On top of his behaviors, I would have to deal with all of the stresses that kinder and 1st grade brought us, and I realized just how grateful I was to have the ability to handle this particular situation without something else adding to it. As crazy as that sounds, it really is a blessing, and no, I did not see it that way until the end. Unschooling gives me that. School would have taken away from that. Instead of two weeks of the nightmare, I could have been looking at potentially months of it because the arguing and fighting over school work, attendance, bed time, and alarm clocks would have all contributed to shifting the focus away from that. At least in this way, we can get to the heart of the matter instead of delaying and covering these serious behavioral issues with other irrelevant, time-sucks.

So, whenever I meet another mother who is experiencing PPD herself and they ask me how I got through it, I always say: fake it ‘til you make it, because you will make it.  Is it hard? Absolutely. Will it take time? It will take so much time. It requires a ton of patience, but you know what? The feeling that comes with your child actually wanting you part of their experiences is amazing. Is unschooling a miracle? No, but I truly believe that this feeling would have come a lot later in our lives, or never at all if we didn’t have this much time together, and I can say that choosing to unschool has given me that time.