Parenting with Depression
Many parents with depression worry their condition has a negative effect on their kids, but there are ways to make the situation better
More than 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression, and less than half receive treatment. For parents of dependent children, treatment is especially important. Even with medication and/or therapy, there are still times when life's challenges are still, well, a challenge. Add being a parent into the mix and all of a sudden, you may find yourself wondering if your depression is having a negative effect on your kids.
For parents with depression, the inability to engage in daily activities with their children due to low/no energy, sadness, or lack of motivation may leave them feeling guilty about their parenting abilities. This guilt can make depression worse and may cause the parent to second-guess their actions or worry that they are ruining their child's life.
From the children's perspective, they have to learn coping skills that differ from those of children whose parents do not suffer from depression. In some cases, the child's behavior may change — anything from acting out to developing separation anxiety. But in his book, Out of the Darkened Room: When a Parent is Depressed, Dr. William Beardslee states that "Many children raised in the most challenging of circumstances overcome their difficulties and become remarkable health and happy adults."
For the parent, the family, and even close friends of a parent suffering from depression, there are ways to make the situation better.
First and foremost, acknowledge the depression and seek treatment if you haven't already. For family members, offer to help out — with transportation, child care, or to offer companionship on a rough day. Asking for help does not make you weak, quite the opposite. It demonstrates that you are strong as it takes courage to face your illness.
Children will recognize that something mommy or daddy isn't feeling well, and they may think that they are responsible. Therefore, it's important to explain what's happening to them in simple terms. For young children, tell them that mommy or daddy is not feeling well and that they are seeing a doctor to help. Assure them that it is a medical condition and has nothing to do with them.
For older children, explain what depression is and let them know that the parent is seeking help. Allow them to ask questions and have an open and honest dialog about the illness and what it means. Offer to take them to a therapy or support group session so that they may better understand the illness.
The next best thing you can do for your children is to be consistent and develop routines that you can live with. Get up, get dressed, feed them breakfast, play a game, or engage in another activity that your child enjoys. Your time, any time, that you can manage to spend with them will help your child feel more secure. As a mom with depression, a simple ritual my children and I had when they were young was our bedtime ritual. Whether they were with me or not, we always said: "Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite — they're outside, no, they're right where you sleep." I'm not sure how that last part was added on to the saying, but my kids knew that everything was alright as long as we said this to each other right before bed. They counted on it and would remind me if I missed a night.
Most importantly, remember that you're human. There may still be hard days when you want to stay in bed all day, and that's okay. That's when you call on your support system for help and when you tell your children you're having a rough day. If everyone knows and understands what's going on, they will be all right. Kids will appreciate your honesty, they'll learn that not every day is perfect, and they'll understand that every day you do the best you can.
Nicholson, Joanne. 2001. Parenting Well When You're Depressed
Beardslee, William. 2002. Out of the Darkened Room: When a Parent is Depressed
World Health Organization