About 15 million people in the United States alone have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and to you readers out there, if you’re one of the 15 million and you’re a parent, then you’ll know first hand how hard it makes parenting. As if parenting without a mental illness isn’t hard enough on it’s own right?
I personally have suffered with depression all my life and sometimes I feel like it makes me a terrible mother. I am still to this day trying to get help. We always believe we are being judged because we aren’t meeting an out of reach standard with our children that everyone believes to be right. We always think our children are going to hate us or not understand. We know logically, none of the things we think are reasonable, however we still find it difficult to say to ourselves “that’s not true, I am doing just fine!” Well, you are, you are doing the best you can and that is just fine. As long as your children’s needs are taken care of and you love them, that’s all that matters. Having a mental illness makes you no less of a person or a parent.
That being said, there are things you can keep in mind to help yourself along this journey with your children and do the best you can as their parent. Keep in mind the things I suggest may not work for everyone, but if it helps someone, that’s all that matters to me.
1: Sometimes “not doing good enough” is just fine. Depression makes it hard to focus or muster the energy to get everything done, sometimes you may even feel guilty for not playing with or giving your child enough attention. Some days are good, other days you can hardly get out of bed. It’s okay, as long as your child has his/her needs met and is safe, you don’t have to always play the role of the perfect mother or father that other people may expect you to be. Take that time you need to rest, so that you can keep trying to get better even if it is a slow pace. Your child will be just fine. Trust me.
2: Forgive yourself and your children! None of us are perfect people, let alone parents. Mental illness or not. We’re all going to have rough points, we’re all going to make mistakes. Please try to be gentle to yourself even if you may be your own worst critic and be gentle to those around you. Depression often manifests in anxiety, anger, irritability and sadness. Know that it is okay to make mistakes and most importantly, try to learn from them in order to better yourself.
3: Don’t hide your depression from your children. This is probably one of the hardest things to overcome in my opinion as a parent with depression. You want your kids to see you happy and you want to always be on top, being the star parent. You don’t want to imagine (if your kids are young) your kids asking you or your significant other/spouse “why is mommy/daddy so sad?” I imagine this scenario on a daily basis and it breaks my heart knowing that one day my son is going to notice and ask questions. However I believe you should always be honest and straight-forward with your kids. If you take the time to explain to them about your illness, I believe it will make them more understanding on your shortcomings and towards other people who also suffer with depression. It might also make it more apt for them to talk to you if they too suffer with mental illness, or simply talk about their feelings so you can help your child through it all. As hard as it may be to push through the walls to explain to your child what is going on, ultimately, I believe doing so will be positive. Make sure your child knows it’s not his/her fault, and that you are taking care of yourself.
4: Seek help. Whether it is your significant other/spouse, friends, family, a therapist, group support, peers, or even someone from your church or congregation, etc. Seek help. Take the time to talk, because bottling everything inside does nothing but make you feel alone or worse. Even though you may think that people don’t care about you, know that there is at least one person out there who does if not more. They care and want to support you on your path to recovery. Please please please reach out to someone.
If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 Suicide is merely a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Have hope and seek help.
5: You are not your condition! Even though it may feel like it sometimes, you are not your depression. Your condition should never define you. You are a parent among other things such as a husband/wife/partner, a friend, family to many, a teammate, a valued co-worker, etc. You have hobbies and interests and perhaps even talents that are your own. You have core values and beliefs. You are so much more than your condition!!
6: Recognize your strengths. When you’re struggling with depression or any mental illness for that matter, the last thing on your mind is your strengths. You might think along the lines of “I can’t do anything right, this day isn’t going to go well, I’m never going to be a good mom/dad.” However try to celebrate your strengths, things you like about yourself, things you are proud of, things you cherish about yourself. This is also a positive mindset to pass on to your children to boost self esteem and think through negative thoughts.
7: Don’t use your depression as an excuse. I read in another article a person who’s family had two things they always held in value when it came to depression that I agree with. “This is an explanation but not an excuse” and “you can’t control how you feel, but you can control how you act”. I agree with it simply because I believe that even if you have a mental illness you can still have responsibility for your actions. She uses an example about snapping at one of her children because of how she felt and that she she apologizes and explains to her child the way she feels and why she acted the way she did but also that it doesn’t excuse her behavior. I have also done this multiple times, and I also have apologized as soon as possible when something like that happens. I’ve done it not only with my child but my husband as well. She also says: “This is particularly important when dealing with teens who are convinced that nothing they do is ever their responsibility; if I can’t take full responsibility for my actions, I sure as heck can’t expect the kids to manage it for theirs.” Having been a teen and merely being in my young 20’s, I can relate to that on both sides of the picture. It’s definitely some sound advice being someone who struggles with depression. (Reference Article: http://alphamom.com/parenting/parenting-through-depression)
No one says you have to be the perfect parent, keep these tips in mind, and take care of yourself as well as you do your children. Remember there are millions of others going through the same thing as you, experiencing or have experienced depression and that you are never alone.