Being a parent is one of the hardest things in the world, we all know that. Being a depressed parent is even harder. Of course I can only speak from my own experience in which I see my depression affecting my parenting in horrible ways every day. I snap at my children and my husband, and anger easily (I’m ashamed to admit that I have sworn at my children more than once.) I don’t want to play or interact with them, and then the guilt mounts to top it all off. Catastrophizing is also common, especially when my son has had febrile seizures and I think he is going to die.
But the worst thing is the tiredness and the times when I have to go for a nap in the middle of the day. My kids have become used to this but I’ve felt almost embarrassed when they’ve come up to my bedroom in the late afternoon to see me wake up from another two hour fog. Sometimes I feel that I can’t get through the day without these weekend naps, and I always feel better afterwards. But I hate my boys seeing this, it makes me feel pathetic and I don’t want them to think this is normal. The fatigue is debilitating though, and it just makes everything else, the irritability and the resistance to do anything, so much worse.
Will my children be depressed?
This is a question which runs through my head often and one which I frequently Google. The articles I read fill me with fear. It’s not as if you’re going to read an article saying that having a depressed parent is good for children though is it? The articles talk about such children having an increased risk of their own emotional disorders and making poor life choices in adolescence through to adulthood. I console myself by thinking that they are only young (six and four), and hopefully they don’t really understand that there is anything wrong – I’m just a moody cow to them sometimes. But they must wonder why I am generally no fun and never want to play, and why I sleep so much.
My eldest Dylan has had some instances of bad behaviour at school, and I’ve wondered if this is linked to times when I explode upon being asked for the seventeenth snack of the day or proffer pathetic excuses when asked to play cars with him. My youngest Charlie is very independent and attends nursery full-time whilst my husband and I work, and I don’t think he is as yet affected by my depression. He has just laughed upon seeing me in bed in the middle of the day, and he usually also laughs when I get irritable or snappy with him.
The thing which I get most anxious about is seeing that Dylan worries a lot about things, which brings back memories of my childhood (and early adulthood) when I worried about anything and everything. He likes to have a lot of assurance about things, whether it’s that he will definitely get to practise on his bike at the weekend, or that he can always watch a film on Friday and Saturday nights. He becomes inconsolable over small things at times, and he often questions what will be happening and when. So is this normal for a six year old or is there a void opening created by my lack of attention to him?
How I try not to let my depression affect my children
I thought I’d have a think about the ways I consciously try not to let being depressed affect the quality of my parenting, because I know I am not the worst mother in the world despite the little voices asserting the opposite:
1. I am a functioning depressive most of the time; I get up (albeit after hitting the snooze button twenty times), shower, dress and do the school run. I work, read with my son and practise his phonics, and at weekends we always do activities with the kids, even if it’s just a trip to the park or woods. Getting up, going to work and generally getting out of the house is normal for them.
2. Sometimes I tell the kids I’m going to my study to do work, instead of going for a nap. As long as they don’t come into my bedroom I’m covered.
3. I tell them I love them all the time and we kiss and cuddle a lot. I am affectionate and I say sorry when I am unjust towards them.
4. My husband and I try to create happy memories for them, even though we don’t have a lot of money. I can’t run after them in the woods but I’ll pretend I’ve seen a bear or that we are looking for treasure, despite feeling that I just want to curl up and close my eyes forever because I’m so tired.
One of the worst attributes of my depression is that it makes almost everything seem utterly pointless, but I feel a gut-wrenching knot in my stomach when I think of my children feeling that way about life. I know life is beautiful and precious and all too fleeting, but that view seems beyond my grasp. I want Dylan and Charlie to see and feel it though, so I keep fighting this for them. I want them to feel wonder at the stars and dappled sunlight on leaves, the joy of good conversations with trusted ones and excitement at being alive for one more glorious day.
I’d love to hear from others who suffer with depression how they hide it from children. Or perhaps I’ve got it all wrong and we should be more transparent about it, seeing as so many of us are familiar with it? Perhaps I should be talking to them about it? I honestly have no idea, but I’d love to know what you think.