Parenting with depression is a double whammy. Parenting is challenging. Depression is challenging. Together, they can seem insurmountable. You can parent (and be a good one at that) despite living with depression. A big part of that is talking to your children about your depression. Read on for some why’s and how’s of communicating and parenting with depression.
Why Talking to Your Kids is Important When Parenting with Depression
Parenting with depression can increase stress in the home, negatively affect children’s development of healthy coping skills, and increase kids’ risk for anxiety, depression, and disruptive disorders (Stevens, 2018). These, however, aren’t guaranteed. You can drastically reduce the risk of such negative impacts on your children, and you don’t have to be depression-free to do it. An important key is talking to your kids and knowing what to tell them.
Depression affects you and your family. Talking about the changes it’s brought and how everyone is feeling is an important part of everyone’s recovery. It’s especially important to talk to your children regardless of their ages because they see the effects of depression on their mom or dad. Because they’re kids, they believe their parent hates playing with them, doesn’t love them, and other misguided but age-appropriate assumptions. In addition to these beliefs, kids frequently experience:
Anxiety (including worries that their mom or dad is dying)
Their own depression
Parenting with depression does not need to have these dangerous effects on a child’s wellbeing. Simple conversations go a long way in alleviating worries and negative thoughts and in re-creating or maintaining healthy attachment and bonding.
What to Tell Your Children About Your Depression
There’s no such thing as too young for kids to know about your depression. Even the youngest child can sense when things are off in the family. Pre-verbal babies, of course, won’t benefit from a discussion, but they will very much benefit from your love, attention, and cuddles.
Kids need to understand what you’re experiencing; just make sure that you talk to them in age-appropriate ways. With young children, it’s necessary to remain simple and concrete. Saying that you’re sad a lot and relating it to times when they’re sad is more beneficial than saying that you’re depressed. Older adolescents, on the other hand, can handle a deeper discussion about your illness.
These guidelines can help you have effective conversations about parenting and depression:
Don’t be brutally honest, going into detail about your negative thoughts and feelings. If you’ve contemplated suicide, it’s not appropriate to disclose that to your kids, but do tell someone you know, a mental health professional, and/or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Let your kids ask you questions. It’s okay if you don’t know all the answers. Simply tell them that, and they’ll respect you for it.
Tell your children what you’re doing to get better. This lets them know that you will, indeed, get better, and it models the notion that when they’re facing an insurmountable challenge, they have the power to do things to improve.
Telling your children about your depression is positive parenting. Consider the following tips to help you deal with parenting and depression.
Helpful Tips for Parenting with Depression
Your kids want and need your attention and quality time with you. They also need predictable routines to feel secure; however, these are easier said than done when you’re living with depression. These tips might help:
You don’t have to routinize your family’s entire day. Creating routines around mealtimes, bedtimes, and possibly regular family game nights will create a sense of normalcy without taxing you.
Rather than fully playing with your kids, sit with them and pay attention while they play.
Read to them.
If you’re exhausted on the couch, ask them to put on a show for you.
Hide some objects around the house for your kids to find and bring to you.
Let your teen do homework near you and share events of their day.
Find movies and TV shows to watch with your kids of any age.
One of the most important aspects of parenting with depression is to give yourself a break. Let go of the need to be perfect ("‘Good Enough Parenting’ Has Its Time and Place"). Your day-to-day life doesn’t have to be an elaborate production. Tell your children what you’re experiencing, and then, with them, create small, low-key joys more days than not. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it for your children and for you.