Life can sometimes throw a curveball, and depression is one of those balls which can disrupt family life, but how can you navigate depression when you are a parent? It is not only you that you have to think about it is also the welfare of your children.
When my son was growing up, I had many bouts of severe depression, and I learned that in front of young children, you have to learn to wear a mask, not the covid kind, but an act of wellness. It is not easy to do, and it is even more difficult if you are a single parent as I was.
However, there are times when you are too unwell, and the mask slips and your kids wonder why you can’t get out of bed; in an ideal world, you would have a support network around you so that you can stay in bed, but in reality, a support network is not always available. You have to summon the inner depths of strength somehow to make it to the kitchen and get breakfast started.
In this article, I’ll be going through some areas of life where depression can cause problems; of course, it causes problems in all areas of life, but when you have kids, you have to do things you can’t avoid.
Above All Be Honest
Nobody can help you if you are not honest about your feelings, and your first port of call should be to your doctor to get medication and therapy. It is imperative to start treatment as soon as you feel depressed; otherwise, the symptoms only worsen, and you could find that things get out of your control.
Rope in a friend to come with you if you feel unsure how to explain it to the doctor; remember they see it every day so that you will be pleasantly surprised at your doctor’s response; they are there to help.
Also, be honest with your family. They can’t help you if they don’t know how you feel. Be honest with friends, too, as you will need their support. Unfortunately, this is the time when you realise who your true friends are.
As soon as you know you have depression, you want to gather a support network around you, be it friends or family; ideally, your partner, if you have one, will be in control of this. Depression is not like a cold where you’ll be over it in a few days; it is a long term thing that, if left unchecked, it will get worse.
You need people around you who can assist you with the kids, and grandparents are an excellent option for this, providing they are in good health.
If your children are of school-age, ask other parents to stop by your house and take your kids to school if you can’t face the school run, I had to do this on several occasions. But if the school is close to you, then a walk will help your depression as it will release feel-good hormones called endorphins and give you a bit of energy.
Forget about it for a time; all your energy will be needed to focus on your children. All you really need to do is wash up and make sure there is no toothpaste scattered up the walls in the bathroom.
Worrying about housework takes away your energy, and you only have limited reserves when depressed. So it would help if you used it wisely. Forget about housework as much as possible or get someone in to do it if you can afford to, or maybe one of your friends or family members will swish a mop around and vacuum for you.
If your children are older, they can help with the housework, you might have to persuade them with a financial reward, but they could surprise you and want to help out. When your children are older, you can explain depression to them; it is not so easy when they are young.
If you work, you need to speak to your boss about making some accommodations for you, many businesses are becoming more aware of mental health issues, and you should be honest with your boss about why you need time off. If you think your boss won’t understand, then there is no harm in lying and saying you need two weeks off for a physical ailment, such as vertigo; if you have to lie, then do so; it is for your own sake.
I remember one firm I worked for, I had to tell little fibs to get the time off I needed, and I didn’t feel guilty because I knew I would be a better employee when I returned.
You may feel that you have to attend all these after school events when you can actually get someone to stand in for you. If you have school plays and sports days, of course, your child will want you to attend, but there is nothing wrong with having someone go in your place, your health is more important, if you go down too far, then it benefits nobody.
There will be other school plays and sports days, and your child won’t remember the one you missed, only the ones you attended.
If you care for other people alongside your children, such as frail parents get other siblings or family members to take on more responsibilities, you shouldn’t have to cope; you should be recuperating just as you would if you had the flu or a broken leg.
Take time out as and when you need to, wear a mask in front of young children and get others to help out, contact charities for their support and above all else, don’t feel guilty about the help you need. It takes roughly six weeks from the start of medication to feeling a bit better in yourself and those six weeks need to be as stress-free as possible.
You can still be a good parent when you have depression, but it does mean you have to rely on other people. This feels a little alien for some, but it is essential for your well-being and that of your children.
And as a side note, my son never remembered my depressive spells; he only had ever remembered the fun we had when I was well. Children remember the good times, and you will have good times again once the depression lifts.
This article was written for The Procrastinating Mum by Lou Farrell. Lou runs a website called Mentriz and talks about mental illness and how to navigate towards wellness. She writes on the topics of depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety.