Parenting can be hard at the best of times. When you’re struggling with depression, you might feel like you can’t provide the care and support your children need. There are many things you can do to make caring for your children a little easier while you treat your own depression. On days when you feel like you can’t measure up, remember these tips and keep trying.
1. Remember You Don’t Have to Be Perfect
Trying to measure up to an impossible standard will only make you feel worse. Don’t spend energy comparing yourself to the carefully curated images of do-it-all moms on Facebook, or a dad you assume is perfect based only on what you see in the carpool line. You’re not seeing their whole stories, stories that inevitably include mistakes and imperfections. Give yourself some grace. Try to keep the focus on the relationship between you and your children and what your children need, not on fulfilling a job description of “the perfect parent.”
2. Find Support for Yourself
The best thing you can do for your depression and your kids is to get treatment and find support. Try to connect with parents who have gone through something similar. More than 15 million adults struggle with depression, so it’s likely that there are parents near you who are going through the same thing. Your local NAMI or DBSA affiliate might be a good place to start.
Make sure you find a therapist who understands how depression can impact family life. Family therapists have great experience helping clients learn how to navigate their depression and other mental illnesses while taking care of their families. Therapy is also a great way to get the treatment you need in order to start recovering. Many psychotherapies, or talk therapies, such as CBT, DBT, and ACT can be incredibly helpful for the treatment of depression.
The best thing you can do for your depression and your kids is to get treatment and find support.
If outpatient therapy (seeing a therapist in his or her office once a week) isn’t working for you, you may need to consider a residential or day treatment program. Many parents worry about taking time away from their children to recover. Remember that showing your kids that it’s ok to ask for help when you need it is important. You are demonstrating to your children the importance of seeking help and of taking care of your mind and body. These are important lessons, and children learn best from examples their parents set.
Depression treatment can take time to start working. It isn’t uncommon for medication to take up to six weeks to start working, and it can be a minimum of a few weeks before therapy starts to help you feel better.
Therapy is hard work. Confronting unhealthy thoughts and behaviors, and replacing them with new skills to cope with stress and manage symptoms is challenging. You might want to give up, but remember that you’re doing this for you and for your kids. Having someone else as a motivator can help you stick to it when it gets hard to continue.
3. Make Sure You Have Back-Up
Feeling alone or isolated can feed your feelings of depression or anxiety. Relieve some of that pressure by putting together a team of people you can call on for help. Make a plan for how they can help support you and your family. Put it in writing.
Some people feel they have to handle everything and only ask for help in a crisis. But what about before that? What can friends and family do to make sure you have the time and space you need for self-care? Ask them in advance and put it on a schedule so you don’t have to ask at the last minute. Reciprocal carpools and playdates allow you to help other parents while also securing help for your family. And try not to feel guilty carving out time for yourself, including appointments with healthcare providers, regular exercise, adequate and regular sleep, and time with supportive friends. Again, you’re setting a good example for your children.
Put together a team of people you can call on for help. Make a plan for how they can help support you and your family.
Similarly, make specific plans for times of crisis, or when you have a mood episode that prevents you from being your usual self. Be sure to include phone numbers, email addresses, and other pertinent information. Go over the plan in advance with a spouse, partner or loved one so that he or she can help you activate the plan when needed.
The idea that it takes a village to raise a child isn’t a new one, and is a great way of looking at how multiple sources of support can help both you and your family. Even when you are in a better place, it’s healthy for your children to have several sources of support, so they can have all of their needs met.
4. Find Uplifting Media and Activities
The negativity on social media and news outlets is enough to make anyone feel terrible about the state of the world. You might feel like you have to stay informed about current events. However, if this comes at the cost of your mental health, it isn’t worth it. Your children need you to be there for them, and if watching the news makes it hard for you to feel well, then cut it out, or set limits on how much news you consume.
Along with limiting negative news, do your best to surround yourself with uplifting media and messages. Find networks that share good news, and find books, movies, TV shows, or video games with good messages. Share some media with your children. Often times, kids’ media is filled with uplifting messages to encourage your kids to be their best selves. You may find those messages help counteract your negative thoughts and feelings.
If your family’s schedule permits, try incorporating volunteer service activities. Often local food banks or senior homes have opportunities appropriate for families. Some organizations even organize regular opportunities for families to volunteer together. Paying it forward to help other families helps us feel good and feel like part of a community. If your family’s schedule is full, consider purchasing a few extra cans of food at the grocery store once a month and dropping them off at a food pantry or mailing cards to the senior home.
5. Don’t be Afraid to Tell Your Children What You’re Going Through
Your children will understand more than you think they will. Around the age of 4 or 5, they may start to notice your mood changes. Don’t be afraid to tell them that you’re feeling sad and share some things that you are doing to feel better. Let them know you appreciate their kind thoughts.
Along with helping your children understand what you are going through, this will also normalize the concept of mental illness as something that happens to people. Depression tends to run in families, so if you are struggling with it, there is a chance that they might struggle with it too. If they start to experience depression or other issues later in their life, they will remember your example of talking about it and getting help. That will encourage them to seek the help they need instead of trying to hide their feelings.
It can be hard to take on the role of an engaged parent while struggling with something as challenging as depression. Remember a mantra that many parents use: just do your best. Do what you can with what you have. Love your children and treat them with respect. Remember to also love and respect yourself. You are not alone, and it is okay to ask for help.
If you’re ready to start your depression treatment, contact a Skyland Trail admissions representative today to see what options are best for you.