When you’re coping with depression as a mother, whether it’s situational depression (meaning a friend or loved one has died, or maybe you’re getting divorced) it can be exhausting. Inevitably your children will notice your mood shift. You’ll be able to articulate your feelings to them in a concrete age-appropriate way if you take the time to explain it them. For example, a six-year-old may ask why you are crying? You can respond with something like “I’m sad because grandma died.” At that age, your son or daughter is aware of what death is and can comprehend the severity of it.
Your partner can help you reiterate what you’re coping with and be there to support you. Even if they don’t personally manage depression, they can empathize and encourage you as you explain it to your child. It’s okay to lean on your partner for support when you’re having trouble communicating your feelings to your children. You started a life with this person for a reason, they get you and they want to help you through this journey.
In addition to situational depression, there is the concept of clinical depression or bipolar disorder, which incorporates depression. Many people struggle with mental illness in our society; in fact, one in five of us has a mental illness according to NAMI. Some of those individuals are living with depression or bipolar disorder. Furthermore, some of those people are parents and more specifically, mothers. If you are a mother living with a mood disorder, you have two important roles to fulfill, taking care of yourself and taking care of your children.
When you live with depression, you will often have symptoms that present outwardly, such as fatigue, moving slowly, having difficulty showering or leaving the house. This will inevitably impact your ability to be present for your children. Your partner can step in and help you when you’re not feeling at your best. This is particularly helpful when your kids are young.
Parenting young children is inherently challenging. They want to get outside, go to the playground, see their friends, and just be social. There are school events that you might have every intention of attending as a mom, but individually you might not be able to emotionally and mentally handle being in a large crowd of parents and children. This is a great opportunity for your partner to help out and attend these school events to support your children and you.
Couples that have one partner who is living with depression often have struggles that test the strength of the relationship. When it feels like they’re struggling, it can be helpful to seek the help of a trained counselor. Relationship counseling is an excellent form of therapy that can help partners communicate better. Depression can be confusing or even frustrating to deal with from the perspective of the partner who doesn’t suffer from it. They want to be supportive to their co-parent, but when they can’t understand what their partner is going through directly it’s difficult for them to be supportive in the way that the person suffering really needs.
A skilled relationship counselor is there to translate what the person managing depression needs to say their partner in order to get help. If we can express our needs clearly to our co-parents, we have a better chance at being successful both in parenting and in the romantic relationship. Do not just assume that your partner knows what you need. If he or she doesn't have any experience with depression it is likely the person simply doesn't know what to do to help. Maybe they need the assistance of a mental health professional who knows about depression to guide them through this process. Living with depression is challenging enough, but having a supportive therapist and partner can make your life journey just a little bit easier.
You are not alone! Many moms struggle with depression; whether it’s postpartum depression or Major Depressive Disorder, there are so many women out there that you can talk to who share your experiences in some way. Talk to those women, consider joining a support group, and lean on your partner for support. They want to be there for you. It’s hard living with a mental illness, and you can express how you feel. You matter.
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