Depression is difficult, and parenting is difficult. Throw the two together, and you have yourself a monumental struggle.
When you parent with depression, you are torn between two facts: 1) the love you have for your child, and 2) the overwhelming sadness and exhaustion that you carry every day. In consequence, your days are filled with failed attempts to give of yourself to your child. You can’t give, because you aren’t there. Or if you do give, you deplete your small supply of energy and strength.
And you constantly beat yourself up about it. This makes the depression worse, and then you are able to give less as you exhaust yourself more. The cycle continues, and if you don’t get help or help yourself, you will burn yourself out into nothing.
This is obviously a bad situation for both parent and child. It is, however, not hopeless. There are a few techniques I have learned, and I’d like to share them with you in hopes that they can help you or those you love. They assume, of course, that the depression is not unbridled but is undergoing treatment of some sort. You can’t do this alone; get help for your mental health.
1. Remind yourself of the facts.
You have depression. It makes things hard. It takes away your energy. It makes you sad. That’s just the nature of the beast, and you can’t help that. You aren’t, therefore, a villain parent because you are depressed. You are just a poor, sad, tired, struggling daddy or mommy who loves his or her child and wants to do the best for that child.
2. Accept that you will be able to do less.
Don’t compare yourself to non-depressed friends and relatives. You just can’t do that. What they are capable of doing, you may not be. But that’s okay. That’s where you are in your life right now. You will get there. Meanwhile, your child is just fine with what you have to give. As long as he or she knows of your love, everything will be all right.
3. Know your limits and respect them.
Maybe, for example, you aren’t able to parent all day and to make dinner at night. I know this is my struggle. And so my family deals with that. I do what I can, but we frequently have to have frozen dinners or warmed up leftovers. We even have a weekly pizza night. And that’s all right. My family is fed. It’s not the ideal situation, true; but I’m not the ideal person. One day, as I get better, this part of my life will get better too, but right now, I work with what I can and cannot do.
4. Take a break.
It is important to have a period completely free from responsibility. Try to arrange with your spouse a time at least once a week when you can let go. Ideally, you can set up some time in the middle of the week as well as on the weekend. Also, it is important to have a few moments each day which at least lighten your load. Figure out a time when you can have them, whether this be nap time, early morning, or even while your child is watching a show.
5. Make a habit of being grateful.
This especially helps with the time you get as a break. With your depression, you will always be wanting more break. However, if you make a point to be grateful for the time that you do have, you will be able to focus less on the time you didn’t get and more on the time you did. As a consequence, the time will be more restful and refreshing, as well.
6. Pause at periods of the day to assess good points about your day.
You may want to set an alarm on your phone so you remember to do this, but it helps to take a moment maybe three times a day–once mid-morning, once midday, and once mid-afternoon. At these points, name at least one good thing that happened. I don’t care how minor the thing is; just find one. This will help you to transition your brain to more positive thinking.
7. Focus on “how are we?”
I know that this helps in my case. I always feel like I am not measuring up to some nebulous standard in my performance, and I forget that a lot of times this standard is self-imposed and not something objective. “How are we?” reminds me that things do not have to be perfect. If my child seems happy, I did well.
There are many more techniques you can practice to try to cope with your depression while parenting, but implementing these seven should make a big difference. I still struggle to put them into practice, but when I do, things are so much better. I hope they can help you as much as they have helped me.