I remember being curled up in the fetal position, crying, unable to get out of bed. My two children, right outside the door laughing and playing. Depression had its grip on me. I could barely breathe. It felt so heavy.
Thankfully, we had a friend over that was taking care of the girls, because I could barely take care of myself at this point. And while they were too young to fully understand the state I was in, the guilt crashed down on me like angry waves.
But even in that desperate state, depression doesn’t automatically make you a bad mom. I believe it is possible to mother well, even when depressed. It just may look different than what you imagined.
In parenthood, there are [many] times being selfless is a must, but I will argue there are also times to put yourself first. I don’t mean this in a cultural “do YOU” kind of way. But when it comes to health, if you don’t prioritize it, you will not be able to parent to the best of your ability.
It may feel counterintuitive, because we are taught to always put our children’s needs before our own. And most of the time, you should. But if I neglect my mental health (like I have done several times in the past), I can’t outrun the repercussions. And before I know it, I will be curled up in bed, unable to parent at all.
My most recent bout with clinical depression required me to take a step back from my parenting duties. We had friends and family step in to care for the girls while my husband was at work. It felt unnatural and I wrestled with guilt every second of the day. But I was able to focus on my health without distractions, for those few weeks. I could breathe and formulate a game plan for getting back on my feet.
This time without the kids allowed me to get in to see my counselor and psychiatrist more, go for walks, meditate and talk to God, and journal my thoughts. All things I know help me to be healthier. And eventually, did.
I know this isn’t possible for all families. But whatever it looks like in your home–trading babysitting with a friend who also has children, bartering for childcare, asking family to watch the kids for an hour here and there, or putting a movie on and siting in the other room–allow yourself to step away and prioritize your mental wellness when needed.
When you’re depressed, you cannot do it alone. No matter how hard you may try. And you shouldn’t. It isn’t best for you OR your children.
Being proactive with getting professional help should be your first step. If you cannot even bear to do this, ask a friend or partner to help you make these calls. Below is a great resource, if you don’t have a psychiatrist or therapist already.
Ask your friends and family for help with your kids while you seek treatment. This requires you to overcome guilt, shame, and the stigma of talking about how bad your depression really is. But remember, even if your friends and family are tired themselves, they will want to support you while you get mentally healthy.
If you are struggling with knowing how to ask for help, here is a cheat sheet that could help get the conversation started.
I remember sitting before my therapist just a few months ago crying “Am I going to screw up my kids because of this depression? My oldest child sees me in bed and I don’t ever want her to think it is her fault!”
His advice was simple: tell your kids what is going on. Explain your mental illness to them, just like you would a physical sickness like diabetes or a migraine. Tell them it isn’t their fault. Tell them that your brain is sick.
I was making it more complicated that it had to be.
I always knew I wanted to talk openly to my children about mental illness, and our family’s history with it. I wanted to give them the language to speak about mental health with facts, not assumptions. But they are young, so I thought the conversation would have to be more nuanced. But it doesn’t.
Of course, my 1.5 year old has no comprehension that I am any different when depressed. But my 4 year old is intuitive and curious. She knows when Mommy doesn’t play with her as much, or spends a lot of time in bed. So, during this last bout with depression, I began the conversation.
I don’t know if I’m doing it “right”, but I am being honest with her about mental illness. I tell her about the medicine that doctors are able to give me, that helps my brain to be healthy. I tell her it takes time for the medicine to begin working, and I may need to rest more. I tell her that God provides medicine and therapy to help Mommy’s sickness. And that I will feel better soon.
In her 4 year old way, she understands these things. She knows when she is sick, she goes to the doctor and they make her feel better. It makes sense to her. And my hope is that by having these conversations early, she won’t internalize my sickness as something that has anything to do with her.
I have created another cheat sheet, if you need some ideas of how to talk to small children about depression.
God is sovereign over your children. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t employ our own wisdom in parenting, or try to protect them the best we can. It means that ultimately, God is their protector, not us. God will use all circumstances in our child’s life–good and bad–to draw them to Himself. Even our failures as parents will point them to the God who will never fail them and our need for a Savior.
We can fight to believe that the pressure is off! We can’t achieve perfection for our kids and our imperfection is precisely what will point them to our PERFECT Father, who will never let them down.
Paul speaks of how God uses our weakness for His good when he writes
2 Corinthians 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
When God formed your child, He had their mother in mind. It is not an accident that you are the mother of these particular children. God is purposeful. He knew you–all of your strengths & weaknesses–and He knew that you could teach, love, and pour in to your kids BECAUSE of those things.
Depression does not define us. Depression does not make us bad parents. Be proactive against those whispers your illness wants you to believe.
Let’s fight like hell to speak honestly, prioritize our health & wellness, show our children what it looks like to humbly ask for help, and more than all of those things: model what it looks like to trust God through life’s storms.
I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment or email me!
This is such a great post! I believe it is very important to be honest with our children about our experience with mental illness. If we aren’t honest, they will answer the questions in their mind with their own version of events, and it’s likely that they will lay part of the blame on themselves.
I love how you explain to us what your inner thoughts are when you’re struggling, and specifically how you make your way out. The links make it easy for us to get resources quickly. Your life and communication is a wonderful and helpful testimony to how God can and will help all of us through life struggles.