Raising healthy children is always challenging, a source of joy but also a source of anxiety. And having depression can add to the challenge. And yet many, many women that we have worked with have had successful pregnancies and raised wonderful, healthy, happy children.
One key to success is paying attention to how mood can influence not only ourselves but also our family and children. Paying the right kind of attention, getting the help you need, and being optimistic that if you do so you will have the family that you want, is the key.
Parents who are themselves struggling with depression and/or anxiety issues may worry about passing these issues on to their children. There are a few actions that can help you raise mentally healthy kids. Important strategies include:
- Learn (and use) stress management techniques. We all know those tips and tricks are out there, but we don’t always make use of available resources for ourselves. But many people find higher motivation to follow healthy programs if they are doing it for the kids. We love the idea of teaching children mindfulness and stress reduction techniques. A colleague in Palo Alto, Amy Salzman, MD, an internist has created a set of resources on her website, Still Quiet Place, that you may want to explore. We love her two CDS: Still Quiet Place: Mindfulness for Young Children and Still Quiet Place: Mindfulness for Teens.
- Model stress tolerance. This is connected with the ideas above.You can teach your kids stress management at the same time you’re learning it for yourself. The kids may even become your best support buddies as they grow!
- Explain what’s going on. Isolation and uncertainty can exacerbate mood difficulties, and children in the home will know something is going on with Mom or Dad, even if they don’t understand it. Just take time to let them know, calmly and confidently, that parents sometimes struggle with mental health problems, but we can all learn to handle whatever comes our way. It is very important to identify and address any issues related to shame and stigma about mental health problems that you may harbor from your past. Teaching our children that they can talk about these issues openly is one of the most important things we can do as parents.
- Don’t neglect self-care. One challenge is that there seems to be a natural tendency for parents to focus all their attention on what their children need and to believe that self sacrifice is necessary and good. While this may sometimes be helpful, it can be a barrier to getting the help that a parent with depression needs.
There needs to be a shift in thinking and a recognition that for most kids the key to health and emotional health is having parents who themselves are healthy. Taking care of yourself is a top priority for your family.
As William Beardslee writes in his book When a Parent is Depressed: How to Protect Your Children from the Effects of Depression in the Family:
Many children, raised in the most challenging of circumstances overcome their difficulties and become remarkable healthy and happy adults. Parents put under extreme pressure by depression have demonstrated time and again that there are specific actions and strategies that they can employ to promote healthy development in their children.
Be sure that you talk to a good psychiatrist and obstetrician (having two doctors on your team from the start is a very good idea) about what to do to take care of yourself and your baby during pregnancy and beyond. Also check out the MGH Center for Women’s Mental Health for more resources.
For More Information
Bipolar and the Decision to Have Children . From the Website Bipolar Hope
How to Avoid Passing Anxiety on to your Kids. From the Website Child Mind Institute