34. Depression and parenting

29 Oct 2017

I’d have titled this depressive parenting, but that’s completely the wrong idea.

Depression is an illness that can last quite a while, and is sometimes high functioning, meaning that a person can appear to be functioning normally in general, except when behind closed doors, or when with family.

Parenting in depression, is largely behind closed doors.

It is inescapable that depression will leach its way into the parenting styles and habits of sufferers. I have two children who are turning 10 and 8 soon, at the time of this writing. I can’t switch off my parenting switch, just as I can’t switch off my husband switch, or any other part of my life. Depression is a reality, and parenting must still occur even in the midst of depression. In spite of, and despite, depression.

There isn’t any surprising revelation here. Just as in depression itself, there are good days and bad days. Sometimes I am really patient, and able to explain things to my ever-curious young boys until I get tired and squeeze my wife’s hand, hard, and she immediately steps in to ask the boys to pipe down and let me rest. Other days, I keep away, and my wife takes over wholesale, as I am simply not able to even cope with myself. Days like these, I end up exercising myself into the floor, almost literally, falling asleep mid-plank, or just lying there and staring at my arms while gathering the will to move to the next position that I need to exercise in.

Notice the pattern. The caregiver is a really important role, and I thank God for the strength, or at least resilience, of my dear wife.

We have explained to the children what depression basically is. They’re wise enough to know when to talk to other adults about my depression, by listening to us first. If we are openly discussing it, they will chime in. If we don’t, they try not to say too much. But we have explained suicide, though we have not told the younger one that I almost attempted it. If their friends or they themselves feel that suicide is one option they can take, they have been told to speak to the person in the house best fit to help them through it – namely, me. My wife is a caregiver, but even then she has not been able to talk me out of my episodes. Because of my personal experience with it, I can safely and confidently tell others, it’s not the best solution, with authority.

Perhaps the boys are too young to talk about this, but I believe there is never an age too young where issues of death and life should be spoken about. Of course, this comes from our belief in Christ, but at their current ages, I have heard them joke and speak of suicide, in their games, and in other contexts, though never seriously. Thus I felt that it was time to speak to them of such things, especially not to make light of it, and in an age-appropriate way.

There are worse times, times where I struggle to be a parent, times where I fail outright, where I feel I have not done enough. The times where I fail do seem to outweigh the times where I am patient and caring, explaining and teaching. That could be the depression talking, but there are times where I don’t respect myself as a father or even as a person, when handling my children. But I can’t stop being a father to my boys, even as they will not stop seeing me as a father despite my illness. So I have to soldier on, even through the worst of days, even if I’m simply lying on the sofa, struggling not to cry, even if it’s just to lift down a box of books that’s too heavy for the boys.

It needs to be known that depressed parents can make even more mistakes than if we weren’t ill. But it doesn’t mean that we are any less parents, or that we can’t be. We are made even more human by our depression, showing our children that we are weak, and not the heroes that they think we should be. But in that vulnerability, we show them that we still fight on, and we still take responsibility for our actions, no matter how harming we are. We can still be parents despite our condition. And we’ll still fail even if we don’t have our condition. It’s ok. We’re human. We’re allowed to err. When we’re ill, we need to know when to ask the spouse for help, or to just simply know when to say, I need my space, I love you as my children, and it’s not your fault, but please let me have some quiet space to myself.

Depression makes things way harder to deal with. We’ll end up blaming ourselves even more if we melt down as parents. I’m fortunate that our kids have a strong foundation of love, and that despite seeing a meltdown or two, they still remain firmly sure that I love them, and that they love me. They’re not perfect, but neither am I.

On a side note, I wonder why I can accept that better in others than myself.

Christians, even more so, pray. If you are in the same situation as me, pray. Pray because you as a parent, know how weak you are, and prone to losing control. Pray even if you don’t have depression because it is only by grace that we parent, and by grace that we parent with any degree of success. It is only by grace that we make mistakes and not end up scarring our children because the grace of God helps them to forgive us. Pray then, for grace to be in our hearts, but when we fall, pray for forgiveness. And remember to entrust our children to God every day.

Without this last bit… my guilt would never be washed away.

P.S. Please do not start a discussion on parenting habits based on this post. This is not the purpose of this post, and I am not really open to any such discussion at this point. Thanks.

P.P.S. My kids are not in physical danger. Depression isn’t usually an illness that makes you harm others. That’s what really angers me when depression is used for an excuse for anti-social behaviour that harms others. Depression generally just makes us tear ourselves up inside even more than we should.

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