Coping with depression is difficult, but when we have young children to look after, too, it can be incredibly tricky to make space for what we need when we have dependents who rely on us to have their needs met.
Accepting Where You’re At
Depression can leave our life looking different from the life we’d always imagined. We might struggle with energy and motivation. Keeping up with the needs, wants and demands of our children takes up a great deal of energy and headspace.
Nobody, absolutely nobody, has it all together. We all have good days, bad days, and days when we didn’t get the chance to run a comb through our hair. Living a life that’s different from the ‘picture perfect’ life we imagined doesn’t make us a ‘bad parent’. It doesn’t mean that we’re letting anyone down. Our child’s education will not be affected because we didn’t get round to sticking the alphabet up on their bedroom wall.
The reality is: we’re a parent with depression and we’re doing our best. We are real – we are perfectly imperfect, we make mistakes, and that’s okay. Nobody has the ‘dream life’, nobody has it all together.
Finding A Balance
Depression can come with physical symptoms. Sometimes we can manage these symptoms through our lifestyle by making sure we rest enough, monitoring our activity levels, making sure we drink enough water and perhaps leaving the house for some fresh air every day.
Managing illness with life is often a balance. Each activity we do can take a chunk of energy. Some activities, such as going to a playgroup, can take more energy than others, such as getting dressed.
To add a complication, we might find that the energy we have fluctuates from day to day, too.
Balance can involve pacing ourselves. It might be helpful to learn a little more about spoon theory – the idea that we have a finite amount of energy each day and need to choose where to spend our units of energy. Putting our health first – balancing our needs with our wants – can mean that we have to decline an invite we’d love to accept or live with a home that’s a little less organised than we’d like. But it can help us to take control and prevent burnout.
Single Or Lone Parenting
Being a single or lone parent can be more challenging than living with a partner or another adult. This could include parents who have been through a divorce, a relationship breakdown, or never been in a relationship with our child(ren)’s other parent. Some parents might have a partner who has to work away for the majority of the week, is on tour with the armed forces, or is in hospital.
Being the sole adult in our household, whether it be a temporary or permanent thing, increases the pressure of responsibility and the sheer amount of energy needed to keep our household going. We don’t have a buffer when organising childcare, might not have any help us financially, and have to keep the household jobs ticking over by ourself. The sense of loneliness can increase because we have less adult conversation. If there isn’t a partner in the picture at all then we could have to make difficult decisions alone.
Having a strong support network can be essential. We might have friends who live nearby that we can arrange joint play-dates with or have a system where we look after one another’s children when needed. Some friends could live near our child’s nursery and can pick them up for us if we’re running late. Talking difficult decisions over with friends or family can help us to organise our thoughts.
Getting out and meeting people when single or lone parenting can be harder because we have less time to socialise. We could weave some socialising into our existing schedule by chatting to our neighbours over the fence, talking to other parents on the school or nursery run, ringing a friend while we do the ironing, or inviting friends or family over for tea.
Living with depression may mean that there are appointments we need to get to. There are times when we won’t want our children to come with us. This can present a childcare problem, especially if our children don’t go to nursery or school.
For those that do regularly go to a nursery, school, or playgroup, we could try and arrange our appointments for a time when they’ll be there. If we don’t have that option, we could speak to the health professional we’re seeing about whether they know of any childcare options open to us, ask a friend or family member to help us out with childcare or, if we can afford it, we could pay a babysitter or nanny for a couple of hours.
Utilise Apps And Automation
If we can get the hang of them, apps and automation can help to ease our mental load. Depression often has an impact on our ability to remember things. Kids can come with a lot of admin, as does running a home and coping with a mental illness.
It can be a lot. Often it’s a weight that drags us down and leaves us feeling useless when we inevitably forget something.
We could try automating our bills. If a bill is automatically paid, it’s one less thing to think about. As well as utility bills, we could also automate childcare or club payments. We might choose to attend to our admin once a week. Batching it means that we only have to think about it once a week as opposed to every day which not only reduces the mental load and time it takes but can also help us to be more organised and less likely to forget things.
Apps that we could try include things like Asana – an online ‘to do’ list that allows us to set up recurring items as well as one-time-only ones. Gmail calendar can be useful, too, because we can share our calendar with other family members, allowing us to coordinate our time, make sure that childcare is covered, and share responsibility for any upcoming events or tasks that need doing.
If our child wears a uniform for playgroup, school, or another club, keeping it in a designated space such as a drawer or shelf makes it easy to find when they need it. This also helps our child to know where it is and might allow them to get dressed independently.
Don’t Be Afraid To Take The ‘Easier’ Option
Having pizzas in the freezer can be a good back up for days when we don’t have the energy to cook. A dishwasher is much easier than washing everything by hand. We might have the option of paying someone to clean our house or cut our grass. Going to a car wash might be easier than washing our car ourselves. Buying a stamp with our child’s name on can be easier and quicker than hand-writing their name in everything they own. Using ready-chopped frozen veg might make cooking a more doable option.
Loads of different services and aids exist and there is absolutely nothing wrong with using them. Sometimes it might be more expensive, but if we can afford it and it makes our load a little lighter then it’s often worth it.
Low-Energy Things To Do
Every parent has times when they have no energy. When we have depression, we might find that we’re more exhausted more often. Rather than scrambling to find something to occupy our kids while we rest for a bit, it can be helpful to have a ready-made list of ideas that we pick something off of.
Low-energy activities could include things watching a film, playing on a tablet, sending our children to run around the garden 10 times, challenging them to build something out of Lego or Duplo, setting some time aside for them to read, or for us to read to them, or having a stack of colouring or puzzle books for them to go at. If they’re very young having a bouncy chair in the door frame that we can pop them in or an activity mat that they can lie down on can give us a bit of down-time.
If we frequently feel too tired to decide what to do, we could write our low-energy ideas on strips of paper and pop them in a cup. Then, at times when we need to think of something to do, our child could pick one out.
Limit Your Child(ren) To One ‘Play’ Room
We all know what happens when our kids start to travel independently… mess spreads. Gone are the days when we can leave them on an activity mat and expect them to stay there until we pick them up. Once kids begin to crawl, shuffle, and walk, every toy they own seems to crawl, shuffle, and walk with them.
By limiting them to playing in one room, we can limit the mess to one space. When it then comes to ‘tidy up time’, it’s a little easier to manage. Additionally, if we can’t face tidying up that day then we can just shut the door.
Talking To Your Child About Your Depression
Deciding if and when to talk to our child about our depression, and what exactly we should say to them, can be a tricky one.
At different ages, our children will have different levels of understanding. Before speaking to our child(ren) about our illness it’s helpful to have a think about what we’re going to say, when we’d like to speak to them, where might be an appropriate place to do so, and whether we want to talk to them about it ourself, do it with someone else, or have someone else do it for us.
Involve Your Children In Your Self-Care
There might be ways that we can involve our little ones in some of our self-care activities. Not only does it introduce the idea of self-care to our children early on, but it also means that we’re not waiting until they’ve gone to bed to cram everything in.
There are various ways we could include them in what we’re doing. For example, if we use a meditation app, could they join us for five minutes? When it comes to ‘boring’ self-care, could they help us out by helping us to wash the car, dry the dishes, or put their toys away? Are there things we could ask them to do such as putting all of their dirty washing in one place? If we fancy reading a book, could they read (or ‘read’) one at the same time? Perhaps we’re a bit of an artist; could our young ones make a colourful mess alongside us?
It might take a bit of trial and error because we might find that involving them in something makes it more hard work or alternatively, we could be doubtful about their ability to do something and find that they take to it really well.
Meeting Other Parents
Meeting other parents can also help with the isolation that childcare can bring. Though we’re surrounded by little people all day, the lack of adult conversation can give us a sense of loneliness. Sometimes we just want to talk about something other than Peppa Pig or dinosaurs.
When our kids are young, going to baby and toddler groups, playgroups, coffee mornings, sessions at the library, swimming sessions, and other age-appropriate groups and activities can help us to meet other parents at a similar stage to us. Often we’ll be surprised at how much others can relate to the things we’re finding difficult.
As our child gets older we might begin to meet other parents while picking them up from various activities, or attending events such as nativity plays, dance recitals, or sports days.
Our child might develop an interest in something that we’re interested in too, such as a particular sport, a creative activity, or an organised group like Scouts or Guides. If we have the time and energy, we could start volunteering with one of these groups.
Keeping A Bit Of ‘Us’
Our friendships and social lives don’t have to revolve around our child(ren). Having children can create a shift in our identity, but that doesn’t mean that the person we were before has disappeared altogether. Our old interests are probably still there (they might just be a little hidden at the moment).
We could have a look on meetup.com, in local directories, on local noticeboards, online, or at our closest library or leisure centre to see if there are any groups or activities that we fancy joining. If it’s a regular thing then it can be easier to sort out child-care – either by hiring a babysitter or asking a friend or family member to help us out.
Focus On What You Can Do
Depression can leave us looking at all of the things we can’t do. This can very quickly result in spiralling thoughts around feeling useless and a waste of space.
Firstly, depression lies. We are not useless or a waste of space – we are a person with an illness who is doing our best.
Focusing on what we can do rather than looking at what can’t do can be a lot more productive and help to lift our mood. We might not have the energy to cook perfectly portioned dishes from scratch, but do we know our child’s favourite food? Are we good at turning their sandwich into a shape they’ll eat? Did some fruit or veg get consumed today?
Maybe we didn’t manage to bake a cake for the PTA cake stall, but we still remembered to bring something (and let’s be honest, most people buy it from a shop and then transfer it to a home-made looking container anyway).
The expectations we held for ourselves before our child entered the world will have failed to factor in all sorts of things – from the cost of childcare to how long we spend trying to keep on top of the washing. When we take the time to think about it, we can do a lot more than we think we can. We’re often doing far better than we give ourselves credit for.
Dealing With Criticism
Raising children is something that many people have an opinion on. Whether it’s their thoughts on whether or not dummies should be used, how we should discipline them, or how much pocket money we should give them, people love to give us their ideas (and often with a dose of disapproval about our current parenting methods).
We are all different and have our own thoughts on how children should be raised – it can be a very personal thing. Additionally, depression doesn’t have a ‘look’. It’s a hidden illness. Most people will have no idea about the things we cope with day in day out.
We can only do our best, and so long as our children are as healthy and happy as is reasonably possible, we’re doing okay! When people criticise us, we might find it helpful to hug our kids, look at their most recent creative endeavours and any photos that make us smile, and if needed, talk it over with someone.
You Don’t Have To Turn It Into A Positive
One piece of advice many of us receive when going through a difficult time is to ‘look for the positives’ or to ‘see the good things in it’. This can be accompanied by ‘other people have it worse’.
As well-meaning as these comments and pieces of advice often are; they’re not helpful.
Depression might teach us things, but that doesn’t mean that we should be grateful that it’s a part of our life. It doesn’t mean that we have to constantly be looking for the positives.
Living with depression is often rubbish – and sometimes it’s helpful for people to acknowledge that and validate that. It’s perfectly okay to feel annoyed, angry, frustrated, upset, really cheesed off, or any other feelings that come our way. Sometimes we need to sit and cry; we need to acknowledge how difficult it is.
“Good Enough” Is Good Enough
We don’t have to be perfect. “Good enough” is often good enough. We’ve managed to get our 18-month-old to eat half their carrots? That’ll do. Our three-year-old will only leave the house in wellies despite it being August? It’s alright – some battles just aren’t worth it.
“Good enough” can become freeing. It can help us to let go of the idea that everything needs to be done to the highest of high standards. Often it can provide an alternative viewpoint to ‘all or nothing’ thinking.
We often don’t like asking others to help us and can find it difficult to accept any help offered to us.
People like to help those they care about. Often, if they can’t or don’t want to help us with something then they’ll tell us.
Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness.
Please Don’t Self-Blame
Depression is not our fault. Whatever we’ve done in the past, however ‘bad’ we might feel, whatever lies it’s whispering to us, it is not our fault. Depression doesn’t discriminate – it can happen to anyone.
It’s a cruel, sneaky, illness that can seep into every part of our life. There are days when even getting out of bed can feel like a superhuman achievement.
We are doing our best and nobody can ask any more than that. Depression is not our fault.
There Is No Such Thing As A Perfect Parent
Perfect parents don’t exist.
There might be parents who look like they’ve got it all together. But we never know what’s going on behind closed doors (or behind an Instagram filter). Even those we know well probably don’t tell us everything going on in their lives.
If we spend our time comparing our ‘work in progress’ with everyone else’s ‘finished product’, then we’re always going to feel inadequate – we will never be able to match up. Ditching comparisons can help to set us free.
There is no such thing as a perfect parent, but there are parents who are trying to do their best for their children in the face of all sorts of adversity. We are not alone. Our best is good enough.
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