Depression and parenting

I know I just wrote the other day about reflections on my parenting and the fact that my oldest feels like his childhood was magical. And I should probably be re-reading that right now.

But instead, I’m thinking about the effects it had on my kids to grow up with a mom who had untreated depression and garden-variety mental illness. There are so many studies out there about how detrimental it is to grow up with a depressed and anxious mother.

I did try to get treatment, but so many of them either didn’t work or I didn’t like the side effects. Ironically, now that I’m on effective treatment, I can see more clearly that I needed it all along. Choosing to be ill because I didn’t like the side effects of medication wasn’t fair to my kids or my husband. At the time, I thought I had everything under control without medication, but looking back, I can see that I didn’t. I was fooling myself to the detriment of my family.

They say that kids who grow up with depressed mothers are more likely to have depression or anxiety themselves, and what a surprise that my kids do. Even though I’m now modeling how to take care of myself, I wish I had done so sooner for their benefit.

I’ve always had this mentality that I should be able to pick myself up by my bootstraps and just not be depressed, even though it doesn’t work that way. I’m now getting social security disability not only for my multiple sclerosis but also for my depression.

Yet I’ve never really taken my depression all that seriously. And right or wrong, I’ve perceived that nobody else who knew me took it very seriously either. If my parents knew, I believe they were probably too depressed themselves to know how to help me. I am also pretty sure, based on things she’s said, that my sister thought I should just bootstrap myself out of it.

There was even another mom in the online mom’s group I was a part of for nearly 20 years. She was on disability for mental illness and people always tried to build her up and tell her how brave she was, etc. Why wasn’t anyone telling me the same? These moms knew I was depressed, often suicidally so — in fact, that’s what led to them funding my move back here. So I can’t say that they didn’t care because they obviously did. I just wonder if they, too, thought I could bootstrap my way out of it with a change of scenery.

Looking back, I can see that I was already pretty sick when I moved here. But I got worse because of the MS pretty shortly thereafter, and depression is itself a major symptom of MS.

I don’t blame anyone for anything. I’ve forgiven my parents years ago for the things they did that weren’t so great. I understand now that they were doing their best and sometimes made the wrong call, just as I have. I now recognize a lot of what I grew up with as the result of their untreated depression.

They chose to put me in a harsher social environment with people who were not my economic peers so I could have a better education. When you have a bright kid but not a lot of money, it’s hard to know what to do. I ended up doing the same with my kids and it was similarly as hard on them as it was on me.

How can I hold a grudge against my parents when I ended up largely doing the same thing with my kids? Their hearts really were in the right place, as mine was, even if in many cases the outcome of what they did had an unintentionally detrimental effect.

Even when I’ve told a couple people I thought were my friends about traumatic things in my childhood, it wasn’t to try to get them to feel sorry for me or to suggest that I was still resentful about those things. I just thought I was sharing things that would explain a little more about why some things were triggers for me.

I don’t think anyone else is responsible for me but myself. Do I have things in my childhood that kinda messed me up? Sure, but I think most people do. And I’ve been working for the past several years quite intently on trying to move past them and get better.

But the hardest part of seeing more clearly and starting to get better is that you also see your mistakes. And I feel like my biggest mistake by far was allowing my depression and anxiety to go untreated for so long. I hope it’s not too late to undo some of the damage that has done to my kids.

4 Comments

  1. This resonates with me. I raised my kids with undiagnosed and untreated depression (though I was aware all along that my grim view of life couldn’t be right). Now I see it in two of my sons. I realize this might be genetic, and I know depression isn’t “contagious,” but I suspect I gave them a bleak role model for a father. But as you say, that is in the past.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Paul. I’m sorry that you have also lived through undiagnosed/untreated depression. Please try to go easy on yourself, as being hard on ourselves is one of the worst parts of depression, but it’s often a cognitive distortion. Forgive yourself for the past. Be honest with your kids, in an age-appropriate manner of course. Just validating *their* feelings by saying you have them too goes a long way, trust me.

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  2. Sorry about that incorrect assumption on my part. I do a lot of writing professionally for parents of young kids. We can’t help what illnesses we pass onto our kids and I truly believe depression is an illness. It’s hard to see it in our kids, especially adult kids.

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