Child abuse comes in many forms: physical abuse, emotional abuse, medical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. When we’re suffering from depression and dealing with the inability to take care of ourselves, we are at risk of neglecting our children. This risk must be mitigated in order to prevent seriously harming our kids.
It’s all well and good to say so, but how does one prevent child abuse when they have depression? Here are 4 crucial tips to parenting with depression.
Tip #1: Practice Self-care
You’ve heard the analogy of the oxygen mask on the airplane. Before you tend to your children, you must put your oxygen mask on first.
Self-care is that oxygen mask.
Self-care may seem like just another item on the to-do list. But it’s actually crucial for you to function. Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental well-being. If you don’t perform some self-care on a daily basis, you’ll not only neglect yourself, you may start to neglect your kids as well because you’re burnt out.
Some people think self-care is limited to bubble baths and painting your nails. That’s not true. Taking your medications and attending therapy are forms of self-care. So is getting enough sleep, eating well, and drinking enough water. Spending time outside and with other people also falls under that umbrella.
If you put your oxygen mask on and practice self-care on a daily basis, then over time you’ll be in a much better position to care for your children. Avoid burn out. Prioritize self-care.
Tip #2: Seek Professional Help for You and Your Child
When you’re a parent suffering from depression, the bond with your child may suffer. You might neglect your duties at home and spend a lot of time in bed, ignoring your babies. This is frightening and confusing to a kid, who needs you to be a consistent presence in their lives.
Before the situation gets that bad, seek professional help. Find a therapist you can trust for yourself, and talk about your feelings with him or her.
But don’t forget to find a therapist for your child as well. He or she may need help understanding why your depression affects you the way it does. Your kid needs a trusted adult to be a comforting presence. A therapist can teach your whole family coping skills.
For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.
Tip #3: Communicate with Your Child
As I’ve said before, parental depression can cause unusual behaviors in you which are scary to your child. Nip that in the bud and communicate with him or her as much as possible about your depression.
Let your kid know that your mental illness, while not going away, is not his or her fault. Explain that you have a chemical imbalance in your brain, and you’re doing your best to cope with it. If you are taking medication, tell your child that you are taking steps to circumvent the depression and its effect on him or her.
Don’t be afraid to let your kid know how you’re feeling that day, be it tired, sad, or even and especially happy. Don’t make him or her responsible for your emotions, but do share them with your child.
For a post on how to communicate with your children about your mental illness, click here.
Tip #4: Forgive Yourself for Mistakes
You cannot be the super parent every day of the week when dealing with depression. Setting too high of expectations for yourself and your children can be dangerous, because if you fail, it can trigger overwhelming feelings of despair.
Recognizing that you deserve forgiveness for mistakes, especially while suffering from depression, can be one of the hardest things you’ll do. But you must forgive yourself if you mess up, because you’re setting an example to your child to forgive you and others.
Know that “good enough” parenting is really good enough. Allow your kid some leeway when it comes to screen time. Offer them a cheese and celery and tomato plate instead of a full dinner, but only occasionally, when you really can’t cook. (For a post on 22 easy meals to make while depressed, click here.) And don’t cut back on your kid’s activities; get him or her out of the house as much as possible, so he or she can be around other people.
Parenting while suffering from depression is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do. Neglecting yourself comes easily; neglecting your children is just the next logical step. Don’t get there. Practice self-care, seek professional help for you and your child, communicate with him or her, and forgive yourself for your mistakes.
These practical tips will help you foster a more positive environment for you and your kid. Eventually, if you continue taking care of yourself, your depression will lift, and you’ll be able to say that you did a good job parenting while suffering depression.
I wish you well in your journey.
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