Child is depressed and mom feels guilty about it
by Mary Follin and Erika Guerrero
THE PROBLEM: My child is unhappy. I’ve taken her to a doctor to check for depression, and she does have it. (She’s 8 yo.) Something about that depresses me, like I’m responsible for her feeling that way. (Depression runs in my family, and I’ve had my own share of it.) Her therapist is not recommending medication and has offered some tools for helping my daughter change her outlook, but it makes me so sad to see her missing out on a happy childhood. It feels pretty gloomy at my house sometimes, and my husband doesn’t get it, since he’s never dealt with depression. I wish I knew how to make a change.
MARY SAYS: To the moms out there who relate to this mama’s story, my heart goes out to you. We all want our children to be happy, and when they suffer like this, it’s tempting to project a long, difficult life for them, through the teen years, adulthood, and into old age. “Will my child ever be happy?” you ask yourself, mostly at 3AM in yet another wakeful bout of run-away-train thinking.
But take heart; children have a natural proclivity for feeling good, even when they don’t. Believe it or not, a depressed child can sometimes be more optimistic and joyful than a happy adult.
Which points to one thing you can do, starting now. Stop looking at your daughter’s experience through your own eyes. While you may feel overwhelmed by the heaviness in your household, she may not notice it. While you have an adult understanding of what depression feels like (and indeed, it can be brutal), your daughter may not share your perspective.
In other words, try not to make this about you, even though it’s hard not to.
Since you’re the one motivated to change, start there. Practice using the tools that have recently been introduced into your household. For example, if your daughter’s therapist has cautioned her against ‘catastrophic thinking’ and taught her to substitute a more helpful thought, try it. The next time you worry about what a headache might signal, tell yourself, “Come on, now, it’s just a headache.” When you’re running late for an appointment, slow down and tell yourself, “So what if I’m late? They’ll understand. It’s not like anything horrible will happen.”
Perhaps most significantly, when you tell yourself, “My daughter is missing out on a happy childhood,” try changing it to, “Now wait a minute. That’s pretty extreme. She sure had a good time bowling yesterday.”
Make it a habit to monitor your thoughts. Out loud, and in front of your daughter. Let her see she’s not the only one who must show her mind who’s boss. The journey through depression can be a lonely one; a particularly painful symptom of the disease is that you think everybody else is happier than you. When you show your daughter that you, too, are working on your own wellbeing, she can join you in a path of self-discovery and feel empowered to walk by your side to a happier state of mind.
ERIKA SAYS: I understand what it feels like to carry such a heavy load for someone you love. I dealt with anxiety and depression as a child, and still do. Fearing that these issues could show up in my children has always been at the forefront of my mind, so I can certainly imagine feeling somehow responsible if I were in your shoes.
But please know that your daughter’s depression is not your fault. As parents, we tend to blame ourselves for situations beyond our control. Taking on guilt for your daughter’s diagnosis doesn’t change the fact she has it. What it will do, however, is weigh upon your spirit.
We carry enough unnecessary baggage as moms—let that go!
What would be far more productive is for you to proactively seek ways to teach your daughter tools to help her control her symptoms. I spent most of my twenties in therapy, on medication, and trying to figure out why I had a so many mental health issues. I discovered that some of my symptoms were caused by childhood trauma, others by a hormone imbalance. I also learned that the food I was putting into my body was causing me to feel ‘off.’
The good news is, there’s a lot you can do to address your daughter’s symptoms. Here are some changes I’ve made in my life that might be useful for your family:
Practicing an attitude of gratitude. A few years ago, during a time when I was going through some difficult stuff, I had a friend who was facing her own challenges. One day I mentioned feeling hopeless and depressed, and she started texting me a daily list of three things she was grateful for. Small or big, it didn’t matter, we decided to share with each other three things we were grateful for, each day. Buy a notebook to use as a family, document three things you’re grateful for, ideally first thing in the morning. Let me tell ya, it’s not easy finding things to be grateful for when you’re in a slump. But as the days, weeks, and months went on, it got easier to find gratitude and joy, even in small things.
Getting enough sleep. Make sure your daughter is getting a solid night of uninterrupted sleep. Lack of proper rest can cause mood swings, increase anxiety, and worsen symptoms of depression. Children her age should get anywhere between nine to twelve hours of sleep. My five-year-old son goes to sleep at 8PM and gets up for school at 7AM, because I’ve found that even one night of insufficient rest can affect his mood dramatically.
Grooving and moving. Exercise plays a huge role in managing my anxiety and depression. Get out with your daughter for afternoon walks, jump rope, grab a soccer ball and find a field to play on. My son and I love to have dance parties—we play our favorite music and dance our hearts out! Exercise stimulates the production of endorphins, the happy-making hormones. And when you exercise outside, you’ll get an added bonus—Vitamin D—which also helps to uplift moods.
Watching the diet. As difficult as this may be to do for a child, reduce or completely cut out refined sugars. Opt for more whole foods and fewer processed foods. I noticed a tremendous change in my family’s wellbeing when we started eating cleaner foods. Occasionally, we fall off the band wagon, and when we do, I can always tell!
Trying a new modality, like chiropractic care. When our spines are out of alignment, it affects the overall nerve energy in the body. Blockages to the nervous system affect every single bodily function, including your brain and the way you process emotions. Here is where a chiropractor comes in handy! When a chiropractor adjusts you, your nervous system functions much better. I was apprehensive at first but had come to a point where I was willing to try anything, and it was the best choice I made in my journey to healing. My son has been under chiropractic care since he was five weeks old and receives care monthly. Consider an alternative therapy that might work for your family, like chiropractic care, acupuncture, functional medicine, or supplements.
Start by making small changes. Once you feel like you’ve gotten a new routine down, introduce the next adjustment. Keep going. The resources mentioned above are lifestyle changes you’ll need to commit to, so they can be overwhelming at first. You’ll most likely start to see gradual improvement—baby steps—before you notice a major shift. These practices, in conjunction with the tools given to you by your daughter’s therapist, will help you make great strides in her healing. Don’t be discouraged throughout the process and don’t forget to care for yourself as well.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising a small child (Erika). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
If you have a question for Mary and Erika, we’d love to hear from you! firstname.lastname@example.org
Read more ASK MOM advice.
Mary Follin is author of the award-winning children’s book ETHYR and Teach Your Child to Read™, an online phonics program for children ages 3-6. She is mom to two grown kids. Follow Mary on Instagram at @advice_mom.
Erika Guerrero is a freelance hair and makeup artist, Erika K. Beauty, single-mama to one amazing boy, and author of She’s Not Shaken, a blog offering hope and encouragement to women in all walks of life.