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Parenting Through Depression and the Unexpected Joys That Come With It

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Some downsides of having depression are pretty easy to rattle off. There are all the physical, emotional and mental symptoms that are easily listed by anyone who has taken a 10th grade health class. The deeper hidden ones are unique to your current stage of life. Each one being its own fresh hell.

Single and in your 20s I’m sure it isn’t easy to find romantic relationships and build a career all while trying to fend off the bouts of darkness.

In your 50s? Maybe you’ve spent so long riding the waves of depression you’re wondering if the emotional seas will ever be calm.

Married, working and being a parent in your 30s? This is me. I love my husband and son with all my body and soul.

Being a parent to a tiny toddler tornado is exhausting. Being a parent who has depression while dealing with the previously mentioned  F5 tornado toddler sometimes feels damn near impossible. I’m firmly convinced my son will do big things someday. He’s fiercely independent, incredibly strong willed and wildly energetic. His persistence and negotiation skills will serve him well in whatever career he chooses in 20-ish years, but right now?

Right now, he’s still an impulsive, emotional toddler whose growing brain has trouble handling his big feelings. Couple that with my brain that has trouble handling even small feelings and we make quite the pair. My frustrated screaming is born from his impatience. My angry tears spring from his lack of listening. His angry tears follow my stubborn need to feel like I’m in control, even when I am spiraling out. One does not necessarily cause the other, but there is an unhealthy symbiotic relationship between his toddler feels and my depression feels.

I own this and I’m taking steps to fix it. It’s a painfully slow and steady process, baby steps towards a healthier relationship with my baby. I hate the moments that make me feel like I was the cause of his tears and not the remedy for them. I hate his cries for his father because he can sense I’m on the edge. I’m lucky he’s still little enough to be easily distracted and have a short attention span, but I want to ensure he has a mother who’s strong and resilient, despite her mental illness, not one who is angry and withdrawn because of it.

Finding the bright side of struggling through this while being responsible for a little person is hard. This past week was an emotionally rough one, for several reasons, and there were a lot of tears. And every single time I cried in front of my son, his response made me cry even more. Fortunately, he caused tears of joy.

My little boy, whose behavior could cause a nun to lose her patience, would look at me and in his tiny, innocent little voice say, “You sad, Mama?” And when I would affirm that yes, Mama was sad, he would stop whatever he was doing and provide me with Rhody and blankie, his beloved stuffed dog and blanket. After laying the blanket down on my lap or chest, he would have Rhody kiss me and then Will, my beautiful and caring boy, would give me a hug and kiss bigger than him and say “I wuv you, Mama. I make you all better.” And while the pain was still there (and even more tears than before), with his gentle acknowledgment of my pain and caring effort to remedy it, he did somehow make things better.

While I never, ever want my son to feel like it’s his job to fix me or to think he has to behave in certain ways in order to make me feel better, I do want him to take away from all of this sucky situation is a sense of empathy and patience that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. When a new little girl started at daycare, he went out of his way to give her a hug and to share a coveted toy he brought from home that day because she was so sad. I so very badly wish for this compassionate and empathetic attitude to continue for him. I can only hope that growing up with me as a mother, he is learning to see vulnerable people as ones who need support and care, not pity and disdain.

His father is setting a wonderful example of a being a spouse to someone with depression. While he does lose his patience with me (no one’s supply is never ending), he also knows how to make me laugh and can see a backslide coming before I do. He loves me for me, depression and all. He helps me fight for the light.

My son doesn’t have perfect parents. Our life (and house) is messy sometimes. I wish every day I was closer to being a picture perfect, Pinterest mom, but that’s not me. My son will never be impeccably dressed, snacking on organic veggies. But he is loved and cared for. And he’s learning to love people and care for them, even at their worst.

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Originally published: March 9, 2017
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