The Mighty Logo

When My Daughter Asked, 'Mom, Why Do You Look So Sad?'

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

“Mom, why do you look so sad?”

This was the question my 10-year-old daughter asked me yesterday while we sat on the sofa sharing a minute of calm in our normally hectic house.

“Do I? Ah, I’m just tired, sweetie,” was my mumbled reply.

It was a lie. I have depression and was having a really foggy day. She looked at me with a sort of puzzled, yet knowing look that made me think she didn’t believe a word I was saying. I couldn’t take her gaze any longer, so I jumped up and quickly asked who wanted a biscuit.

Once in the safety of the kitchen, it took all my strength not to blubber over the custard cream as I grabbed the biscuit barrel down from the shelf. Just breathe, I told myself. Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t let the kids see you cry.

You see, I thought I had been doing a pretty good job at keeping my depression from the kids. I’ve been holding things together and taking my medication like the doctor said. I was getting through each day and gradually starting to feel better.

But my 10-year-old daughter saw right through me. I was exposed. She could see a deep sadness etched in my face. Despite my makeup. Despite the home-cooked dinner awaiting her after school. Despite the bedtime stories and snuggles we shared that day. She could see me. It’s a strange thing really, when I think about it. No matter how hard I try to paint over the cracks, they are there. And people who know me well must be able to see them despite my best effort to hide it all behind my blusher.

Even my 10-year-old daughter sees it.

My depression is part of me. It doesn’t ever go away, even when I’m having a good phase. It’s always there. It’s etched in my every wrinkle and smile. And she didn’t know what it was, but she saw it.

So I’ve decided that tonight, when she gets home from school, we’re going to share a slice of cake and I’m going to talk to her. I will follow her lead and answer any questions she has, no matter how awkward I feel about it. Because I know she knows I’m hiding myself from her, and I don’t ever want her to feel like she has to hide.

My daughter has dyslexia, and this can really affect her self-esteem. I don’t ever want her to think people won’t accept her for being honest with them. Our mental health and hidden challenges should never become something we brush over with makeup like they don’t exist.

I’m not ashamed of my depression. How can I be? It’s part of what makes me who I am. And in many ways it’s helped me. There’s real magic in connecting with someone who just gets it, who understands how you feel and doesn’t need anything in return.

She needs to know that in darkness there is always light. That true strength of character is shown when we accept and embrace the differences we all have. She needs to hear the positive things about my depression. She needs to hear I’m proud to be me, and maybe then she’ll be less anxious when she notices mommy looks sad.

Sometimes, as adults, we feel bad when we don’t have all the answers. We want to magically make everything better for our kids, pretend like it’s all hunky dory. But I don’t want any of my children growing up feeling ashamed of who they are. I want my daughter to be proud of herself and proud to overcome any challenges life throws her way. And I can’t do that by pretending it’s not happening to me.

Her innocence yesterday made me realize I need to be more open with my kids. In order for them to learn to love themselves, I have to love me. They need to see that love means opening ourselves up to other people, and being accepted for who you are unconditionally.

My depression will ease — it always does. And it may ravage me again at some point, I am certain. But the difference is that next time when my children ask me why I look sad, I will be honest with them. I’m not ashamed of who I am, and I’m going to try my hardest to help my daughter love herself for who she is. I don’t want her to ever be ashamed of what makes her, well, her, whatever that may be.

Michelle and her daughter. They're both wearing dark rimmed glasses and are smiling.
Michelle and her daughter

Follow this journey on A Slice of Autism.

Originally published: January 21, 2016
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home