Care and Feeding

How Do I Parent Through Depression?

Woman crying into her hands while sitting alone on a couch.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by fizkes/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m a stay-at-home-mom who’s in graduate school. My kids are 8 and 5 and are learning from home, so they are with me all the time. I’ve always struggled with my mental health due to a really traumatic childhood (I have depression, ADHD, PTSD, and am in recovery), but I was proactive about helping myself feel better. I did counseling, attended AA meetings, and took an antidepressant. There were few days I couldn’t function like a typical person. This has all changed because of the pandemic. I find myself crying A LOT in front of my kids. Most of the time I can pull it together pretty quickly, but I just had a really bad day where I sobbed uncontrollably and hard and it lasted a couple of hours. I was in a different room than my kids, but I live in a small house and I know they could hear me. When I was growing up I was very afraid of my own mother’s emotions, and I am scared I am doing to them what she did to me. I’m still actively seeking help but some days I am just a mess, and I can’t hide it because of the pandemic. Am I scarring my kids? How do I parent through depression?

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—Sad Mom

Dear Sad Mom,

I’m a dad with depression, and I have two young children who are home with me all of the time, just like you. There are days when I cry, but on the really bad days, I isolate myself in bed to decompress.

I certainly don’t have all of the answers, but other than therapy, the one thing that works well for me is being upfront with my kids. They know all about my depression, I tell them when I’m having one of those really bad days, and most importantly—I always tell them that my pain is never their fault.

Part of the reason why you’re worried about scarring your children is due to the stigma surrounding mental illness. If you were anything like I was back in the day, you probably worried about coming off as “crazy” or “unstable” — and trust me, you’re none of those things. If you tell them about your mental health issues, you’ll be surprised about how understanding they can be. My kiddos learned to be more empathetic and observant of my feelings and the feelings of others after I talked to them about my depression. Additionally, they don’t judge me or make me feel as if I’m “less than.” That’s because I’ve taught them the important life lesson that’s it’s OK not to be OK, as long as we’re open and honest about it. If I hid in a room without an explanation, they would certainly believe that they are the reason for my pain.

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Also, I noticed you said you’re actively seeking help. I can’t stress this enough—securing professional help should be your priority right now. You know the whole airplane analogy about putting on your mask before your kids’ masks in case of an emergency, right? Well, the same applies here.

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Since the pandemic started, almost everyone has experienced some decline in mental health. Just remember that parenting in a pandemic isn’t difficult because you’re incapable or incompetent, it’s difficult because we don’t have a playbook for it. You’re not broken and you’re not alone.

Help! How can I support Slate so I can keep reading all the advice from Dear Prudence, Care and Feeding, Ask a Teacher, and How to Do It? Answer: Join Slate Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have tentatively started planning our first post-COVID trip with our kids. Since we haven’t had the chance to do much of anything outside of our home for the last year, we’re really looking forward to being able to let our kids get a little crazy and get a little crazy ourselves (to the extent possible on a trip with kids). We’ve also invited my in-laws, who we both get along well with, and who have provided a lot of support throughout the pandemic. I invited my mom, who hasn’t seen our kids since the pandemic started, so she could get a bit more time with our kids. But she wants to invite her long-term boyfriend. We have a pretty rocky relationship with him, and I don’t really feel like including him on what’s meant to be a relaxing vacation. For context, the first (and last!) vacation we took with him, he kept making low-level snarky comments to my boyfriend (now husband), culminating in a loud, drunken rant at him in front of the whole family for which he’s never acknowledged any wrongdoing or apologized in any way. I don’t want to be a boat rocker, but do I really just have to play nice here? Is it reasonable boundary setting to say we’d prefer he didn’t come? Or is that just spiteful and catty?

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—Troubled in Texas

Dear Troubled,

I’m a fan of the direct approach, and there’s no way I would let that behavior slide. I would tell your mom that you don’t feel comfortable hanging out with her boyfriend after the last incident, and then offer her the following options:

Option 1: They both can come only if her boyfriend apologizes to your husband and to you.

Option 2: He refuses to apologize, and she attends the vacation without him.

Option 3: They both refuse to take your demands seriously, then neither of them can come.

I don’t think it’s petty or spiteful. If anything, it demonstrates that’s you’re not going to tolerate that type of behavior. Not to mention, what example would you set for your kids if you “played nice” and acted like it never happened? You don’t want them to think it’s cool for this dude to get sloppy drunk, disrespect their dad, and act like a fool only for you to be like, “Sure, let’s all hang out, and it’s not a big deal!”

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It all comes down to accountability for bad behavior. If he owns up to his mistake, he gets a second chance. If not, he can hit the bricks. Life is too short to spend it in bad company.

• If you missed Monday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have an eight-year-old daughter who has terrible coping skills. Whenever I ask her to complete simple chores like straightening up our shoes or cleaning up the toys in the living room, she has a complete meltdown. Tonight she broke a plastic cup that she got from a trip to the zoo. She cried so hard it was like someone died. Sometimes she takes out her anger over silly things on her four-year-old sister. She will stomp down the hall and bang on the wall. She will scream that she is an idiot and is stupid. Her father and I are so over the crying and temper tantrums. She never had them as a toddler, and they are getting worse and worse. We try to stay calm and talk her down. We send her to her room. But eventually we get angry and start to yell. I know I am supposed to acknowledge that her emotions are okay, that it’s okay to be mad and sad, and I try to coach her through it. I’m just tired of doing it. Does she need to see a counselor or something? Her teachers say she is well behaved in school. She is mostly compliant, doesn’t cry, and does her work. What is going on? What should we do?

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—Tired of the Crying in Buffalo

Dear Tired,

Oh, man—I know what it’s like to raise kids with big emotions, so I can definitely empathize with you. I coach my daughter’s basketball team, and when she was 6, I gave her some simple coaching feedback on something she did incorrectly. I didn’t raise my voice or disrespect her—but she decided to stand in the middle of the court with her arms folded refusing to move as if to give me her version of double middle-fingers. I had to call a timeout and carry her off the court while she was crying, kicking, and screaming. Every parent in the gym looked at us as if we were both insane.

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I share that story to tell you that you’re not alone, and both of my girls have dealt with tantrums over things that aren’t a big deal. I also want to tell you that each of my daughters grew out of that type of behavior on their own. Children are generally trying to navigate their way through their feelings as best they can. Eventually they evolve and realize they can’t go through life that way. In both of my daughters’ cases, all it took was their peers to ridicule their antics, and it stopped pretty quickly. No kid wants to look foolish in front of her friends.

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What concerns me in your daughter’s case is the negative self-talk and anger. If you’ve read my column before, you know how much I believe in the power of therapy, and it certainly looks like she is a prime candidate for professional help. This should probably be your top priority. Once the root cause is revealed, you can devise a plan to assist her—but like I said, I’m confident that she’ll grow out of it.

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The one bit of feedback I’d give you is to keep your own anger in check, no matter how frustrated you get. The main reason is because it won’t help any of you.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’m white, and I live in a very conservative and Red town, but thankfully my white 14-year-old son doesn’t subscribe to the racism that’s all around our area. He constantly stands up for minority communities and fights for equality as if his life depends on it. The problem is that my brother moved into the area a few months ago, and he is by all accounts a racist. He recently told my son that being anti-racist is a code-phrase to mean anti-white, and that my son is just promoting reverse-racism. He also told my son that he needs counseling because he “obviously hates himself” in order to take part in a such a thing. Normally my son is unflappable in his beliefs, but he’s starting to back off on his anti-racism efforts. I know this is because of my brother/his uncle. He loves my uncle very much, and they share a lot of similar interests (other than racism/anti-racism). How can I get my son back on track to being an ally for minority groups while not messing up his relationship with my brother?

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—Dealing with a Racist Uncle

Dear Dealing,

Sorry, but I chuckled when I first read this. Does every white person in America have a racist uncle? Maybe not, but it certainly seems that way. Anyway, there’s a lot to unpack here.

Do you want to know what Bigfoot, a 3-dollar bill, and reverse-racism have in common? They don’t exist.

I define racism as a political, economic, or social system in which a dominant race uses its power to oppress others of different races. Spoiler alert — the dominant race in America is white people.

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I would ask your brother if he ever had to fear for his life during encounters with law enforcement. I have. It doesn’t matter how “polite and well-spoken” I am, either.

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Ask him if he was denied a job due to the color of his skin. I was when I tried to secure a literary agent for my first book, and an agent told me, “Sorry, but nobody is going to read a book about fatherhood from a Black guy.” Good thing I didn’t listen to him because I wrote that book and three others.

Ask him if he ever had childcare denied due to the color of his skin. It happened to me when I went to a daycare center and was told there would be a six-month waiting list for my daughter to get in. A few short hours later, a white mom spoke to the same white woman at the same daycare center and was told that her daughter could start on Monday.

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I could go on for days here. The bottom line is white people can get their feelings hurt by people of other races, but they can never be victimized by racism. He and anyone else can miss me with that reverse-racism nonsense.

Now, I gotta ask you something—why in the fresh hell would you care about “messing up” the relationship your son has with your brother? HE’S A RACIST. Not to mention, he’s one of the worst types of racists, because he’s trying to gaslight your son for fighting against racism. This dude thinks your son needs therapy because he believes minority groups should be treated with respect and dignity? Seriously?!

To be completely clear, anti-racism isn’t anti-white — it’s anti-white supremacy. This is binary—either you’re fighting against racism or you’re allowing racism to exist. There’s no gray area. Your son is doing good work that needs to continue. Please remind him of that fact every minute of every day, and don’t allow outside influences to get in the way.

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I’m happy to work with people who want to change, but it doesn’t seem like your brother falls into that category—which means he should be cut off completely from your son. Block his number, ignore him, and let him spew his vitriol somewhere else. As I’ve said before, some people are best loved from a distance.

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Yes, I know this will hurt your son, and he’ll miss his uncle—but as he continues with his anti-racism efforts, he’ll realize that there is no place in his life for people who harbor those views.

—Doyin

More Advice From Slate

I have bipolar I disorder, aka manic depressive illness. When I sail into a hypomanic state, it doesn’t always look like big, impressive madness. I lose a lot of filters and boundaries, have incredible mystical experiences, and my senses become hypersensitive. Irritability and anxiety reach high levels, too. Compound that with perimenopause, and it can be rough on my husband and son. I’ve responded by not only doing all the medical things one should do, but also by explaining what’s going on to my 9-year-old son. Is it wrong to be so honest with him?  

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