How Do You Handle Being Sad Or Depressed In Front Of Your Kids?

I try not to diagnose myself with depression on Chicago’s trademark gray winter days.  Those days lend themselves to morose reflection and permeate everything with a sense of gloom and doom.  When the cloud cover is low and the sun is just something that people over in California get to experience, I hunker down into survival mode.

But when the sun comes out, all studly and arrogant, showing off by making the snow look shimmery and lighting up every room in my house like it’s fucking New Year’s Eve– and I am still feeling the funk, then the questions begin.

The first: What is wrong with me? I don’t really ask that of myself in my sweet, first-grade-teacher voice. It’s more like my lifetime-smoker-hungover-alcoholic voice.  And usually there is an F-bomb in there.  It’s not a question, it’s an accusation.  The subtext is hey, Missy, you have your health (physical, at least), two beautiful children, a near-perfect husband so stop feeling blue. 

But you know I can’t always talk myself out feeling the funk.  Actually, I have never talked myself out of the funk (though exercise, good sleep, connecting with friends, medication, and therapy have helped).

The second question: What brought this on? This question sounds harmless enough. Nothing wrong with doing a little inventory of my moods and pinpointing the malaise, right?  But when it’s an unanswerable question, it starts an endless loop of conjecture.  Is it the stress of my  new job? Is it the transition? Is it the weather? Should I exercise more? Should I cut out sugar? Should I join cross-fit?  More yoga? More sex? More girlfriend time?  More sleep? Less negativity? Less self-absorption (ha! as if!)?

Those questions are annoying but they are like watching a full-cast production of a rousing Les Mis medley compared to what comes next: The questions about how my funk is affecting my children.   I am not myself– I have less energy and less overall vitality.  I know on some level they can pick up on that.  Do they think it’s their fault I am blue?  Are they going to “catch” it from me? Will they only remember this part of who I am?  Is this harming them?  How many times can I let them see me cry before it’s abusive to them?

If you have struggled with depression, then you know that those questions are some of the worst.  I believe it’s healthy for my children to see me express the entire range of human emotions, but is there a line? If so, how will I know when or if I have crossed it?  Honestly, the times when I can eke out some tears feel a million times better to that numb-I’m-not-really-here haze that sometimes comes over me.  Usually, when my kids see me cry, they are fascinated– they move in to study the tears falling from my eyes like little scientists who have stumbled upon an alien life form.

My number one goal with my kids is to be authentic with them– both when I am joyful and when I am depressed (and everything in between)– and I do my best to explain why Mommy is not very peppy and that it is not their fault.  From there, I do my best to focus on what we are doing and pray my ass off that the funk passes quickly.

What do you tell your kids when you are blue/depressed/sad? Have they ever asked about your moods?



33 thoughts on “How Do You Handle Being Sad Or Depressed In Front Of Your Kids?

  1. With my most recent bout, I’ve just been telling them that “mommy is sick.” I’m sure it’s not the right thing to do, but it did start as the flu and then drag out into a deep dark place that had nothing to do with mucus. I don’t know if it’s good or bad but my kids seem to be completely oblivious when I cry. They yank at me to fetch them snacks or play cars like I’m not gushing salty water from the eyes.

    • I think Mommy is sick is perfect. if I was having an asthma attack, I might slow down. If I had mono or ebola, I would say, let’s slow this down. I love it. Thank you for the suggestion and I hope the funk passes soon. I’ve had the post-flu funk and it’s not fun. Flu for the soul.

      On Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 10:17 AM, Outlaw Mama

  2. I don’t think there is a line – except for one we impose on yourselves to pile a little shame onto the funk. Modeling for kids that sometimes they might be down for longer periods and still come back to joy and not loading them up for any of it – what great parenting. Even if there were a line, if your kids still think you’re an interesting science experiment, you’re nowhere near crossing it.

    • Oh thank you. Last night, after a day of fighting the funk, both kids were snuggled up against me drinking their milk and I was reading a Highlights Magazine (which is banal enough to sap anyones’s life force), and I felt a deep, deep joy. What’s weird is that later remembering that exact moment– their heads against me and the perfection of reading to them and watching them relax in my arms, made me sob harder than anything in so long. In my deepest core, joy and sadness are interwined and it’s confusing as fuck.

      On Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 10:29 AM, Outlaw Mama

  3. It is hard when your kids notice your sadness. I went through a really rough patch and actually would find a way to slip away for a few moments and meditate. Lavender essence actually works wonders for me, too. Stopping over from the hop.

    • Lavender sounds so lovely. I’ll try it. When my hubs is out of town, I step away more often since I am the only parent. WHen he’s around, I let the snot fly.

      On Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 11:14 AM, Outlaw Mama

  4. My son is a bit older, but I go with, “Mommy had a rough day and could use a little help.” Sometimes the help is a hug, sometimes it’s that I need him to go play and give me a little space. Sometimes it’s to do something fun. When I cry in front of him, he does get upset and asks me to stop. Sometimes I do, sometimes I say I can’t. I try to relate it to him – “You how sometimes you get grumpy or sad and you don’t quite know why? That’s how Mommy is today.” This has worked for us, except for the days he says, “You always have rough days!” While this is mostly true, it makes me know he’s suffering for my moods and I need to squish it a bit while he’s around, even if it means inauthenticity.

    Hope your funk lifts 🙂

    • NO agree with that totally. Just because I want to be authentic doens’t mean they need the full sob treatment that I treat my friends and husband to. I like how you relate it to him. I will try that.

      On Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 11:26 AM, Outlaw Mama

  5. I haven’t been clinically depressed in the time that I’ve had kids (I was several years before they were born, but haven’t had an episode or been on medication since then) so I honestly don’t know. I’m just moody, but that’s obviously not the same thing as hitting a patch of depression and having to explain or deal with that and what to say to the kids.

    Its a great question. I appreciated reading this post and the responses. It really brought this forward for me from a perspecitve I’ve never really thought about before. I remember how awful and stuck and just NOTHING and numb I felt when I was depressed. I can’t imagine how difficult it is to go through all of that when you have children depending on you and wondering what’s happening.

    • I am still hoping this is a funk born of a transition, and I suck at transitions. I know there’s a lot of buzz these days about moms and depression and I didn’t really want to wade too deeply into those waters, because I was afraid I would get into fights with people who are all “if you are depressed, you shouldn’t have kids.” But I appreciate the conversation about what to tell kids who notice mommy’s a little sad and blue.

      Yay for no more clinical depression.

      On Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 11:44 AM, Outlaw Mama

  6. I don’t think it’s bad for them to see you in a funk. It’s part of life for some people (a lot of people, actually), and if it ever becomes a problem for them, they’ll see that you dealt with it, but still kept living your life and you were okay.

    Hugs to you. Keep plugging away.

  7. I try to acknowledge the feeling and then verbalize some kind of healty(ish) thing I am/need to do to cope with the feeling. “I feel really sad right now so I need a hug and some quiet time.” “I’m having a really hard time focusing right now and feel super cranky. Let’s go run some laps around the park.” I’m terrified she’ll somehow inherit my depression and want to leave her with the impression that self care is important.

  8. Back in the day, not being as enlightened as your friends here, I used to sneak downstairs in the middle of the night when no one would hear me, curl up in a chair and sob my heart out. I have had clinical depression for most of the 27 years since my son was born.

  9. It’s hard, isn’t it? Striking the balance between being authentic to yourself–and showing that authenticity, which includes being down and blue and sad and irrationally in tears, yet again, to your children–and being the grounding/stable facet of little children’s lives… I have to confess, most of the time, I hide in the bathroom and cry alone. But do tell them, Mama is feeling sad today, when I can do so without snotting…

  10. I completely relate to this post, mama. I have the same questions when I’m in one of my funks, which seems to have encompassed the entire month of February. There’s a reason February begins with “F”, right? I agree; it’s a good thing to let our kids witness our full range of emotions. I was talking to my husband about this just yesterday. We didn’t remember seeing our folks showing much emotion and we sort of agreed that it fosters a false sense of super-humanness that borders on dehumanization. I think if we’re flipping out constantly, that’s where the line is drawn. And I know it can be a little destabilizing for kids to see their parents really sad. My husband tells me he thinks they see it as a sign of weakness. I don’t think I agree with that. Maybe it’s a boy thing. I think we all need to understand and respect that we’re going to have bad days. All of us. I hope the cloud breaks and that you feel lighter very soon. I definitely relate to the feeling of funkiness even when it’s sunny. Hugs to you! xxx

  11. Well gee, I feel ya on this one. Ruby’s still young enough that she seems pretty indifferent to my crying. Like she doesn’t even notice that something’s different. She actually comes with me to therapy once a week where I generally ball my eyes out. But I still worry that I’m somehow ruining her by not “engaging” with her in some super peppy, positive way all the time.

    But if I try and look at this from an outsiders perspective I can find some positives to expressing even the really ugly funks. Our children will learn that it’s ok to express emotions. All of them. And to be compassionate towards others emotions.

  12. I vacillate. What to say: when do I say too much. Working through a major bout here that shows its ugly head as soon as my eyes flutter open in the morning. Still there keeping me awake at night.

    I have no answers… and no one can understand. We all have our own private sufferings, impossible to put words to.

    • Well said. And the worst bouts start with the first eye flutter. I’m wishing peace for you. And relief. And joy. Also: big middle finger February. Seems to be my slump month.

  13. I can’t tell you how much I can identify with this one. I just came out of a bad “down time” and I love how you described the stages of the self blame and questioning that goes on (and how “what the hell is wrong with me” actually is more of an accusation than a question…). My son doesn’t seem fazed at all when I cry but he is bothered when I seem to have to energy of course. I do think it’s good to be your real, authentic self with your kids and just make sure they know nothing is because of them. Maybe letting them see that we also go through ups and downs, experiencing happy and sad feelings, they won’t feel like something is wrong with them on off days or question themselves so harshly. It really is pretty normal, what a beautiful thing to hopefully pass on to them. Hope you are feeling better soon! I really used to love winter but I’m starting to wonder these days 🙂

  14. Like many of the moms here, I tell my kids that I’m not feeling well. I also tell them what Michelle Longo said above – “You how sometimes you get grumpy or sad and you don’t quite know why? That’s how Mommy is today.”

    It’s so hard, this time of year. UGH. I am aching for spring. I hope you get out of your funk too. Yoga helps me when I am in a funk (it usually happens because I’m not taking care of myself)…

    • Yes, it’s worse because I have had less time to do things that feed my spirit and I’m in a transition, which really kicks up the blues for me. I too am aching for Spring. Thank you for being honest about these feelings and how you deal with them.

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