There are many things in life which are tested for their “child friendliness”. From pubs to hotels, theme parks to holidays, all parents want to know in advance whether their children will be well catered for and will have a good, safe time. There’s one area which hasn’t been investigated though, how “child friendly” certain illnesses you can have whilst being a parent are.
The simple answer would simply be: none of them. Who wants to be ill when they have children? However, some chronic illnesses could quite happily fit in with 21st Century parenting values (yes I may be generalising). Diabetes for example: you have to follow a healthy diet, make sure you eat regular homemade meals and ensure your weight stays stable. This is basically forcing you to do what everyone should already be doing. As long as you follow those rules, take any medication you are prescribed, you should be fine.
I have depression and have done so since I was a teenager. I have had good times, many people with depression do, but it is always there, lurking around the corner, ready to pounce at any time. Quite possibly, the worst “job” in the world to have when you are depressed is being a single parent. I would even go as far to say parent in general, however if you are in partnership with someone, at least you can share the work.
Depression has a significant number of side effects which are far from child friendly:
- You feel tired all the time. Children are full of energy all the time. There is no snooze button on a child and when they are young, you can’t really leave them to their own devices; it’s a constant stream of hyperactivity and demands for attention. Of course, when they are in bed and you get the chance to sleep, this is when your brain wakes up and demands attention for itself in the form of rumination and worry about futures which may never happen, and so the cycle continues.
- You have very little patience. Children are annoying: fact. You may absolutely adore children, even other people’s but they are, by nature, self-absorbed and irritating. When you add any additional needs your child may have, such as Asperger’s Syndrome in to the mix, this multiplies tenfold. From talking incessantly about obsessions to still wetting themselves at the age of six; meltdowns to sensory seeking behaviour, ASD symptoms can be frustrating anyway. When combined with depression it can constantly feel like your head is going to explode. You find yourself telling your child to “stop talking” or removing yourself from situations as you can feel your temper reaching breaking point. You shout more often than you would like, and had hoped to do while imagining being a parent (personally, I always dreamed of being one of those serene parents who never shout) and you feel yourself turning into the “bad guy” as, when you are a single parent, you do the majority of the discipline. This all adds to the depressive cycle as you feel like a shit parent and start to believe your children deserve better.
- General feeling of apathy. This, unfortunately, can strike at any time and affect any part of your life. You can feel apathetic when your toddler falls over in the street, automatically saying “you’re okay” and telling them to “get up and carry on” rather than actually checking to see if they are okay.
- Disinterest in food. People with depression can regularly forget to eat, this in turn means they can fail to buy food on more occasions than they would like to admit. This means the children are not eating as healthy or varied a diet as they should be. This is made worse when you know you’re a good cook and know it doesn’t take much effort (technically) to make a healthy dinner.
- Having a tendency to over-think things. This itself causes two types of parenting issue:
- Over-thinking what it takes to do something, example: “I should take the children to the park. Child with ASD will be hard work as he doesn’t like the idea of going out, toddler may need to nap and get crabby. What if it rains? I have to get the pushchair out of the boot of the car. One child may run in one direction, one in another, who would I go after? What if the toddler poos? What if the older child needs a poo and there isn’t a toilet? What if one is on the swings and the other on the slide? What if… What if… Maybe we should just stay in.
- Over-thinking another person’s words or actions, example: Child says “I hate you!” Parent with depression thinks “He’s right to hate me, I’m a shit parent, the children deserve better, I can’t cope with them, they’d be better off with their non-depressed parent.”
- Self-harm. This is something I struggle with; I and other people with depression, including parents, will have urges to do this frequently. I managed to stop for a while because my older child noticed the marks and they’d be harder to hide in the summer, unfortunately I have recently relapsed and have started cutting myself again. No child should be a witness to that, however it’s not something people do on a whim, for attention. It is a true side effect of depression, which brings me to the last point…
- Suicide. This is the least child friendly side effect of them all. As much as people with depression, myself included, often feel their loved ones, which includes their children, would be better off without them, the overwhelming number of people with these thoughts and feelings still have a small voice telling them that a parent, even them as a depressed parent, is something a child needs. A child’s life would ultimately be made so much worse if their parent killed themselves. I just hope that my little voice, and everyone else’s sticks around and starts to drown out the other one which says that you’re worthless, that the world would be better off without you.