Have you ever thought about having to talk to your kids about postpartum depression?
When I was first diagnosed with postpartum depression 6 years ago, I was glad that my newborn baby would never remember the dark things I said or did during that time. My oldest child was 2 years old at the time, and I did my best to hide my sadness from him. For years, I put on a fake smile around my children, family, friends and especially around strangers.
I didn’t want anyone to know that I had postpartum depression, most especially my children.
But since then, I’ve realized how harmful hiding my postpartum depression is. I was lying to myself and everyone around me and there was no way I could get better without first being honest. Keeping silent about postpartum depression also meant that I was enabling the stigma to continue. I was upset about how women with postpartum depression were being treated, but I was doing absolutely nothing about it.
As my kids got older, I continued to suffer from postpartum depression relapses. They were no longer babies who didn’t know what was happening. They saw me struggle and watched me cry. They were afraid to talk to me when I was in a bad mood. They learned how to pour a bowl of cereal and turn on the TV by themselves because there were so many days that mom just couldn’t get out of bed. The most heart-breaking part is that they thought it was all their fault.
Here are some tips on how to talk to your kids about postpartum depression.
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Use Age-Appropriate Language
I first spoke to my older two children a few years ago. We often joked about how much my daughter cried when she was a baby, and I didn’t want her to grow up with a complex. I would say that “mommy had a really hard time but it wasn’t your fault.” At the time, she was 3 and her brother was 5, so I wasn’t sure how much they would actually comprehend. I used age-appropriate words such as “boo-boos in mommy’s brain” rather than “mental health disorder.”
As they got older, we continued to talk about it and the words changed. I never shy’d away from the term “postpartum depression” even though it was a big word for them. It was important for them to understand the word and get used to it. I even made them repeat it a few times to get the pronunciation right.
One term that has been steadily used over the years is “bad days.” The kids know that sometimes Mommy has “bad days” but we get to start over again each morning. We often talk about ways to make more “good days” happen.
The one question my kids wanted to know was “why” (them and thousands of others). Unfortunately, I didn’t have an answer for them, and they were OK with that.
I explained that doctors and scientists were working very hard to figure out why because if they do that, then maybe they can find a way to stop it from happening. I also explained about how I spit in a tube and mailed it to those doctors and scientists to help them figure out why. They were very interested in that, but mostly about how gross mailing my spit was.
I encourage them to ask as many questions as they can think of, and I try my best to find answers for them. Now that I am a maternal mental health blogger, I have access to a lot of resources and information about postpartum depression. I make it my mission to share those resources, because once, I was a very lost parent with a lot of questions that I didn’t have the answers to.
If you’re planning to talk to your children about postpartum depression, it might be worth it to invest some time in research. Kids are excellent at asking questions that you never would have thought of.
Don’t Place Blame
It’s normal to blame postpartum depression on pregnancy and childbirth, but that can often lead children to believe that they did this to you. The last thing you want is for your children to think that any of this is their fault.
Perhaps it was the act of pregnancy and childbirth that triggered the depression, but it also could have been triggered by any traumatic, hormonal or emotional experience. Postpartum depression is not unlike a general depression or anxiety disorder that many people battle their entire lives. It can also resemble depression following PTSD. There are so many different types of mental health disorders, all of which are important to discuss with your children.
Instead of blaming motherhood for postpartum depression, talk about how having your child changed your entire life, and make sure your child knows that they were worth it.
Keep a Journal
Writing about your struggle is another way to talk to your kids about postpartum depression. While your child is very young, keep a journal or write letters to them to help you talk to them when they are older. It can also be a form of therapy to write out your feelings and you can decide which parts of it you would like to share with your children as they grow up.
You could even consider starting your own blog. I hope that one day, when my kids are older, they will be able to read all the articles on this blog and get some more insight into what being a mother with postpartum depression was truly like.
A firsthand account of your experience with postpartum depression is not only the best way to share your story with your children, but a great keepsake for yourself once you have survived the worst of it.
Consider the Future
I often wonder if my own daughters might suffer from postpartum depression upon becoming mothers themselves one day.
My own mother never mentioned anything about it to me and therefore I felt greatly unprepared when it hit me. In fact, one of the questions I was asked upon being diagnosed was whether or not there was a family history of depression, and truth be told – I had no idea!
I also would have loved it if my husband knew how to support me better, though he did the best he could with the information he had. This is why it is so important for me to raise my son with the knowledge and ability to support the women in his life who end up suffering from postpartum depression.
If we truly believe in breaking down the stigma around postpartum depression then our daughters and sons need to be educated about it for one day, they will be parents of their own.
It can’t be taboo anymore. Women are hiding their pain, ashamed of what is happening to them. They are dying – killing themselves, in fact, because they just can’t cope with it. And everyone around them ends up shocked because they didn’t see it coming.
Postpartum depression and mental health issues need to be normalized among the next generation. Children are a blank canvas who only know what we teach them. And we need to teach them about the symptoms of postpartum depression and how to help someone who is suffering. We need to raise empathetic children who understand that mothers with postpartum depression are not bad people.
Talking about postpartum depression on a regular basis will eventually make it a normal part of the conversation, and not something dark and scary.
We need to talk openly and comfortably about it, so that our children will also feel comfortable talking about it.
Postpartum depression sucks. Your children know this already. What they need you to tell them is that there is hope for the future. That it WILL get better.
Don’t focus on talking about postpartum depression as a disease. Talk about it as something that makes you fight to be stronger.
Share your treatment plan with them, and let them know what they can do to help you have more “good days.” Find ways to do things together to help your postpartum depression, such as yoga or meditation.
Your children need to know that you WANT to get better. They need to see you trying to heal. So if it means that you need to take some extra time away from them to take care of yourself, explain that to them. Don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed and frustrated and scream “I just need 5 minutes alone!!!” Explain it to them before you get to that point and avoid the frustration altogether. It will make for a more positive experience.
It’s alright to let your children see you struggle. They need to know that it’s acceptable to feel down or depressed, as long as you have a plan to get out of the dark place eventually.
Before you can talk to your child about postpartum depression, it’s important to get educated first, whether or not you suffer from it yourself. Thankfully there are more women than ever before choosing to speak up about their personal experiences.
There are several articles, information, books and research studies available to help you learn more about postpartum depression in the hopes of talking about it to your children.
Bear in mind that deciding to talk to your kids about postpartum depression is not going to be a one-time discussion. It’s a conversation you will likely need to have over and over again as they grow. Start a journal now, in which you can write out what you want to say and keep track of questions that might come up.
Discussing postpartum depression and mental health openly and comfortably will ensure that you raise children who are empathetic and inclusive, which are amazing qualities the entire future generation should possess.
Here’s a peek at the discussion I had with my own kids about postpartum depression.
Download a FREE PDF Postpartum Depression Questionnaire for Kids!
This list of 10 questions will help you talk to your kids about postpartum depression, self care and how to handle our feelings. It’s designed to be used by anyone, whether you are directly affected by postpartum depression or not.