“Mom’s mood sets the tone in the home.” It’s an obnoxious cliché (because do moms really need any more damn pressure?) but it may still hold some truth.
I struggle with depression, and as much as I try to shield my kids from it, it still has an effect on them. There are some days where I literally can’t just put a smile on my face, and this is not lost on my family. A funny thing always happens when I get upset or cry in front of my fa mily. Everyone gets quiet, unsure of how to react. I have three boys who all seem to have a tender spot in their hearts for their mother. Even my toddler will lay his beloved blankie and his head on my lap if he sees me cry. For this I am immensely grateful, and also feel a lot of responsibility to protect them from my pain. They get upset when they see me upset, and I find myself apologizing. I am learning, however, the importance of teaching them that it is acceptable for mom to not always be “okay,” just as it is acceptable for them to not be okay either.
The fact is, we should all be allowed to be in a sour mood (or depressed) without being told to “cheer up” — kids included. We should also be allowed to be joyful, silly, and obnoxious (kids are brilliant at that one).
With my depression, my boys are seeing a lot more of mom not being okay than I would like, but I am determined to be honest with them about what is going on with me. I’ve explained to them that I have a sickness that makes me sad sometimes but that I am working every day to get better; that it has nothing to do with them and will never change my love for them.
This open dialogue has had an interesting effect. My two older boys, I’ve found, have become better communicators with me when they are struggling. They seem to be more comfortable telling me when something bad has happened at school, or when they are just grumpy for no reason whatsoever, and that is ultimately want I want. We all face struggles in life and when this inevitably happens to my children I want them to be comfortable coming to me to talk about it. I’ve also seen that they have more empathy for others and notice when someone is hurting when they are working to label those emotions in themselves.
The other day I was struggling physically as well as emotionally (I was recently diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis), and was having a hard time with my boys constantly bickering with each other. So, I told them that I was dealing with a lot that day — that I was in pain — and pleaded with them to please stop fighting and to remember that they love each other. They seemed to mull this over, and although I’d like to say that they stopped being rowdy and the rest of the day was smooth, life doesn’t usually work that way. I could see their effort, however. I could see it in a way that I don’t see when I react to them with anger instead of the hurt that I really feel.
I want my boys to learn this. I don’t want them to feel like they must “man up” or react with anger when they are hurting. I want them to know that it is okay to struggle and even to cry and teach them that they don’t have to rush to solve the pain that a loved one is feeling either. Sometimes all that person really wants is to have someone that they are free to share that pain with, a shoulder to cry on during the storm.
Even though I am a lone woman in a house full of males, there is still a fair amount of crying going on and I wouldn’t want it any other way. We all have a right to our emotions, and don’t need to hide behind closed doors or bury our pain deep within. I’m not going to dump all my adult problems onto my children, but I’m not going to shield them from my every sadness either. Ultimately, I am aware at how my moods affect my family, and I’m doing my best to be honest and keep the lines of communication open. No one should be responsible for the happiness of an entire household, but by being open with my family, they feel more comfortable at expressing themselves and their feelings to me and that is a beautiful thing.
A version of this story was published May 2019.
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