The question posed by Salon’s headline: Is motherhood causing my depression?
It seems like a blaming, buck-passing kind of headline. “My kids are exhausting. My kids are needy. My kids are demanding. They are ruining my life.” But the author, Kim Brooks, brings up some things that we just don’t like to talk about when it comes to Mommyhood or Daddyhood. Sure, we all know parenting is hard…but for those without children and for early parents (those who have just had a child) I think “parenting is hard” gets misinterpreted.
Yes, changing diapers is unpleasant. It’s not hard.
Yes, having to feed a baby every few hours is inconvenient. It’s not hard.
Yes, screaming and whining is irritating. But that’s not the hard part.
Those are the physical parts (and that’s just the first couple years), which can be quite demanding. However, in my opinion, the hard parts are the emotional roller coasters you go through. I think even the best parents have moments — brief or long — where they feel things like guilt, resentment, jealousy, anger, frustration, uselessness, boredom.
Here are some things Brooks brings up in her article:
You have emotions you can’t even pinpoint:
“All day, going about my stay-at-home mom business, I cried. I cried while asking my kids if they wanted their morning bagels with cream cheese or peanut butter. I cried while driving them to school. I cried at the coffee shop where I go to write and in the dried foods aisle of Trader Joe’s. There was no sobbing, no blubbering or nose blowing, just a stream of tears stopping and starting all day long without any real cause.”
I don’t know whether this indicates depression or not, I’m not a psychologist and whatever emotional distresses Brooks feels, she’s discussed with her a professional.
However, I am a mommy, and I know that sometimes you just want to freakin’ cry. You can list all of the reasons: the very real threat of exhaustion from sleep deprivation, the pile of laundry, the whining that is still ringing in your ears. But, the fact is, those reasons could be miles and miles away. You could be driving along after dropping your first grader off at school, the sun is shining, birds are singing, your favorite song is on the radio, you don’t have anything pressing to do today and BAM! suddenly you’re sobbing like your best friend just died.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you need medication. Or that you’re a bad parent. It may mean you just need to cry.
Lack of intellectual stimulation:
“My friend Megan, who quit her job when her first child was born, wrote to me in an email that, ‘After a few months at home with Penelope, I began to get depressed — sleeping too much, drinking too much, watching endless, mindless hours of brainless television. This low-level depression continued through the birth of my second daughter, and it began to escalate when I was home with two kids.'”
Probably the biggest things that no one tells new mommies and daddies is that you will be BORED OUT OF YOUR EVER-LOVING MIND.
Children-free adults swear up and down that, if they had children, they would never let them watch the likes of Barney, or Elmo, or insert name of annoying television show character. Any time I hear this I want to laugh at the clueless children-free adults and say “Bitch, please.” Because, the fact is, Elmo and Sesame Street have done a fine job teaching my kids the alphabet. Barney does a great job showing the kiddos how to use their imagination.
However, I have known the alphabet for a verrrrrry long time. I have known how to count to 100 for at least a couple decades now. I have cut and pasted for years. All of these little artsy-craftsy things I have mastered.
So, while my kids are wonderfully stimulated, with their little brains firing all kinds of creative waves, I am trying not to run out the door to find the closest lecture on Kant’s philosophies. Or an R-rated movie. Until the kids get older, it’s really really really hard not feel like your brain — which you may have educated with advanced degrees and/or job experiences — is turning into some kind of gelatinous mush.
Your options change:
“Another friend, Ann, who has a son with a disability, said that for her, the depression had less to do with day-to-day strain and more to do with acknowledging that certain things in her life weren’t ever going to be the way she wanted them to be, that the possibilities of what lay ahead had suddenly gotten much smaller.”
Now, I won’t say that your options go away. Careers and goals are always still viable, no matter what the rest of the world might say. But it gets a lot fucking harder. Time and money are both in shorter supply than without children.
I didn’t have a degree when I had my first son. I didn’t have a degree when I had my second son. It took me ten years from the start of my college career to the end. But I do have a degree. I took fewer classes at a time because I had to work around my kids’ schedules.
However, money is very tight. We went on our first family vacation in June. It was just to Las Vegas, which is only a few hundred miles away, and we stayed with family. Even with help from my mother-in-law, we only had five dollars left by the time we got home — and we really only paid to feed our family and gas. We had to wait three days before pay day. So, trips to Europe (which I would dearly love to see) are presently out of the question.
So, for everything you want to do, you have to double the money and time to get there. And it’s hard not to imagine how much time and money you would have if you weren’t paying for school lunches or extra clothing. There can be some resentment when you have to choose between new underwear for your kid and a new bra for you. Then you feel guilty because you felt resentful for half a second. This is not a mood-disorder. This is life.
The highlight reels are in-your-face nowadays:
“And a third friend, Gallaudet, who has two school-age sons, wondered if all these insecurities aren’t societally driven. …. ‘If I were to judge my friends’ parenting by Facebook and blog posts, I’d assume their lives were sunshine and organic flowers all the freaking time. When I actually talk to my friends, honestly, I feel much better and less anxious and stressed, because the same shit goes down in every household. But because so much of what I see and hear is prepackaged — marketed, in a sense — I can quickly forget not to judge my own family’s insides based on other people’s families’ outsides.'”
If you flip to any parent on your Facebook page (even mine) you will see “the highlight” reel. These are photographs and posts about how wonderful little Johnny or Susie did in school, or how cute they were. The mommy pictures are only updated when Mommy is wearing make-up and has her hair done.
Basically, this is all bullshit that we feed one another. Currently, I am not wearing make-up. My hair is in this scraggly ponytail. I am in sweats and a bright, god-awful yellow t-shirt. (It’s workout gear, really.) (See? I couldn’t even let my description go without an explanation…that’s how strong the impulse is to be seen in a good light.) I’m not perfect, but I sure as hell want to be seen as-close-as-possible-to perfect.
But, let’s say, I’m having one of those “crying for no goddamn reason” days and flip to my friends’ Facebook pages.
Look! L has made a spiffy pile of pancakes for her kindergartner! C has already run 15 miles and it’s not even 7:00a.m.! D has just enrolled her son in martial arts and swimming lessons! M has knitted scarves for all eight of her kiddos and baked cookies while losing twenty pounds!
Let me tell you, that is a recipe for a downer day. But L, C, D, and M are all hiding the fact they’re wearing sweats and god-awful yellow t-shirts behind the blue camouflage that is Facebook. However, we don’t get to see their struggles and, therefore, we feel like we must be alone.
But we’re not. Parenting is tough. Every parent waiting outside the school to pick up their kid is going through a similar battle. So freakin’ smile at one another, and don’t judge the mommy who is picking up her kid while wearing sweats and a yellow t-shirt.