Over the years there have been enormous researches to show, the impact on the child’s development if the mother is undergoing depression. This affects the quality of the parent-child interaction and might also lead to emotional difficulties being experienced by the child. Mothers being the pillar of the family structure looking after everyone and everything, depression can disrupt the overall functioning of the family. With one partner experiencing depression and lack of acceptance by either of partners, can often lead to conflicts in the family. Therefore, it is necessary to first acknowledge and accept the “elephant in the room: depression as an illness”.
Importance of Fathers as an active parental figure
Times have changed when fathers were only seen as the biological and financial providers of the family. With families becoming smaller, fathers play a significant role in a child’s growth. Studies have shown that fathers-child relationship creates a healthy difference in child’s cognitive, psychological and interpersonal development. Being a father who is actively involved as a parent creates a psychologically healthy atmosphere at home. His availability and engagement in day to day interactions with the child not only builds on their trust, but also provides a strong support to the mother. This also helps in creating an environment that is more resilient to stress.
Role of fathers towards the mother who is experiencing low moods
- Identify signs: Mothers often have a tendency to ignore their stressors and health concerns in the process of taking care of the family. As a partner, it is important for fathers to look for signs of depression. Some common symptoms are feelings of sadness, low self worth, disinterest in daily activities, irritability, lack of interest in physical intimacy and disturbed sleep.
- Encourage to talk: I have often noticed women trying to shrug their difficult emotions and incapacities under the carpet in the need to show a braver front. It is the role of the father to encourage the mother to share her feeling. You can always start by saying “I have been feeling a bit concerned about you lately and you look pretty low lately”.
- Listen and Empathize: it is important to give a patient listening to what she has to share. One should avoid giving any advice or jump to any judgmental notions of why it might have happened. Instead of saying “it’s all in your head, we all go through this”, one can say “don’t worry you are not alone in this, tell me how can I help you”.
- Seek Professional help: It is necessary to seek treatment for a timely intervention and recovery. Providing support in ensuring regularly treatment is being undertaken.
- Share the burden: Offering support in day to day activities by doing small tasks would help in sharing the responsibilities. It would also provide support to the mother and make her feel less incapable of managing tasks thereby add to her feelings of guilt.
- Reach out for support: It can be struggling for both the partners to deal with the instabilities of the illness. One should reach out for support from family and friends in times of need.
How can the Father aid children during such times?
Studies have shown that mental health of both parents has a significant impact on the child’s social and emotional growth. Children may also develop behavior problems with either parent suffering from mental health related problems. If a mother is undergoing depression, father can play a significant role in the child’s life by taking care in small ways.
- Assuming active role: Father may have to assume the role of a primary caregiver by addressing the needs of the children. Understanding their feeling of vulnerability and acknowledging their emotions will help in providing a validation to the children. This would create a sounding board which children may look for since they also might have been plagued by questions and feelings of worry and anxiety.
- Good role models: By showing care, concern and support towards the mother, they are modeling empathy and sensitivity. This would also nurture increased empathy and healthy interpersonal skills in children.
- Fix the time spent: Considering the long hours at work, make sure to fix some time to spend with the children. Ask them about their day, any new or important happenings, their school work etc. Enquiring with them about various things helps in building the cognitive aspect and makes them emotionally more secure.
- Keep the involved as part of treatment: with older kids, it is healthy to keep them involved with the treatment process by answering their concerns, worries and updating them with the progress.