Mum guilt and mental health

There is so much pressure when it comes to parenting. You should do it one way and shouldn’t do it the other, but everyone has their own ideas about which is which….

The pressures and expectations can get overwhelming, but add in the effects of your mental health deteriorating and it becomes unbearable and impossible.

Recently my depression has dropped me into a pit. I guess it has been building for a while, but the actual drop was sudden and severe. With full blown anxiety running through me all the time, my body is tired. My breath is hard to catch so I’m dizzy a lot of the time. My heart is racing constantly and whilst the barrage of thoughts laden with self loathing is having hour pauses here and there, the incessant nature of them the rest of the time is shattering.

Fact is, whether it’s due to the years of therapy I have had or just a better understanding of my depression, I seem to be dealing with it in a more logical head. This means that I am able to acknowledge that a lot of what I’m telling myself is lies, problem is, the knowledge has no impact on how the thoughts make me feel and the fight is taking everything I have out of me. I am drained and empty. The advantage of this logical thing though is that it makes the suicidal thoughts slightly less scary, because I have this little voice saying that Mike wouldn’t be happier without me and telling me my kids really do need me and want me and my friends might actually want me around.

This is good. It serves as a helpful safety net, but depression and anxiety is physical at the best of times and when it’s this bad, it’s even worse. Physically I am empty, run down, fatigued, headachy, breathless, nauseous and aching all over.

All of this means that my parenting is less than ideal! Iris, as she is still breastfeeding, is getting more of my available time and attention than Elijah and the mum guilt is real!

Elijah is so aware that I am not my normal self, I don’t have much ability to hide what I am experiencing and whilst I believe in honesty about mental health I have got it wrong here.

I have been trying simple honesty with him, explaining my mind is struggling, I am a bit sad and that sort of thing but he has been getting more and more sensitive and clingy. Today at lunch I got a hug from Mike and Elijah asked why I wanted a daddy hug, I told him I was feeling a bit sad and he started panting and then burst into tears. He had been happily chatting a moment before.

So, to my excessively depressed brain I am making my boy miserable. Probably breaking him for life. I don’t know what to do though, how do I talk to a toddler about why I’m not like I normally am without making him scared. Is it possible? I want to be able to help him understand that strong emotions are not weakness, to train him to recognise what he is feeling and be open about it, but the midst of a depressive bout is not necessarily the best time to try thinking about big issues.

So, I am seeking help in the mum guilt department… How do you talk to a toddler about mental health (both good and bad!)?



  • Dear Katharine,

    I am so very sorry to read of what you are going through, which you describe with searing honesty. It must be truly awful to be suffering from such devastating depression and anxiety, and I can only begin to imagine what it must be like for you.

    I don’t think I have any real answers to your question about mum guilt, and what to tell Elijah about mental health, though I can see it’s a real dilemma – how much to hide from him to avoid upset versus how much you can hide from him as he can see that you are upset and struggling.

    The only think I can suggest is to use a service like the Samaritans. Like me, they won’t give you direct advice or tell you what to do, but what they will do is listen, take you seriously, and help you to explore the various options that are open to you, and how you feel about each possible approach. Talking things through with an empathetic stranger who is not going to judge you is often the best way to see the way forward.

    Now you could try the above with a trusted friend – but I think with a friend there will be a temptation for them, with the best of intentions, to tell you what to do, and to be the one who is going to solve the problem for you. I know this from personal experience, trying to help a suicidally depressed friend – that I got sucked in too far and then was less help than I wanted to be, because I was too desperate to see them get better. So I think it’s best to do it with a kind stranger – and Samaritans are trained to be that listening ear. They can be contacted on the number 116123

    From what you have written it is so very clear how much pain you are in, Katharine. As a fellow Christian all I can say is that I will remember you in my prayers, that things begin to ease up for you, and that you will soon be able to rise up out of the pit that the depression has dropped you in.

  • Aw Katharine, I do feel for you. Mum guilt, sadly, affects all of us, so my only words of wisdom are: please don’t feel alone in this. I spend a lot of time feeling guilty for being a crappy mum. I don’t suffer with depression, but my sin wrecks my kids’ lives every day. We have nothing left but God’s grace. Please know that He is enough for Elijah, for Iris, for you all. It is so natural to want to protect our kids from suffering, but what I’m learning (slowly, like all God’s lessons!) is that sometimes we can connect with God more through suffering. Sometimes it will develop sophisticated empathy skills in our kids. Sometimes early exposure to suffering will help give them a framework for how to deal with it/work through it, so that when they hit a difficult patch later in life they will have the strength and resources to cope with it. Not sure if any of this is helpful – please discard if not. Lots of love xx

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