Back in my early days of motherhood, my husband and I decided to enroll our three-year-old daughter in preschool. As an only child, she was alone with me for most of the day, and we thought being with other children her age was a good idea. We didn’t realize just how good an idea until my second pregnancy.
I’d had a difficult first pregnancy. I had horrible morning sickness; I had even more horrible mood swings. At week twenty-nine, I was diagnosed with bipolar II (a “soft” bipolar characterized by more depression than mania).
This time around, I was prepared. I took my medicines and remained stable until week twenty-nine. Then the mood swings intensified: my moods were unpredictable from hour to hour, I spent entire days in bed, I couldn’t care for my young daughter. At that point, my husband and I decided to extend the time she spent in childcare. The preschool was also a daycare run by a Baptist church, and many of her classmates stayed the entire day.
It was a difficult decision to make. What kind of mother left her child with other people all day? I ought to be able to care for her. I ought to be able to handle pregnancy and motherhood at the same time. I ought, I ought, I ought.
But I couldn’t. The preschool staff was caring, she enjoyed preschool, and being with other children and stable adults was a far better environment than staying at home with me as I shifted between tears and irritable fits, lying in bed with the covers over my head and stalking around the house, ready to snap.
It was a great decision.
Recently, CNN.com ran a story about the results of a study of depressed mothers. The researchers concluded that children of depressed moms fared better when they spent time in formal childcare than when they stayed only with their stay-at-home mothers. It didn’t have to be much time; a few hours a week with other children helped their social skills and decreased their chances of depression or acting out.
This confirms what I already knew: having our daughters in preschool helps them tremendously. Another bonus? It gives me much-needed time alone, when I can write, one of my best ways of handling my mood swings. It also helped me better handle the time that I got to spend with her.
The organization TWLOHA’s Facebook page linked to this article and the discussion was interesting. For the most part, mothers agreed, though a few expressed concern that you shouldn’t “have someone else raise your child.” A few hours a week (or sometimes even longer periods of time) isn’t letting someone else raise your child, in my opinion.
If mama’s depressed, the quality of her time with her children suffers. If she gets some relief from the constant work that motherhood requires, this could improve her mental stability and improve the quality of the time she does spent with her children.
I write this as encouragement to all the depressed and mentally ill moms and dads that may feel guilty at wanting a break or feel guilty that they have put their children in a formal childcare program. As long as the preschool or daycare is a caring, safe and healthy environment, your children will benefit. We want what’s best for our children, and in some cases, that means time away from us as well as time with us. We’re not horrible creatures to need a break.
Parenting is tough. It’s even tougher with mental illness and other debilitating illness. Feeling inferior as a parent because I couldn’t do what I “ought” to do during a difficult point in my sickness worsened my symptoms. Getting help did. If you’re one of the many depressed parents out there, consider this option. I don’t think you’ll regret it.
(Photo from Wikipedia Commons)