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Depression: How it may Affect Parenting

QUESTION: I see a lot of myself in my children. I am depressed and on antidepressants. My kids are are young -- five, four and two-years-old. They tell me, "No one loves me, you don't love me." I don't want them hating their childhood as I did. Nor do I want them hating me, as I did my parents. What can I do to improve this situation?

ANSWER: Take heart in the fact that you have raised children who feel safe expressing their "negative" feelings to you. You must be doing something very right here. They are already benefiting from being able to express feelings which you, no doubt, were never able to do with your own parents.

It is inevitable that our patterns are reflected to us in some way through our children. The fact that you are addressing your depression and aware of your desire for your children to feel loved is the first and biggest step toward increased confidence and esteem in the next generation.

It is likely that your children are giving words to your feelings of emptiness, which may be triggered by your children's ages. Perhaps your experience of young childhood was emotionally barren, and though you love your children, there is a part of you that re-lives past childhood pain. Depression may be a way that you retreat from this past suffering, which your children then experience as an emotional retreat from them. Their poignant verbal expressions are a means for connecting with you, and in doing so, they have succeeded in getting your full attention!

Use your children's words to engage, rather than disengage from them. Let them know that you do love them and that you are learning how to show them your love. This clearly communicates to them that whatever difficulty they experience in this realm is not their fault. Acknowledging their feelings and expressing your own quest for ways to show your love, can create an atmosphere of hope, rather than despair.

Be aware that antidepressants alone are not enough. Working through emotional issues and patterns of negative thinking that take on a life of their own is also necessary. Books like "The Depression Workbook," or classes (such as offered by Kaiser Permanente in the United States) on handling depression can help give you the edge you need to eventually leave these patterns behind.

Keep in mind that your depression may stem from emotional neglect in childhood. If so, you must make your own healing a priority. Individual therapy with a professional therapist you can relate to who has expertise in long term depression can spell the difference between healing or just getting by. Group therapy, too can help "fill" you up in places you have experienced great emptiness.

Remember, you cannot nurture others from a place of depletion. You can only fill your children's cups if your own well has water. Seek to nourish yourself and your children will naturally benefit. They are young, and each day of healing adds to your family's health now and in the years to come.

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter..

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