Updated: 4:42 p.m. Friday, April 15, 2011 | Posted: 4:41 p.m. Friday, April 15, 2011
How parents can help each other, especially when dealing with depression
By Greg Ramey
I never had much contact with my dad when I was growing up. Although fiercely committed to his family, he worked seven days a week in the neighborhood grocery store to provide for our family. I’d chat with him for a few minutes in the morning, but he typically left by 6:30 a.m. and returned home about 12-14 hours later. While I knew he always loved us, I never felt I ever got to know him.
According to research published in the March issue of Pediatrics, things have changed quite a bit for contemporary families. In an article about “Sad Dads,” Garfield and Fletcher reported that American fathers spend about seven hours per week on child-care responsibilities. This is a substantial increase from 1965 when dads spent only 2.5 hours a week caring for kids. Dads in the United States are more involved with their kids than fathers in Australia, Canada, France, Britain and Holland.
Dads are really important in families. Children learn different things from their fathers than they do from their moms. The presence of an involved dad in a child’s life is related to all kinds of positive behavioral and mental-health outcomes. This also helps moms as well, who can get some relief from childcare responsibilities, and support for enforcing clear rules and consequences.
The same issue of Pediatrics also pointed out the impact on kids when dads have serious mental health problems. Research by Neal Davis and others interviewed 1,746 fathers who were involved in caring for their 1-year-old children. Seven percent of these fathers reported a major depressive event in the past year. In comparison with fathers without mental health problems, these depressed dads were four times more likely to spank their 1-year-old children and less likely to engage in positive behaviors (for example, reading to their children).
These results are consistent with other findings indicating that about one in five children are living in homes with an adult suffering from major depression.
Being a parent is tough, but it is a task made more difficult when moms or dads are suffering from serious mental health problems. Here’s how parents can help each other.
1. Work together. Parenting is a team endeavor. Recognize when your spouse has had a difficult day and take over care of the children. Don’t be reluctant to occasionally use television or the computer as a babysitter. Call a relative or friend to watch your children.
2. Take care of yourself and your spouse. Be nice to each other and don’t overreact to minor issues. Life goes on, even if everything is not done exactly the way you’d like.
3. Seek professional help. I’ll be the first to admit that professionals do not always have effective therapies for mental health problems. However, depression is a very treatable disorder, typically involving medication and cognitive-behavioral therapy. You don’t have to live your life in pain. Get help today.
Gregory Ramey, Ph.D., is a child psychologist and vice president for outpatient services at the Children’s Medical Center of Dayton. For more of his columns, visit www.childrensdayton.org/ramey and join Dr. Ramey on facebook at www.facebook.com/drgregramey.
Next week: What is normal sexual behavior for kids?
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