Depression Runs In The Family, But I Need To Remind Myself The Kids Will Be OK
BY KAREN HORSMAN
Photo © Lifestock/Twenty20
May 26, 2020
The longing to be together at big gatherings like reunions and barbecues has been pulling at my heartstrings. It must be why I was reminiscing recently about a raucous wedding when distant relatives flew in from all over the country. For some family members, it was the first time they met my three children. My daughter was a toddler back then and I remember she had an absolute ball. She was dancing up a storm when a cousin raced over and shouted over the music, “There’s no doubt that little one belongs to you. She has the exact same eyes. It’s like I’m staring into your face!”
"We all hope our kids will inherit our good traits, maybe an affinity for math, our musical talent or a patient disposition."
Have you ever noticed how some people search intensely for a resemblance between family members? If you’re not sure, think about when a co-worker brings her baby into the office while on maternity leave. A group of people usually gather around the car seat and stare at the gurgling bundle. Someone inevitably says, “He looks just like you!” Is that really true or do we just feel compelled to say there’s evidence of a connection? I know I’ve done it.
There’s nothing like a similar big nose for proof of a connection — a trait my son and I share. When I was pregnant, I would lay awake wondering what my child would look like. More importantly, I wondered what kind of person they would become. We all hope our kids will inherit our good traits, maybe an affinity for math, our musical talent or a patient disposition. No one wishes they’re born with a short temper, or struggles with fitting in or an anxious outlook.
Nature versus nurture is a fascinating debate but fair to say, some things are in the genes. Researchers are still not sure about many medical conditions, but some families have clusters of similar issues. My mom has borderline personality disorder along with several other serious mental health issues. Her mother also struggled with depression and took her own life. So did my grandmother’s sister. As a main caregiver for my mom, I know firsthand what it’s like to watch someone spend a lifetime struggling. I would do just about anything to prevent one of my children from suffering the same fate.
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So, I got pretty good at worrying. Since they were small, I would look for any sign they were anxious or not coping. As you can imagine, that’s not the best strategy. Children go through all sorts of major challenges from schoolyard bullying to rejection to academic hurdles.
If one of them reacted with intense emotion and fell into a funk, my stomach would do backflips. I would kick into high gear and do what I became exceptionally good at as a caregiver — I problem solved. If a kid wouldn’t let them play at recess, I’d practically run a PowerPoint presentation on different strategies over a grilled cheese. It was too much. How did I learn to back off? As they grew older, I realized their issues were beyond my ability to do much about.
All three kids can get anxious. They can feel low and obsess about things and each has had their own rough patch — some more than one. But there is something noticeably different: they talk about it and they’re not alone. Teachers often share stories of students who discuss their struggles freely. Some young people have engaged in self-harm; others suffer from regular panic attacks while a few are on regular medication.
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I’ve heard educators say this seems to be a generation of children who are having a hard time coping. But there’s a shifting culture of openness. Students lean on each other and there’s a voice that’s getting louder — a collective voice from our youth insisting more needs to be done to address mental illness.
There isn’t one generation, from Boomers to Gen Z, that has escaped the impact of COVID-19. It makes us worriers want to curl up into a ball and go underground but once we come up for air, it’s time for a check-in. It’s completely valid to be anxious right now about our children’s futures, but we need to believe it’s going to be OK.
As a parent, I can offer love, support and empower them to self-soothe and take responsibility for themselves. When I look into the face of my teenager and I see my dark brown eyes staring back at me, I remember she has her own unique gifts and challenges. My daughter’s genes and environment are only part of her personal narrative. She’s the one in charge of writing the rest of the story.