Dear Mr. Dad: I have postpartum depression pretty bad, and I feel like my husband thinks I’m faking it. How can I help him understand that I seriously need his help?
A: Brava to you—most women who have post partum depression don’t get the help they need, often because they’re embarrassed to ask for it. Fortunately for you, your husband, and your baby, you’re not most women. So start by showing your husband this column—hopefully he’ll get the hint.
Almost all new moms go through the “baby blues”—mild sadness, mood swings, anxiety, weepiness, loss of sleep and/or appetite, and inability to make decisions. Most of the time, the symptoms go away on their own within a few weeks or a month.
Ten to 20 percent of moms develop actual “postpartum depression.” The symptoms are similar, but more serious: major appetite changes, an inability to take pleasure in the baby or life in general, unexplained episodes of crying, extreme feelings of anxiety or fear, decreased sex drive, difficulty sleeping, and feelings of guilt or shame.
At the very least, your husband should be helping you eat right and exercise. He also needs to be taking on more of the baby-related work and making sure you get enough sleep.
Untreated, symptoms of postpartum depression can last for years. Research shows that babies of depressed mothers reach certain developmental milestones later than other babies. And they’re more likely to become depressed themselves. The more he helps you, the more he’s helping your baby—and the more he’s helping himself by getting some much-needed practice.
Dear Mr. Dad: When my father was around, it wasn’t exactly a good thing. The only things he taught me were what not to be like. How do I be a good dad? How do I teach my children something I don’t know? I want to be a great dad, but I have a terrible feeling of doom. Please Help.
A: Like it or not, your relationship with your dad when you were a kid is going to have some influence on your relationship with your own children. But that’s not necessarily bad news. A lot of dads who had rocky or non-existent relationships with their father worry, as you do, that they’re destined to follow the same path. Some dads, perhaps trying to protect their children, end up withdrawing physically and emotionally. A bad situation for everyone.
People who had good relationships with their dads generally don’t worry as much about these things. Just having had a good role model gives them a feeling of confidence that they can take the best parts and leave out the rest. You can do the same. Yes, your past relationships will influence your present ones, but you have a huge amount of choice in the matter. Most guys whose dads were less than they should have been are able to absorb whatever good stuff (if any) they got from the old man and dump the bad.
There’s plenty of research to back me up on this: men whose fathers were distant or un-nurturing often end up providing particularly high levels of care for their children’s social, emotional, academic, and intellectual development. And men whose dads supervised them inconsistently or inadequately, as well as men whose dads threatened, spanked (a lot), or frightened them as boys often turn things around and spend a lot of time working on their children’s physical and athletic development in childhood.
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