Depressed parents: survive snow days!
By Dr. Micaela Wexler
Battling depression is hard enough for people who do not have children, but for those who do, it is truly heroic. As a psychiatrist providing care for children and their families in a rural setting, I see first hand that there is little that is fun about snow days for parents who are depressed. Where I work, there is a high rate of unemployment in the winter, and parents do not have many back up options. While the children are screaming for joy, mothers (and fathers) are simply screaming.
The first thing that disappears with snow days is the routine. For depressed parents, those hours the children are in school are life saving. The loss of other people to entertain and discipline the children can make these parents feel quite desolate. They are already struggling to get through each day, with their leaden fatigue and scant motivation. The irritability that is constantly lurking beneath the surface erupts into full force when sibling rivalry increases, and children act out. Many mothers tell me they find themselves being hateful to their children, which bruises their confidence and increases their depression.
With snow days there are no school lunches. In many rural communities with economic stress, many families depend on the free lunches and budget their food stamps accordingly. Running out of food when snowed in can be quite depressing.
So, if you are one of these parents battling depression who has had it with the snow days, here are some things to do right away.
1) Stay on your routine. It’s very tempting to just let everyone sleep in, but for depressed parents this is a bad idea. It is even worse if one of your children also has depression or has ADHD. Wake the children up at regular school time. You might even write out a schedule the night before.
2) Serve a hot breakfast of oatmeal rather than serving dry cereal. The smell of oatmeal cooking is soothing, and your food will last longer. If you have the ingredients, make pancakes. Cook throughout the day. Crock pot meals are a lifesaver for me year round.
3) After they eat their oatmeal, if it isn’t snowing or raining, bundle the kids up and GET THEM OUTSIDE. It might take considerable time to do this, but it is an activity that will focus you and your children. Being outside in the sun is good for your depression.
4) Walk together as a family to the neighbor’s house and check on them to make sure they are okay. This will not only promote family unity, it will also prevent you from giving in to the temptation to lock your kids out of the house for the rest of the day. Be prepared to help shovel a driveway or walk way. In fact, INSIST on doing this. It will go a long way in preserving family sanity. It is also a good reminder that everyone has something to offer someone else, even someone struggling with depression.
5) Put off turning the TV on as long as possible. TV is over stimulating and that is the last thing you want when you are stuck with the children for who knows how long. Nothing wrong with asking the children earn their TV and electronics time. However, if you find yourself struggling with the urge to suffocate a child with a couch cushion, then hand them the remote. Now.
6) Stock up for snow days with food ingredients that have a long shelf life, like pasta and beans, frozen foods, preferably ones that can be cooked in the crock pot. Buy frozen cookie dough or ingredients to make cookies. If you can afford it, buy some frozen pizzas for family movie night. It’s such as easy food item to eat while lying on a couch.
7) Stock up for crafts. Penniless Parenting has a great recipe for home made play dough.
A good friend of mine who home schooled her six children had each of them write a book about their life every year. When I moved to the Midwest, I learned this is a great project for snow days. My kids were allowed to use technology and social media to work on their life project. We still laugh at the little movies they made about their lives.
8) Turn chores into fun activities. I’ve never been a fan of telling my children to clean their room. What I found worked well for me was cleaning their rooms with them. At a certain age, they each got old enough to do it alone. Snow days are a good time to take on this task. They are also great days to look through old photos and arrange them into albums.
9) Stay away from alcohol. Many parenting sites make jokes and suggestions about using alcohol to get through the snow days. That’s great for people who are not clinically depressed. Let them put go wild with the Kahlua in their coffee. Alcohol makes depression worse. It disinhibits you, making that irritability come out from below the surface. As a psychiatrist, I can tell you I have seen many snow days ruined with alcohol or drugs.
10) Bedtime is very important, especially if you are depressed. Start the bedtime routine as early as possible. It should include a schedule for the next day’s activities. Remember to turn the TV off at least an hour before sleep time. A nice idea is to watch a family movie (or two) together.
Hang in there. Take it easy. If you find yourself getting irritable, tearful or hopeless, don’t be afraid of asking for help from your mental health provider. As a psychiatrist, my experience has been that mental health providers know to anticipate increased stress and anxiety during this time.
Depressed parents: survive snow days!