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After the shiny newness of your baby wears off and you settle in to the reality of sleepless nights, unaccountable crying jags (the baby’s and yours), and less money and less sex than you ever imagined at this point in your life, the realization that life has changed and not noticeably for the better hits you hard. Then comes the guilt and denial. Certainly you can’t really feel so burdened and unhappy by your new status as a parent. Surely your feelings are just wrong.

Right or wrong, they are not uncommon. According to the American Medical Association, 42% of new mothers and 26% of new fathers show signs of clinical depression between three and six months after the birth of a baby. In addition, a new longitudinal study reported in Pediatrics found that men who live with their children continue to experience feelings of depression for five years! In fact, parents typically report lower satisfaction and more negative emotions when doing things associated with parenting than with while engaged in other activities, like working, commuting, exercising, socializing, and so on.

Most parents adjust. The ups of parenthood outweigh the downs, though the downs do seem deeper and more common than they should. Most parents do not resort to plotting ways to become “child-free” and even fewer put their plotting into tragic action. But it’s not hard to understand why a parent might be driven to the brink. New parenthood requires more adjustment than anyone ever warned us about.

So what’s the solution? Here are some thoughts.

First, feelings of depression and dissatisfaction are normal, not pathological. One doesn’t have to blame hormone swings and one doesn’t have to have been the one who actually gave birth. Parenting is a stretch and wearying for both moms and dads. This normalization of bad feelings should give us all hope. It’s not us. We’re not bad people. We’re just like everyone else.

Second, this normalization of new parent depression should open the door to talking about it. Because feeling limited and sad about being a parent is not an embarrassment or a sign of being a sociopath, we should be able to talk about it with a physician, a therapist, or even with your mother. We can give up going it alone and share our distress about parenthood without feeling like a monster.

Third, this is easier said than done. Your mother may not be sympathetic (she may even seem to find karmic glee in your situation). Your physician may not take you seriously. You can’t afford both a therapist and Pampers, so that’s out. To whom do you unburden your sad and sorry soul? You’ll have to try. Find a parents’ group. Find a post-partum doula. Talk with your public health nurse. There are resources out there. This is important, so do what you need to do.

Fourth, go easy with your spouse. If you and your spouse have a nice, open, accepting relationship the two of you can compare notes and make a plan to work together to support each other. But if your spouse is also barely holding it together, adding to his or her worry a worry about your mental state too may be just too much. Work together but don’t dump on each other or abandon one another. No impatience. No blame.

Finally, get help when you need it. This is your child’s health and well-being at stake, this is your own health and well-being here, this is your family. If you are seriously worried about yourself or about your partner, forget finding support and find professional help. Don’t become a statistic.

Feelings of unhappiness and frustration are so common among new parents that it’s amazing the fiction of happily-ever-after has stood so long. Knowing these feelings can linger for years is a revelation.

It’s okay to feel dissatisfied. It’s not okay to think getting rid of your kid is the solution.


© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.