Feeling that you are a useless parent?...


I have a dear friend who is plagued by the awful feeling that she is a “useless mother” to her two daughters (aged 8 and 2).

She’s not useless at all… it couldn’t be further from the truth, but she just feels deep down that she is and it’s driving her to despair.

I’ve come across this kind of depression before (if that’s what it is … I know my own mother attempted suicide after battling with this exact feeling) and I am sure that it’s common, but I can’t find much resource online. The closest match I can find is that it’s a symptom of post-natal depression, yet her youngest is nearly 3 so it’s a bit late for that surely?

Has anyone got any experience of this sort of thing? Does this thing have a name? How can I help her? What can she do to help herself? When I told her about my own mother she said she found it a comfort because thought she was the only one…

Thanks for any help,
– Reuben

First, it’s never too late to be depressed. It’s not something you grow out of. It very well could be related to post-partum depression.

Even though psychology may not have a precise name for it, there are more than a few mothers who go through depression as their children mature. What a baby needs is vastly different from what a child needs at 3, 6, 8 or whenever. It could be that your friend is less comfortable with what she sees as her current role than she was when the children depended on her totally. You can probably name some women you know who always talk about wanting another baby to take care of.

In any case, the first thing she should do is get herself to her family doctor or ob/gyn and pour her heart out. Let the doctor make an initial finding and, if necessary, refer her to a specialist.

She might also check with her child’s school guidance counselor to see if there are any support groups for parents who are going through (unspecified) rough times, having trouble dealing with growing children, etc. I’ll bet there are groups, and at least one will be what she’s looking for.

I suffered through a long period ending about 2 years ago in which I considered myself pretty useless to my daughter (she’s 6). It got so bad that the only thing that would stop me from stepping in front of a moving bus was the fact that I didn’t have life insurance. Thank GOd some folks here at the SDMB pointed me toward a good psychiatrist.

My depression, however, was definitely situational with a little post-partum thrown in for good measure. Once the situation changed all thoughts of being useless and suicide ceased. I still feel slightly inadequate sometimes, but I think this is normal parental doubting of decisions, etc.

I really advise advocating counseling to your friend. To help her recognize if she is suffering from depression, you can download this pamphlet from the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH).

Also, dig a little deeper into her home situation. Is there anything going on that might encourage her to feel this way?