Have you ever wondered how you can help your daughter who is depressed or often feeling sad or unhappy? Or maybe you yourself have felt sad or depressed and experienced feeling:
- Insignificant even when loads of people surrounded you?
- Unnoticed even though your friends reached out regularly?
- Rejected because you seemed so different from everyone around you?
- Unloved even though you hear people say they care?
Listen, I can attest that this is a terrible place to be, both as a parent and personally. If you’ve ever questioned why you feel this way and wondered how to get out of it? I got you. Keep reading.
I had a friend call me in complete helplessness and ask me for advice about what to do with her teenage daughter, who was feeling sad, depressed, and lonely.
As a parent, I can only imagine this feeling as close to despair as possible. Not knowing how to help your kids while simultaneously seeing how badly they need your help has to feel like defeat.
I started by talking about connection and belonging since I know that lacking a connection at home makes all the other teenage tribulations much more challenging.
She explained, “but we talk all the time, and she shares a lot of stuff with me that I would have never shared with my mom, so I don’t know why she’s always so sad and why everything I do makes her mad.”
The bad news about how to help your daughter who is depressed
It isn’t enough to talk to your kids. It’s not enough to give them everything they want. And it’s not enough to meet their physical needs. As humans, both children and adults, we need connection.
When we don’t feel that we have a place to belong, we feel alone, unseen, unnoticed, ignored, and insignificant, which are terrifying emotions for a teenager to be experiencing. Unchecked, these are the very emotions that took me to a place of despair so severe that it led to my attempting suicide as a young adult.
These are also the same feelings that have driven my passion for communication. Understanding our emotions and the language we use around those emotions have the power to change disconnection within a household.
I’ve always said that it’s not our job as parents to protect our kids from pain, but it is our job to provide a safe place to openly express how they feel about their experiences, even when we don’t like it. To hold the space for someone to describe their experience in this world without judgment is the greatest act of love we can give.
Helping your daughter with her depression has to begin with you first
If we don’t have the skills to name our feelings, accept responsibility for them, and effectively communicate the underlying need behind them, the odds are that our children don’t either.
What we normalize in our households affects how our kids learn to manage their own lives.
In my family growing up, we normalized:
- Alienating people and making them suffer mistreatment and belittlement because we are mad at them.
- Not speaking about difficult things and then wanting everything to be swept under the rug when we get over what’s bothering us.
- Running from our problems, literally and figuratively, resorting to alcohol, food, or distractions.
- Violence, both in terms of emotional abuse and physical abuse.
- Blaming others for our feelings.
While this is just scratching the surface of what kind of dysfunction occurred in my household growing up (there’s more on that here), normalizing these behaviors led to a distorted view of what connection and belonging even looked like.
When we normalize dysfunctional behaviors, our children learn to cope with difficult times using the same unhealthy mechanisms. It isn’t easy to be something that we can’t see. So we can’t just ask, “why are you so sad all the time” or “just be happy” when they’ve grown up seeing us sad and unhappy too.
It’s like this. Let’s say I have resorted to alcohol to solve my problems, smoking to calm my nerves, or abusing others who hurt me. If my children grow up witnessing my behavior, they are likely to fall into the same coping patterns because it’s what’s familiar.
So if we as parents haven’t learned to manage our emotional trauma or deal with our underlying depression or anxiety, taking our children to therapy to fix their feelings of loneliness and sadness is just a bandaid because there is still no belonging. (To read more on this, check out this blog post about the importance of self-love as a parent here).
The good news about how to help your daughter who is depressed
The desire to belong and connect is innate in all of us, including your daughter.
As long as there is no connection within the household, your kids can’t feel the joy that comes from belonging. Connection and belonging happen when we know our feelings well enough to identify the unmet needs behind them and learn to communicate them with respect and accountability. (I wrote more about this kind of communication is so important here).
Emotional maturity is the most important thing parents can practice if they want to raise resilient, happy, and strong children. And we teach emotional maturity by being emotionally mature ourselves. This means that
- Dodging difficult conversations, we have them with an open mind, open to seeing things from a new perspective.
- Resorting to hate, we move to understand.
- Blaming others, we take responsibility for our feelings and speak our needs.
- Being ambiguous, demanding, or judgmental, we are clear about what we need from others.
These behaviors can sometimes take years to change, but the more we notice them and work to make necessary changes, the better equipped we are to build lasting connections with those we love the most.
Questions for you to ponder this week:
- What is one step that you can do today to help create more connection in your household?
- How many feelings can you truthfully define?
- Once I name what I am feeling, can I turn it into a request for what I need?