Since becoming a dad almost 4 years ago, my depression has become one of the most challenging aspects to navigate as a parent.
When I was 19, I moved to Portland, Oregon from the mountains of Colorado. My first winter in the Pacific Northwest, I began to feel incredibly down and in a funk. Where was the sun!? I went to see a doctor who told me about SAD (seasonal affective disorder) and prescribed me some Prozac to help me get through the dark winters.
I noticed, however, that while my depression worsened in the winters, it would never quite leave, even on sunny days. I often felt like that guy in an old animated commercial for antidepressants — with a rain cloud always hovering above him.
Since then, I have been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and have used a variety of medications and therapy to help stave off depressions effects for the last decade.
There are some days, months, or even years that are worse than others, often triggered by certain life events or just daily life struggles. But depression is something I’ve learned to live with through a combination of medication, therapy, time in the outdoors, exercise, art, and a focus on what matters most in life.
Since becoming a dad 4 years ago, half of which has been during a pandemic, my depression has become one of the most challenging aspects to navigate as a parent. And yet, funny enough, my two daughters have given me a resilience to depression I didn’t have before.
In 2020 I was working in the coffee industry before losing my job and deciding to make the transition to stay home and take care of my daughter, who was 2 1/2 at the time. I saw it as a chance to spend more time with her and more time focusing on my writing.
My wife and I had a second daughter in 2021. I am now a stay-at-home-dad of two.
I have been the primary caretaker for our daughters for nearly 2 years while my wife works as a social worker at a children’s hospital. Whatever our life plan for our family was, I could not have imagined being where I am now.
In some ways, I wish I was still working. Yet with the amount of unpredictable sickness and day care closures in the past year, I’m not sure I could have kept working.
In some ways, being a stay-at-home parent has worsened my depression.
The isolation, loneliness, and lack of sleep have, in many ways, made me feel more disconnected, alienated, and depressed. On the other hand, my life now has a meaning and joy that I truly can’t get from anywhere else.
The lows of life I experienced in my teens and 20s are not quite as low as they used to be; the suicidal ideation and self-destructive tendencies less severe.
The isolation, loneliness, and lack of sleep have, in many ways, made me feel more disconnected, alienated, and depression. On the other hand, my life now has a meaning and joy that I truly can’t get from anywhere else.
Some days I have it really good. I essentially visit zoos and parks for a living.
I can go on hikes in the middle of the day, and maybe even nod off for a nap while my youngest daughter takes a nap and my oldest daughter watches Frozen II or Moana for the millionth time (but then that means I won’t get to the laundry or dishes).
Other days, I find myself in endless fights with a 3-year-old who can’t regulate her emotions while the house looks like the aftermath of a Marvel fight scene.
Some days, I find myself bored with the monotony and at my wits’ end with all the poop, mess, getting up in the middle of the night, midday tantrums, and no time for myself. I find myself scanning job postings for anything to get me out of my current predicament.
Ah, the joy of children! But also, the frustration!
According to data from the Pew Research Center, the number of stay-at-home dads in the United States almost doubled from 1.1 million in 1989 to 2 million in 2012.
In 2016, about 18 percent of U.S. parents weren’t working outside the home. Flash forward to 2022, two years into a pandemic, and these numbers have likely increased due to job loss, changing priorities, and the increased stressors of parenting.
While there are more stay-at-home moms than dads, the reality of being a stay-at-home parent and primary caregiver is challenging for men and women alike. I’ve heard many people say it is the hardest job they’ve ever had.
Yes, parenting is “life changing” as many people will tell you, but it is not a cure-all for whatever past struggles you experienced in your life before becoming a parent. If anything, becoming a parent simply deepens how you experience life, for better and worse.
As much as I might feel alone in my mental health struggles, it’s nice to know that I am not alone.
An estimated 8 to 10 percent of fathers and 1 in 8 mothers experience postpartum depression. In men, postpartum depression often manifests as irritability, indecisiveness, and a restricted range of emotion, rather than a more typical depressed mood.
Becoming a parent simply deepens how you experience life, for better and worse.
Also, when one leaves the workforce entirely, there’s also a lack of self-esteem and identity that can occur and it is not to be underestimated.
As Shannon Carpenter says in his book, “The Ultimate Stay-At-Home-Dad:”
“When you work, you have a paycheck that validates the things you do. You get promotions and certificates of appreciation. You get to buy a new car or not freak out when the water heater needs to be replaced. All those add up to a feeling that you are worth something to your family, to yourself. When you stay home with the kids, there are no concrete positive reinforcements like that. They are elusive.”
Loneliness, isolation, lack of identity, and just plain ol’ lack of sleep are all factors that can contribute to depression, which also happen to be the realities of being a primary caregiver in a pandemic. It can be a recipe for disaster.
Yet it turns out being a stay-at-home-dad was the perfect decision for our family and a great fit with my personality and career choices. I don’t know how we would have survived this time without one of us being home.
If parenting or staying home with your kids was a math equation, it might involve some combination of meaning, happiness, loneliness, depression, stress, and anxiety. I’m not sure how you would balance out the equation.
My depression has not gone away since becoming a parent. In many ways, it’s exacerbated since becoming a stay-at-home dad during the pandemic. It’s tough to get a grasp on what being a stay-at-home parent actually is like, as the only reality I know of it is in the COVID era.
I remind myself that even bad days or afternoons all end eventually, just like this pandemic hopefully will.
It was especially difficult this past winter while living in the mental funk of trying to raise two littles amid COVID scares and closed storytimes — and zero playdates during the dark Pacific Northwest winter.
At the same time, my kids give me something to focus on and not lose hope.
The good days are truly good and fulfilling in a way nothing else in life is. I remind myself that even bad days or afternoons all end eventually, just like this pandemic hopefully will.
Fall becomes winter. Winter turns into spring. Spring to summer. One day, the pandemic will end. One day, my kids will grow up. Maybe I’ll even miss this phase of life (but I doubt it).
Medically reviewed on April 29, 2022
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