Children acting out over father’s depression

By Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

My husband of 21years and I have two children ages 13 and 17. He was diagnosed with depression 11 years ago. Since then dysthymia, anxiety disorder and add have been added. He is pretty much non-compliant to treatment at this point. He takes his meds (Lexapro) when he “remembers” and refuses to go to counseling because he feels it “doesn’t work”. Needless to say, our family life is full of chaos and stress.

Recently, I am having a very hard time keeping the children focused and functioning. Our oldest daughter is pretty much gone most of the time. Either at school, working or out with friends. She has no interest in “family activities” because it is too hard. Our youngest is acting out very similar to her fathers behaviors. She mimics his rants against me, refuses to listen to direction or be responsible for herself. All behaviors that my husband exhibits as well.

How do I reign the children in and parent them when I am working against such a strong negative influence? Their father is pretty much non-involved. He wont disicipline them and will often encourage them to disobey me.

I recently went to see a child psychologist at our counselors office to get some direction. She is scheduled to see the kids in a few weeks. Although they have expressed their dislike of the situation. The oldest said she will go but doesn’t feel comfortable talking. The youngest has repeated her fathers words and said that she will go but doesn’t believe that it will do any good because “cousneling doesn’t work”.

Even though I know this is a direct result of the dyfunction caused by my husbands illness, I feel like a failure as a mom because our family life is so out of control.

I can use all the advice I can get. Please help.

A: I am sorry you are so burdened with this struggle. The effect depression can have on a family can be overwhelming. My heart goes out to you during this very trying time.

I think the child psychologist is an excellent start and believe that family therapy will eventually be the way to go. My hope is the child psychologist can see you as a family, but if not I am sure she can refer you to someone local. The ‘find help’ tab at the top of thee page may also be of use.

This has now become a systemic issue because everyone has had a reaction to your husband’s depression. This reaction is now a family dynamic. Imagine the family like a mobile hanging from the ceiling with each person suspended from the top of the structure. If you imagine a paper clip on one person to represent their depression you will realize how disorienting it is for others in the family system. Everyone goes out of balance and stay there when the depression goes untreated.

I hope his upcoming appointment opens up a new path for you and your family in therapy. I think that has to be tried before anything else.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 4 Dec 2010

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2010). Children acting out over father’s depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 1, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/12/04/children-with-father-suffering-from-depresiondysthymiaanxiety-are-acting-out/