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A family is a unit, bound by one another’s behavior and moods for better or worse. A new study shows the importance of a mother’s or father’s depression on the family dynamic and how it impacts children.
“When a parent is interacting with their child, they need to be able to attend to the child’s emotional state, be cued in to his developmental stage and abilities, and notice whether he is getting frustrated or needs help,” explained Nancy McElwain, a University of Iowa professor of human development. “Depressed parents have more difficulty doing that.”
However, this study found that if the father had a spouse or partner on whom he could rely, the quality of the father-child interaction improves even with his depression.
“A supportive spouse appears to buffer the effects of the father’s depression,” stated Jennifer Engle, the study’s lead author. “We can see it in children’s behavior when they’re working with their dad. The kids are more persistent and engaged.”
For the study, parents were asked to rank themselves on two scales: one denoting their own depressive symptoms and another denoting their emotional intimacy within the marriage. Children were observed at age 4.5 and age 6.5 years.
“At this stage of a child’s development, an engaged parent is very important,” Engle explained. “The son’s or daughter’s ability to focus and persist with a task when they are frustrated is critical in making a successful transition from preschool to formal schooling.”
While a supportive wife helped the depressed dad, researchers noted that it didn’t work the other way around; depressed moms were not boosted by a supportive husband.
“Men tend to withdraw; women tend to ruminate,” explained Engle. “We think that high emotional intimacy and sharing in the marriage may encourage a woman’s tendency to ruminate about her depression, disrupting her ability to be available and supportive with her children.”
Depressed men tend to withdraw from their partners, which is what makes established marital intimacy so important to a family dynamic when the dad is depressed.
Source: MedicalNewsToday, Developmental Psychology
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