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Should Depressed People Have Kids?

Comic Sarah Silverman says her depression played a role in her decision not to have kids. What do you think?

Moms Talk is a weekly feature on all Lehigh Valley Patches in which local parents, caregivers and other members of the community are invited to share opinions and advice on parenting topics.

This week’s Moms Talk question relates to depression and parenthood.

Depression runs in families. That’s a scientific fact. Women are more likely to experience depression than men. Another scientific fact. That’s why comic Sarah Silverman says she has made a conscious choice not to have kids – she doesn’t want to pass on her issues to her children. 

And that brings us to this week’s Moms Talk question:

Should people who suffer from depression avoid having children?

Our Moms Council members include:

  • Lisa Amey of Upper Milford Township is a stay-at-home mom to an 8-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. A past president of the MOMS Club of Emmaus and longtime member of MOPs (Mothers of Preschoolers), Lisa is an Independent Consultant for Arbonne International.
  • Lisa Drew of Emmaus is a certified nutritionist and personal trainer, wellness and fitness coach with more than 17 years of experience. She is the mother of a 13-year-old girl and a 9-year-old boy.
  • Jennifer Elston of Emmaus has almost two decades of professional experience in child development and counseling. She is currently a stay-at-home mom to two beautiful girls. Together with her husband, Chris, she owns Christopher Elston Photography.
  • Jeanne Lombardo of Nazareth is the mother of a 10-year-old boy and a 5-year-old girl. She’s new to the Lehigh Valley, having moved to Nazareth from Bergen County, NJ in January.
  • Lisa Merk of Lower Macungie is a stay-at-home mother of four boys – a 12-year-old and 6-year-old triplets. Lisa is a past president of the MOMS Club of Lower Macungie East. In her “spare” time, Lisa teaches piano to school-age children.
  • Zoila Bonilla Paul of Bethlehem is a stay-at-home mom to two girls – a 5-year-old and a 14-month-old. Zoila is a member of her local “moms’ club” and says she is “well-versed in the fun that children can bring.”
  • Beth Sharpless of Emmaus works part time in a local emergency department as a nurse and part time from home as a customer support specialist. She has two children -- a boy who is almost 2 and a 5-year-old girl. She says they love spending time outdoors and dancing.

If you would like to become a part of the Moms Council and/or have ideas for future Moms Talk questions, please email jennifer.marangos@patch.com.

Mary Anne Looby January 13, 2013 at 12:54 PM
I do not know who Sarah Silverman is, however, I don't really think it is any of our business who or why anyone decides not to have children. This is a personal choice. I am shocked that you would even post such a question. Surely, there must be other things to discuss.
Bob Alone January 13, 2013 at 04:06 PM
I am a married father of two pre-schoolers whose wife suffers from major depression. Before we got married, we had a conversation akin to what Sarah Silverman is referencing. Should we have kids? She wanted them immediately. I told said I didn't want to have children until she got her mental illness under control. To her credit, she has tried. She has gone to weekly “talk therapy”, begun seeing a psychiatrist and has been on prescription medicine. We are even in family counseling. Despite agreement to wait until her mental health improved, two years into our marriage our first child came and was unplanned. He’s a blessing. There are times she is like any other mom. Then there are the other times, like this morning. Having just had the flu go through our family (including her) we are both stressed. This morning we fought over the stupidest thing (whether I would take the kids to church or whether she would watch them). As always, the fight wasn’t about any real substantive issue, but was about our tone with each other. The initial fight ends with me saying that I’ll take the kids for the day but I “can’t deal with her drama”. I’m burnt out. When you are in a relationship with someone with depression you learn to see the signs of when they are about to blow up. The tone of her voice, her body language, there is almost a feel in the air like a thunderstorm is going to hit. It was all there this morning. (continued)
Bob Alone January 13, 2013 at 04:06 PM
I did what I always do and took the kids to another room in the house to let her cool down. She eventually came to where we were (to eat breakfast) and the fight erupted again. On the scale of what people fight about with a “1” being the remote control and a “10” being an extramarital affair, this is a 2 (effectively a family scheduling issue). What people don't know about living with someone with depression is that there is no difference between a 1 and a 10. When she has these spells everything is the end of the world. She responded by having a complete breakdown, the adult equivalent of a two year old throwing himself on the floor. “Fight or flight” hits; she goes “flight”. Sobbing, Slamming doors, she starts muttering about how she hates her life and gets ready to leave the house. As gently as possible I remind her that the kids can hear everything she is saying. While I know it’s the depression talking she screams that she “doesn’t care”. I plead with her not to go I know the fear it will bring. I did what I always do and apologize and “plead guilty” (not the best thing for my own sanity but I just want her safe). She screeches at me to “get away from her”. If one of our neighbors heard her they would think I had been hitting her. (continued)
Bob Alone January 13, 2013 at 04:07 PM
With a loud slam of the front door and the sound of tires screeching out of my driveway it ends. I now sit here with my beautiful children. Through all of this, they sat playing with their pirate toys in the middle of our living room. What I find so unusual is that they are not “phased by it” in the least. They stopped only when she yelled particularly loud or slammed a door, to them it’s as if nothing is happening. To me that’s the scariest part. I explain to them that “mommy’s sick” and give them a treat to let them know its not their fault. Now the waiting starts. I sit here and have no clue where she went, when she will come home and then the thought hits me: what if this is the time? What if this is the time she drives her car into a bridge embankment either because the illness has finally won or because she’s too emotional to drive safely? What if this is the time? She has never attempted suicide, but she had talked about it before (before she started “real” treatment). It’s one of my nightmares. Once I flushed all the prescription medicine in our house. So I do what I always do and I pray. I pray that God will look over her and guide her safely through this incident. I pray that this horrible disease is not passed onto our children. I pray that having witnessed something like this will not screw them up. Both seem well adjusted, but I still pray. Is there a patron saint for the spouses of mentally ill people? (continued)
Bob Alone January 13, 2013 at 04:08 PM
When she comes home (please God let it be “when” and not “if”) there will be no apology. Somewhere in her mind I was wrong in not answering the scheduling question correctly and this is my fault. In couples counseling and I know that is where it will go. I don’t write this for anyone’s pity or to have anyone judge my wife. She is a better mother than she will ever give herself credit for. 90% of the time she is the model mother. Over the past year in particular she has really been fighting to get it together. It’s a prayer I need to remember: I need to thank God for bringing her into my life. I don’t regret having children with her, but I can understand where Sarah Silverman is coming from. If she knows she can spare a husband and kids what my family are going through, I can understand that. People should talk about this. Families like mine need help. We are blessed with good insurance and first-rate care, but somewhere there is a dad that not so lucky. I never made it to church. I sit her now waiting for the phone to ring: praying.
Mary Anne Looby January 13, 2013 at 08:06 PM
Bob, you made a choice when you married your wife, you have stayed when others have gone. You accept that your wife is always going to be like this. She comes from a place of real need that has manifested into depression. I hope the health care people you are working with are well informed and have diagnosed your wife properly. She sounds to me like someone who needs to push you away, to always test you to see if you will stay. She may benefit from other medication or something more than talk therapy. You and your children should be seeing a professional. They really need to understand why Mommy is like this and that it has nothing to do with them. I would worry, if in fact she has a real metal illness other than depression, that it could be passed on to the children. At this point all you can do is make them aware and watch for the signs. I am sure if you studied your wifes family history you would find that this is quite possible "normal" behavior. I feel for you, there are others in the same situation. It is really a shame that our health care system is so broken that it cannot help familes of the mentally ill.
Beth January 14, 2013 at 02:04 AM
They are in family counseling (as stated in the beginning of his dialogue). And, what a lot of people fail to mention and realize is that you can't MAKE anyone comply with either their medical or psychiatric plan of care. So often folks start to feel better and stop taking their meds, only to end up in the same place they started. I just hope the end of the day was better than the beginning of the day for this father/husband.
Mary Anne Looby January 14, 2013 at 02:21 AM
Beth, I agree completly. I had a friend who, along with her husband, was stabbed to death by their beloved son who was off of his meds. This was a loving family with lots of siblings who tried as hard as they could to help their brother. Now they lobby in Harrisburg for changes to our mental health laws. When I mentioned counseling in my commment, I meant the Dad and kids and also the kids alone if they are old enough to verbalize. It is extremely important for them to have this support. I too hope his day has ended better than it started. This Dad needs a break, before he has a breakdown.
Mary Anne Looby January 14, 2013 at 02:23 AM
Also, if anyone on Patch who reads this knows this family, offer to help. Sometimes the stable parent is too embarassed to reach out for help. If you know any one like this don't ignore it, offer them help. You never know when you will need a helping hand.
Scott Korin January 14, 2013 at 03:19 AM
Yes, let's make depressed people feel worse by insinuating they are by default bad parents. Also, I don't taking parenting advice from Sarah Silverman. She not exactly an authority on the subject. In fact, she's really not a very good person.
Mallory Vough January 14, 2013 at 04:07 AM
AMEN.
Mallory Vough January 14, 2013 at 04:22 AM
There are many hereditary conditions. Most don't come with rainbows, butterflies and sunshine. Shall we ask if alcoholics, men with receding hairlines, folks with a history of heart disease, etc. be allowed to reproduce? What if your child battles depression? What if they don't? What if you stood behind your child no matter the battles they face? What if, what if, what if??? You're not making the best of your life if you're constantly living in fear of the "What if..."
Boxed In January 14, 2013 at 04:22 AM
Are you kidding me??? Intellectualizing the most primal function of all living creatures? We as a society are having difficulty telling depressed people they can't have instruments of death and you are asking about controlling the creation of life? How are you going to quantify this? Make everyone get a license and take ishaharas depression checklist before allowing them to reproduce? Not everyone realizes they are depressed. I am by absolutely no means a right-to-lifer, but this question is difficult to pose to anyone. Even the gentleman above repeated that the children were a blessing. Yes life is difficult for them but they are living it and surviving. They made that decision of their own free will. Who are we to take that decision away from them? Who are we to even debate their decision? We can chose to help them or we can chose to let them help themselves, but can we judge them? I was very depressed when my child was born. But I did not know it. When it was realized, I got help. I am better and in control of my depression. If I was not allowed to have my child, I would have missed my window of opportunity and would never have known the blessing. My family unit is healthy and functional. I attribute my family with my health. Who are you to tell me I should not have reproduced!!!
Anonymous January 14, 2013 at 12:41 PM
Thankyou Bob for sharing. I guess I never realized that my husband is depressed, but so many of the things you mentioned sounds like they could have been me typing them. Most days for me are not like this...but in the last many years, I would say perhaps 3 times a year is bad and then there are smaller "episodes". But, EXACTLY with the everything from 1-10 is a 10. Having kids is a serious committment and my husband is a great Dad. Everyone has something they struggle with..everyone. Some people it is just more obvious than others. Like you said, 90 %or more, a model parent. I think that is true really for most of us. The kids see the worst of us...they also see the best. They are human and so are we. I pray we all can get a better sense of humor and not take like so seriously that we cannot let anger get the best of us. "Romans 12:21 ~ Do not be overcome by evil. But overcome evil with good." We can all overcome evil not in our own strength, but with the help of Jesus Christ. Lastly, there are far worse things for a child to deal with than a depressed parent. Trust me...I knew of someone with the most outwardly pleasant personality ever and that person was a child molester. Some people smoke or take drugs, committ adultery, gamble, addicted to porn, are selfish and just pay no attention to their children, etc. I am just saying some problems are out in the open and some are very carefully concealed. Children live in a sinful world but still can overcome with Christ.
Jennifer Elston January 14, 2013 at 01:58 PM
I think it is a personal decision that only an individual can make. To generalize and base any conclusive evidence on Sarah Silverman's decision is ridiculous. Believe me, people who have depression ask themselves this question every day. They do so mostly because society places a stigma on mental illness. Most people with depression don't want their children to suffer the way they do/have, and that is the main reason why people with depression ask themselves if they should have kids. I think the answer is YES. People with depression can have kids. They need to be self aware and willing to seek help when necessary. They need to be able to help themselves even when they don’t want to. They need to marry the right partner--someone who understands their needs. They need to surround themselves with friends who understand, or are willing to try to understand, their plight.
Lisa Amey January 14, 2013 at 02:17 PM
I think Sarah Silverman is abrasive and obnoxious, but it's still her choice whether she wants to have kids or not, depressed or not. Think of all the other people out there-- drug addicts, felons, pedophiles, none of whom are prohibited from becoming a parent. Mental illnesses such as depression are mild in comparison.
Lanya January 14, 2013 at 02:32 PM
My fiance has bipolar disorder. As a couple, we have been through very trying times. He does his best to help himself, and I do my best to be supportive. Things have been good now that he is on the right meds and has been stable for a few years. But I have to admit, I often wonder whether I want to pass those genes along. I think the answer for me is no, but it is a very personal and individual decision.
Bob Alone January 14, 2013 at 02:48 PM
As an addendum, my wife came home early in the afternoon. I told her that I wanted to work on this in family counseling and we left it at that. She has never "gone off her meds" but I suspect that after having the flu for three days (in which she couldn't keep anything down) she simply couldn't keep her meds down. Incidents like this only happen 3-4 times a year. Thank you all so much for your thoughts and prayers. We are very lucky in that we have a great support network in our family and friends (many of whom are aware of her issues), great insurance and the means to get access to good psychiatric care including family counseling. I know there are many that are not as lucky. Awareness is one of the biggest issues.
Lisa Merk January 14, 2013 at 06:14 PM
Should people that have a history of cancer in their families not have children? Should people that have diabetis not have children? How about male pattern baldness? Where do we draw the line? if you choose not to have children that is fine, but to choose not to have children and based on someone else's unsoliciated and uneducated opinon is absolutley ridiculous.
Jenn January 15, 2013 at 03:09 AM
I don't have a problem with anyone making a personal decision. Parenthood is a huge commitment I commend her for giving it proper contemplation. The problem is that these Hollywood people always want the rest of us to follow their enlightened lead! They think they are on the moral high ground. I will keep Bob's family in my prayers. I pray every day for our families in this world today. We face so many challenges!
Jack January 18, 2013 at 11:19 PM
Bob alone- I would get a second opinion of your wife's Dx. With the right meds and Dr. Life will get better.

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