Hello Dr Justin,
I’m going through a rough time. I have 3 girls ages 11, 5, and 2. I have just had another daughter. She is two weeks old. I was really hoping for a boy but it didn’t happen. Now, I feel very disappointed, like everyone will criticise me and feel sorry for me. This baby was unexpected.
I have a lot of fears. What are we going to do with 4 girls? What if they get pregnant before getting married? Everyone says girls are pure drama, and it’s true. We will be old when the baby turns 18. What if my husband dies? Am I destined to be alone because I cannot bring in another father for my kids and risk having one or more of my daughters being abused? I might not make sense doctor, but I feel depressed with a lot of fears. I’m scared. My husband doesn’t have a lot of money. I don’t work. How can we start building some savings to give them a better living? I feel very lonely. I don’t have brothers or sisters and feel both emotionally and financially insecure. What advice can you give someone in my shoes?
Dr Justin responds:
I am concerned that you are experiencing post-natal depression, or heightened anxiety – or both. Either way, my first URGENT recommendation is that you make an appointment with your GP immediately and explain your concerns. Get a referral for a psychologist if necessary (and I think it is). There is a government subsidised health care plan that is free, so it won’t affect your finances.
When we become fearful or anxious about things, we sometimes ruminate on them. This means we think about them over and over and over again. Each time we play things over in our mind, we enlarge them. We build them up to be bigger and scarier than the last time we thought about them. Our thoughts become increasingly irrational as we consider what ‘might’ happen. As this catastrophic thinking (sometimes called ‘stinking thinking’) increases, it can paralyse us. We start to feel entirely despondent, out of control, stressed, and helpless.
There is a number of strategies that can be helpful for you. Here are three things that may be useful. (Your psychologist will be able to offer more targeted, specific, personalised responses for you).
There’s a saying that we strengthen what we fight, and that what we resist persists. Some research shows that if you tell a person to stop thinking about something, they actually think about it more!
Acceptance can actually be helpful in such situations. When you feel like this, simply accept that this is how you feel now, but that the feeling will pass. So will the thoughts. So will the anxiety, or the sadness, or the fear. Imagine that the thoughts you are having are like a leaf in a river. You’re sitting on the bank watching it float past you, down around the bend, and out of sight. Once it’s gone, you can move on. If it comes back, that’s fine. It will float away again. Watch it go, and move into the next step, below.
Being mindful means we are completely present. We immerse ourselves on what is happening right in front of us here and now – and even what is happening within us. When you are with your children focus on their smiles, laughter, eyes, hair, and innocence. Watch them, listen to them, and be right there with them. If we can be right there, where our feet are, physically, emotionally, and psychologically, we are less likely to get caught up in catastrophic future thoughts. When scary thoughts intrude, take a deep breath and refocus on here and now.
It is ok to not feel in control. Most of us feel like that every day, although some of us feel it more than others. Feeling out of control can be distressing, especially as a mother of children that you care desperately for. Unfortunately the more you focus on what you cannot control, the more anxious and stressed you will feel.
I’d suggest that you redirect your focus. Ask yourself, “What can I put my energy into with my daughters?” Can I recommend you focus on things like putting effort into raising them with unconditional love. Or listening to them and hearing and understanding what they say? Or being there for them when they are sad, and enjoying their moments of freedom and fun? If you focus on controlling your responses to your children (being kind and involved), and ‘the process’ of your parenting, the longer term outcomes will actually look after themselves.
Now, let me speak personally for a moment. I am a father of six daughters. SIX!!! People have said all kinds of things to my wife and I about that. While we never really cared whether we had a boy or not, I’m sure it would have been nice.
But we have six precious, amazing girls. And you have four that are just as incredible and miraculous. Treasure them for who they are. They want to feel your unconditional love for them.
Girls are a handful. But so are boys. Both bring drama. But they also bring laughter, energy, delight, and love beyond words into our moments with them.
Research has shown that a strong, warm, meaningful relationship with your daughters is the single most important protective factor in helping raise resilient, happy children. Can I suggest that you can create that relationship with them, and you can make it joyful? As they grow I think you’ll become your daughters’ best friend. It may feel like a really low time for you, but as you move past your disappointment and focus on being in the moment with your girls, and as you give every bit of love you have in your soul to your precious family, you’ll do better than you think. And your girls will love you for it – because that’s what little girls do best.