Dads Play Important Role in Lessening Effects of Mom's Depression, Study Says

A new study reveals that fathers have the power to moderate the negative effects of maternal depression in families with young children.

dad's role when mom is depressed
Photo: Sergiu Birca/Shutterstock

Maternal depression is no joke. It effects 5 to 18 percent of women in industrial societies, and up to 30 percent in developing countries. And the saddest part is that studies have shown that in homes where the mom suffers from depression, there is less cohesion, warmth, and expressiveness, and more conflict and rigidity.

But now there's some hope for kids of depressed moms, thanks to a new study that has revealed a strong father-child relationship can help mitigate the negative effects of maternal depression.

Researchers at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan studied a group of chronically depressed women during the first year after childbirth and again when their children reached age 6. Yes, they found that the depressed moms were less attuned to their child's needs and much more likely to impose their own agenda and take over tasks that children could be performing independently. These moms also provided little opportunities for child social engagement, so the family unit was less cohesive, harmonious, and collaborative.

But get this: When fathers were able to act sensitively and non-intrusively, and engage their children socially, the fact that the moms were depressed no longer predicted low family cohesion.

"When fathers rise to the challenge of co-parenting with a chronically depressed mother, become invested in the father-child relationship despite little modeling from their wives, and form a sensitive, non-intrusive, and reciprocal relationship with the child that fosters his/her social involvement and participation, fathering can buffer the spillover from maternal depression to the family atmosphere," explained study author Ruth Feldman.

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Pretty amazing. Especially when you consider that about 80 percent of new moms experience the "baby blues" and 10 percent suffer major postpartum depression. Which is why Feldman says that as rates of maternal depression increase each decade, and paternal involvement in childcare continues to rise, it's critical for dads to develop a sensitive parenting style in order to enhance their role as buffers.

Hollee Actman Becker is a freelance writer, blogger, and mom of two who writes about parenting and pop culture. Check out her website for more, and then follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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