Motherhood comes with much to worry about, including how to protect, provide for, and communicate with one's children. Add one more thing to that list. Our research findings show that there is a link between a mother's anxiety and her children's mental health. The good news is that this information could help mothers take their own well being as seriously as they do that of their children.
Mom's Anxiety Translates Differently to Her Daughters and Sons
My colleagues and I at the Federal University of Rio De Janeiro conducted a study that shows that as a mother's stress or inattention increases, ADHD, depression, and/or anxiety increases in her children.1 We also found that the link between mothers and daughters was different than the link between mothers and sons. As the table below illustrates, an anxious mother is more likely to have a daughter with ADHD or depression. However, if that anxious mother had a son, he would be more likely to suffer from anxiety. If the mother suffered from ADHD, her son would also be more likely to suffer from anxiety.
Dad's Mental Health Does Not Seem to Cause Anxiety, Depression or ADHD in His Kids
Interestingly, our research showed that a father's anxiety or ADHD does not increase the likelihood of his children experiencing ADHD, depression, or anxiety. One theory is that wives of men with ADHD are more supportive and tolerant with their husbands than non-ADHD men married to ADHD women. Those mothers tend to be warmer to ADHD offspring, which is related to more socially adaptive behavior that could be a protective factor for a child's anxiety.2 Another possible explanation is that mothers are more likely to be a child's primary care giver. Still, more research is required to better understand the role of parental gender and mental health of children.
Mothers, Secure Your Own Oxygen Mask First
Mothers are often considered tireless caregivers. But the truth is, they do get tired, stressed, anxious, and depressed. If you are a mother, make self-care a priority. Adequate sleep, exercise, deep breathing, and healthy foods and supplements are good places to start. If you are still feeling stressed or anxious, talk with your doctor about getting the support you need.
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1Segenreich D, Paez MS, Regalla MA, Fortes D, Faraone SV, Sergeant J, Mattos P. Multilevel analysis of ADHD, anxiety and depression symptoms aggregation in families. Eur Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2015 May; 24(5):525-36
2Minde K, Eakin L, Hechtman L, Ochs E, Bouffard R, Greenfield B, Looper K (2003) The psychosocial functioning of children and spouses of adults with ADHD. J Child Psychol Psychiatry 44(4):637-646
Date of original publication: May 27, 2015
Updated: January 12, 2017