"The Desire To Dress Them Up": Depression, Kids, And Consumerism


A new study shows that depressed moms are more likely to have aggressive kids — but what happens when mom is depressed because she really wanted a girl?

The study followed 140 British teens and their parents, interviewing the children at ages 4, 11, and 16. 29% of those whose mothers had been depressed during pregnancy showed violent behaviors, compared to only 8.5% of those whose moms didn’t suffer from depression. researchers controlled for smoking and drinking during pregnancy, depression prior to pregnancy, and even kids exposure to depressed moms after birth. They didn’t control for genetic effects, however, and they noted that depressed moms were themselves more likely to have been aggressive as teens. It’s possible, then, that aggression and depression are linked, and that they can both be passed down from mother to child. However, says researcher Dale F. Hay, “There’s a lot of work that suggests that there could be mechanisms whereby the mother’s depression is associated with biological changes that affect the developing nervous system.” Perhaps, then, it’s a combination of genetics and womb environment that leads kids of depressed moms to act out.

The study focused on inner-city youth (whose mothers, not incidentally, had rates of depression nearly twice as high as the worldwide average), and it’s easy to see how the depression and aggression the researchers found might have their roots in social preservation as well as biology. The women profiled in a London Times article called “Please God, can I have a daughter next?”. The Times‘s Anjana Ahuja talked to Michelle Priestley, a mother of five boys who has a four-bedroom house but says “when I walk into a playground with all my boys, I think people almost feel sorry for me” — because she doesn’t have a girl. Priestley loves her sons, but has an “insatiable desire” for a daughter, and thinks it should be legal for her to choose the sex of her child through pre-implantation genetic diagnosis or other methods. She says,

Why should wanting to choose the gender of your children be so wrong? In life we have choices. We can choose where we live, the car we buy, the clothes we buy.

Ahuja points out that “babies are not accessories,” but Priestley — like some others who suffer from “gender disappointment” — seems to have a disturbingly capitalistic attitude toward motherhood in general. Ahuja spoke with a psychiatric nurse who deals with gender-disappointed patients, and found that “most of her clients wanted daughters, citing the desire to dress them up, take them shopping and even help them to choose their wedding dress.” Apparently, this trifecta of clothes, clothes, and clothes is exactly what Michelle craves.

Reading the depression study and be “gender disappointment” article side by side is a disturbing lesson in the class divisions of parenting. While some families struggle to keep their kids safe and out of trouble, other, wealthier ones have the luxury (or curse) of seeing children as expressions of the self, and expressions of the economic self at that. While I’m sure this isn’t the only way Priestley sees her kids, her story feels of a piece with every New York Times trend piece about hypervigilant parents who need their kids lives to be just so. It’s not exactly groundbreaking to point out the chasm between Priestley’s problems and those of an inner-city mom with a violent teen — and “think about how lucky you are” may not be particularly helpful advice if, as some speculate, “gender disappointment” is just another form of postpartum depression. Still, it’s tempting to wonder whether the same economic system that makes middle-class people think they should be able to choose their kids like cars also contributes to the depression of the less fortunate.

Depressed Pregnant Women More Likely To Have Aggressive Kids [LiveScience]
Please God, Can I Have A Daughter Next? [TimesOnline]

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