An Interview with Crystal Godfrey LaPoint: Helping Kids Deal with Parental Sadness and Depression

Feb 23, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) The book When My Mommy Cries has just been released. Why did you write this book?

The seed for “When My Mommy Cries” was planted when I began doctoral studies in Fine Arts & Social Justice Education at SU. I was taking a class called “Teaching Against Oppression”, and became intrigued by the notion of how educational materials designed for young people could be used as resources for the purpose of achieving social justice. My specific thought was about a children’s book to help inform young people about mental illness and help destigmatize it. As the book took shape in my mind, it almost immediately defaulted to my own personal experiences as the child of parents with depression, and being a depressed, single mother of three myself.

From that point on, the dream took on a life of its own.

Depression, no matter what its cause, (be it chronic and biochemical, or situational, such as that brought on by grieving the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job, etc.) is an astonishingly common reality in our culture, and yet we speak of it in hushed whispers, ascribe shame and guilt to it, and in so doing, only further isolate and disempower those struggling with it. My mission for “When My Mommy Cries” is to help the countless families who need this book’s gentle message of hope and love to build bonds of trust and mutual support that will help them get through the dark days, and cherish even more the bright and happy ones. When you share your vulnerabilities with your children, you are not abdicating the role of “good parent’ – you are not asking them to become your caretaker. You are simply modeling honesty, courage, trust, and love.

What greater gift can a parent give their child?

2) For what age or grade is this appropriate?

“When My Mommy Cries” is an illustrated children’s book with rhyming text, so it feels most appropriate for the 6 – 12yo age group. However, the issues addressed are so universal and the dimension of the musical CD adds such an ageless appeal, that I have found it to be moving and meaningful to all ages, right up through adults.

3) Kids of all ages seem to experience grief and tragedy. How can this book help?

If you are a parent in the trenches of dealing with sadness or depression, then you are already facing challenges in communicating with your kids because of your condition. You may feel sad, hopeless, helpless, and even worthless as a parent, because you just can’t break out of the darkness that is engulfing you. You may find yourself without the energy to engage in the same sorts of playful, or even mundane activities you used to with your child. Try as you might, you cannot hide your depression from your children. They watch us like hawks and can take our emotional temperature from 50 paces, because we are their lifelines and their source of security. Remaining silent about your situation only fuels their own sadness, confusion, and fear. So the best way to approach the situation with the book is so invite your child to sit down and read the story with you, lingering over the illustrations, and answering any questions they have with unvarnished honesty. That honesty needs to be coupled with unflagging reassurances of your constancy in their lives no matter how sad you may feel, your accessibility to always respond to their needs, and your unwavering unconditional love.

For some parents, just reading the book aloud may provoke profound emotion and make it difficult to do without getting choked up, which is just one of the reasons the CD is so helpful. You can sit with your child and listen to the CD, following along with the illustrations and having the story sung to you. I believe that taking the experience outside of a direct conversation trying to explain Mommy or Daddy’s depression to a child, transforming the scenario instead into a beautiful book and song with characters that are just removed enough to create a comfort zone, can be an enormously useful tool to help families navigate these rough waters.

4) Fathers also grieve, cry and deal with stress,… you have a book on When My Daddy is Stressed?

I do not. But I don’t feel that “When My Mommy Cries” in any way excludes the experiences of any family facing sadness or depression, regardless of the gender of the individuals involved. Sadness and depression do not discriminate on the basis of gender, family dynamics, socio-economic status, etc. Because I am the daughter of a mother who was depressed, and the depressed mother of a daughter, it simply seemed most authentic for me write about that particular “family” with which I am intimately familiar. However, I was very careful to be as inclusive as possible with the writing of this story, by being very non-specific about the many details that might make the story feel as though it was not applicable to the dynamics of any particular family. For example, we do not know if Mommy is married, divorced, has a partner – we don’t know if she works outside of the home, or if her condition precludes her doing so – we don’t know if she is in any kind of treatment or has even sought any – we don’t know if there are any siblings. All of these questions remain unanswered so that their relevance to any individual family’s challenges can be explored in a very personally relevant way.

5) How have you found writing to be therapeutic?

“When My Mommy Cries” was not at all difficult to write. In fact, as in all authentic creative expressions, it felt as though it wrote itself. But being able to translate one’s personal suffering into a tool to help others in whose shoes you have stood is profoundly therapeutic. It was a bit painful to revisit the experiences that had shaped my childhood and unfortunately, visited their oppression again upon my adult life. But the response I took – as described in the book – towards dealing with my own depression while raising my children was so very different from that which my parents took, that it actually made me proud of the choices I made, the wisdom of which are borne out daily in the lives of my three wonderful children who have grown to be compassionate, enlightened, strong, and caring young adults.

6) Should parents ask their local libraries to purchase this book?

Absolutely, yes. It would be wonderful to know that this book is available to as many families as possible who are in need of its gentle message of hope and healing. But in fact, it is my cherished hope that even families who are NOT facing depression will make this book a part of their home libraries, because it is a tremendous educational resource to help kids understand a condition that afflicts a staggering number of parents in this country. If your child has 20 classmates in their class at school, there is no doubt that they know someone personally whose parent either is, has, or will experience depression at some point in their lives. Understanding something about the issue and knowing that mental illness is a common experience, is the first step to teaching our children not to judge, tease about, or in any way stigmatize this sad reality. At least 1 out of every 6 adults in this country suffers from a diagnosable mental illness – and that only takes into account those individuals who are willing to seek treatment and give their condition a name! Parenting is full of teachable moments – why not seek one out, if it will help your child grow to be a more empathetic, enlightened, compassionate citizen, and a better support system to their friends who may be in need of some special understanding?

7) Do you have a web site or where can we purchase this book?

Yes: the book’s website is www.whenmymommycries, and it is available online on the Balboa Press website, and on and Barnes&

8) What have I neglected to ask?

About the significance of the musical aspect of “When My Mommy Cries.” As I said above, using the CD as the means to tell the story, rather than reading the book aloud, relieves what may be a particularly distraught parent of the challenge of reading the book and being overcome by emotion. More importantly, I think we all have experienced the powerful emotional impact of music. The song I’ve written for “When My Mommy Cries” is carefully composed to reflect all the subtle nuances of mood that comprise the narrative of the book. Music can enhance and amplify our experience of a story and I think this song achieves that admirably. In addition, we all tend to remember words we have associated with a tune, so for children who listen to the song repeatedly, the reassuring, loving, hopeful message of the book will be etched in their minds and memories in a very special way.

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