When Your Children Grow Up in the Shadow of PTSD

It has been almost five years since my husband was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In a lot of ways, it feels like a lifetime.

For our children, it has literally been their lifetime.

What do they remember?

I knew my husband for nine years before his official diagnosis. However I really only knew my husband for five years before the cracks started to appear.

PTSD in the emergency services is often very insidious. The warning signs of the inevitable eruption are always there, but too often they’re only recognised in hindsight.

The day my husband came home from work a broken man, our daughter was almost 3. She was asleep in bed when he fell to pieces in the kitchen. It wasn’t that I hadn’t seen him cry before, but we could have both drowned in his tears that night. I was so scared. How could I even begin to pick up all these pieces? I had no idea how to put him back together.

We carried on, somehow, but our daughter knew. I could see it in her eyes. She kept looking for the daddy she had known, but all she found was an empty stare and a frozen hug. And although I tried my best, I couldn’t protect her from every rage that ripped through our house. Sometimes the pain would burst out of my husband so suddenly and so ferociously, that it was all I could do to huddle my daughter away until the storm passed.

“Mommy, what’s happening? Daddy is really scaring me…”

Our son was not yet 1 when I had to accept the reality that my children were not safe alone with their father. I had been torn away from work by a desperate phone call, and rushed home to a find a shattered man, only barely holding on.

Do our children remember that day? Do they remember the raw anguish coursing wildly out of their father, who scarcely had enough strength left to direct it away from us? Do they remember all my tears? The tears that flowed for days?

I do.

Again, we carried on, somehow. We found new ways to manage, and I helped my husband begin to earn back the trust of his children.


We’re England’s largest campaign to end mental health stigma. It’s time we were all able to talk openly about mental health.

Support someone you know

Get involved

He found help for his PTSD, but more than that, he was ready to accept it.

I was carrying our third child when my husband was admitted for treatment at a specialty PTSD hospital unit. The stress I was already dealing with was only compounded as I imagined how my constant anxiety was damaging my unborn son. The PTSD was hurting him before he even had a name.

Thankfully, he was born on a good day. My husband and I cherished our time that day with our precious new baby. But the bad days returned all too swiftly. My newborn slept blissfully through the intrusions and flashbacks his father battled in our company before I had even left the maternity ward. Only in some ways was it a relief to come home.

What do our children remember?

We have come a long way in the years since, but PTSD is still very much with us. It’ll be with us always. And our children sadly bear witness to some of its worst moments. They don’t know a life without PTSD overshadowing it.

Just as with my husband’s, I cannot erase their memories. They will remember, but they do not have to be bound by these moments.

I will not let this shadow define them.

Follow this journey on Married to PTSD.

The Mighty wants to hear more about relationships and special needs parenting. Can you share a moment on your special needs journey that strengthened your relationship? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Monsters in forest

Trying to Understand the Monster That Is PTSD

“I’ve been having a lot of nightmares.” “Do you feel like you’re having flashbacks?” “Yeah, I’m scared.” “Have you ever heard of PTSD? I think you might have it.” This is something like the conversation I had with my therapist the day she diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Of course, it was more than nightmares. It [...]
A stack of newspaper cover stories about Oklahoma tornado that hit on May 3, 1999

I Didn't Know You Could Get PTSD After a Storm

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is commonly thought of as something only soldiers experience. I know I thought that until 2013 when I was given that diagnosis. My trauma is from surviving the largest tornado outbreak in Oklahoma history. I was 8 at the time. May was the 17th anniversary of that outbreak and in hopes [...]
Profile of woman

5 Things Not to Say to Someone With PTSD

Most of us have had the experience of watching a scary movie and either not being able to sleep afterwards, or having nightmares about it. For someone living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), that is what their life is like on a daily basis. PTSD is the result of experiencing or seeing a traumatic event. [...]

How I Learned to Call 'It' What It Was

For a long time, I didn’t call it anything. “It” just was. It existed in my thoughts and in my dreams, but It didn’t have a name and I couldn’t talk about It. Things like It didn’t happen in my neighborhood or my school. It didn’t happen in my family or to my friends, but [...]