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10 Things I've Learned About Parenting With PTSD

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Few parents talk about how difficult it can be to be a parent when you carry so much of your own pain between mental illness or trauma.

• What is PTSD?

Today I caught a momentary glimpse of another mother gripped in this desperate place between managing her own needs and those of her children. I saw the familiar sting of anxiety and panic as she navigated a public tantrum as calmly and sensitively as she could, but I also saw the look in her eyes and the change in her breathing until it seemed she was barely breathing at all. Still, she continued to try and help her children through. She was doing her best and that is all we can really do as parents, isn’t it? Not easy when you consider children don’t come with a manual and we are daily bombarded with information about the right and wrong ways of raising our little humans.

When you become a parent, you are suddenly dropped into this world where your needs often become second because you are responsible for not only keeping these other humans alive, but raising and nurturing them to be the best they can be. As a parent living with PTSD and dissociation, I know the challenges and struggle to find that balance too well. And as the saying goes, “you cannot pour from an empty cup.” Eventually, you will have to find a way to meet your own needs.


These are a few of the things I’ve learned along the way.

1. Find your village.

Raising children is hard, nobody is meant to do it alone. If you are coming from a place of trauma you might not have the typical family setting behind you, but there are alternatives. You can choose who is involved in supporting you and your children.

2. Seek your own support.

To be the best parent you can be, you need to be willing to work on your own pain. It is hard and draining, but it can give you the space you need to process your own feelings away from your children.

3. It is normal to feel jealous and resentful.

Most good people do not want to feel anything negative towards their children, but when you are raising children positively and doing a good job, it can really hurt to see how loved they are, how free from pain and anxiety their lives have been. It can make everything you have experienced become a million times more apparent and that feels awful. It is not something to be ashamed of.

4. Take breaks.

It’s not always easy when you have minimal access to support, but find a way to have time on your own, not just therapy time. You need time to enjoy yourself and begin to discover who you are outside of the “parent” role. Mental illness can weigh you down. Find what sets your soul on fire again and do that more!

5. Set boundaries.

Children are constantly learning about boundaries and the rules of the world they live in. It is OK to set ones that are specific to you. If you struggle with being touched, it can be a fine line between not wanting to push your children away but wanting to manage your own feelings, so teach your children to ask for a hug or to not creep on you and make you jump. If you find you are struggling to manage their tantrums or child behavior and it’s causing you to disassociate or panic, then it is OK to make sure the child is safe and remove yourself from the room for a moment so you can return with a clear head and be present for them.

6. Ignore the negativity then comes with having both: children and a mental illness!

I bear the scars of a lifetime of mental illness and have had a person in the street tell me I shouldn’t be allowed to have children. Doctors told me I would never be a good enough mother before my child was even born. Accept help and advice when you need it and when it is in your best interest, but negativity with no purpose is not helping anyone and comes from a place of fear of the unknown.

7. Be patient with yourself.

All parents are learning constantly because every child is different. You will make mistakes — we all do.

8. Talk to your children.

We often don’t give children enough credit for their understanding of the world. They are very perceptive even if you think you can hide things from them. They will see and they will come to their own conclusions, not necessarily the correct ones. Talk
to them in an age appropriate way and help them to understand the world.

9. Know that while parenting with mental illness is difficult, it does have it’s benefits.

You can teach your children wonderful lessons on diversity and compassion. You can help prepare them for the rest of their lives.

10. Laugh and play.

One of the greatest wonders of children is their ability to see the good, to play and find joy in even the darkest of situations. It’s not always easy, but try to enter their world and share their joy when you can, it can give momentary relief from everything else. The dishes can wait, the laundry will still be there, but those moments are what really matters.

Thinkstock image by Bernardojbp

Originally published: August 11, 2017
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