October is National Domestic Violence Awareness month. This is my journey to realizing that I’m parenting with PTSD. According to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men are affected by severe physical violence. With those numbers, the odds are strong that you or someone in your family are survivors too. Here’s my story to help normalize the struggle of parenting with PTSD.

For help and resources, please visit The SAFE Alliance – dedicated to ending violence through prevention, advocacy, and comprehensive services for individuals, families, and communities that have been affected by abuse.

I felt like a failure when my husband was going back to work 16 weeks after my son was born, and I couldn’t even make it 3 blocks with him to Costco by myself without both of us arriving in a sea of hot racking sobs. Before long, my husband was in tears over my tears, worried for my mental and emotional health. He did, and will often say that I’m the strongest person he knows, but how did I get that way? And how did that strength seem to evaporate the moment my son came into the world?

A man naps with his sleeping baby dressed in work clothes, indicating he has returned to work after paternity leave ended.
My husband Corey naps with our baby in his work clothes after the end of his paternity leave.

Tonight I was reading a book to my son, now on his way to 4 years old. He requested “Eres Mi Mama? / Are You My Mother?” by P.D. Eastman. I told him that story makes me sad and since he asked, for the first time I told him why. You can read the details here, but like the little bird in the story I was separated from my mom. The little bird and I both maintained an innocent hope and determined intuitive knowledge we would be reunited with our mothers. 

The cover of the book "Are You My Mother? / Eres tu mi mama?" as an example of how little things in parenting life can trigger PTSD.
Little, innocuous things can trigger your PTSD as a parent including seemingly innocent children’s books.

For most of my life, I felt this was behind me. My mom always encouraged me to keep an open mind and heart to my father, the instigator of this separation, and even to seek a relationship with him on my own. Other than a few garden variety daddy issues I worked through in my 20’s, I felt that my early trial by fire forged me with resilience and perspective beyond my years.

Those early “baby blues” never ascended into what I would consider PPAD (Post Partum  Anxiety and Depression” but I also don’t feel like it was “normal”, or at least typical. I realized reflecting with my therapist for this piece, that it’s because I’m parenting with PTSD. So many of us are carrying one generational trauma or another, and like in the recent Disney hit Encanto, even family excellence is a form of passing this trauma forward to our children.

If you’ve been through a rocky time in your parenting journey, consider how this framing applies to you. Maybe you aren’t only triggered by your children or your spouse. Considering 1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 men aged 18 or older in the US have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime, the odds are strong someone in your family tree (if not you yourself) have parented with PTSD.

The author's mother holds her baby son, only a few weeks old.
I am so lucky to have my mom close to me to share the good, bad, and hard (including her own triggers and struggles)! Her presence and support have been an anchor in the stormiest seas.

I expect I’ll always suffer from my intrusive thoughts, where I imagine my family dying in various configurations and situations, sometimes slowly of disease and sometimes quickly like a car crash. Give me 30 seconds and I’ll work myself into tears about it.  This same trauma of separation also powers me into being a borderline super mom most of the time. My train of thought constantly asks “What if I die on the road today? What if one of my kiddos passes in their sleep? Chokes on popcorn in front of me?” This endless fear drives me to give them every ounce of love and intentional dedication (good), but comes from my parenting with PTSD (bad).

It’s also certainly part of the reason my husband and I took over 3 and a half years to go out to dinner together after my son, and then daughter were born. Being able to honestly label and understand the cause of my intensive parenting (other than societal expectations and the Mommy Industrial Complex) allows me to validate the feeling but not the thought, then hopefully move on and most importantly, not pass it on.

The author's baby naps on her chest as she watches TV with her husband and step daughter.
This period had a few moments of peace but was otherwise turbulent, confusing, and tearful.

To the parents out there ending generational trauma, raising children, reparenting their spouses and themselves, and making it all work—you’re not alone. When you need them, here are some resources that are helping me as I learn to Parent with PTSD:

What resources are helping you to parent with PTSD? Are you a survivor of Domestic Violence?


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