What Parenting With Complex PTSD is Really Like

Parenting with CPTSD

I have always wanted to be a mom. In my head I had this beautiful picture of what parenting would be like. How I would be a happy mom, who was understanding and patient. I would be the mom that was stable, and emotionally supportive. But, after my daughter was born there was an insurgence of childhood trauma that found itself surfacing. And this was not what I was expecting.

The first night of motherhood I held my daughter in my arms, afraid to sleep or leave her. Already the worry set in, was I going to be able to give her everything she needed? I wasn’t exactly handed the manual of perfect parenting in my youth. The whole journey of parenting is full of self doubt and a constant fear that I will be the cause of trauma in her.

Post partum depression set in after a week after I entered the world of parenting, and lasted for three years. And I already struggled hard with the demons that kept me up at night. They have always had a constant chatter in my mind. They run the narrative that I am not worthy of this wonderful gift. And because of that the PTSD episodes grew more intense in the midst of me navigating my way through the first years of motherhood.

It turns out that parenting with CPTSD is harder than I could have ever imagined. There is absolutely no preparation in parenthood, ever. But with Complex PTSD, there usually isn’t much of a model to base your own parenting off of to begin with. And that can make it exponentially more difficult.


Just a heads up, because I have to tell you, I use a couple of affiliate links in this article. The links are to books that have genuinely helped along my journey and I think are worth a read.

Before Parenting

In the days before parenting I was pretty unassuming of the existence of PTSD in me. In my 4th year of University the diagnoses of Complex PTSD and Clinical Depression was handed to me. Up until that moment I thought that PTSD was reserved singularly for people who had experienced the trauma of war. He gave me a copy of “Mind Over Mood“, a Cognative Behavioural Therapy workbook and I scoffed. I was still very much in denial that my childhood was traumatic. The thought that this educated professional was wrong hung over me. Eventually I just stopped going to appointments.

As I have uncovered, there are multiple ways that a person can experience trauma and left untreated translates into PTSD. There are the traumas that happen once – like a car accident, or witnessing a horrific event. Those traumas, if left untreated, develop into PTSD. There are traumas that reoccur and are ongoing. This results in Complex PTSD. Usually this stems from childhood traumas. Things like living in a war-torn country, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, domestic violence, physical abuse, etc. And I fell into both categories.

Triggers, Triggers Everywhere

It is complex and difficult to parent with Complex PTSD. There is a hurricane of emotions that can come at the snap of the fingers. Even though I don’t remember 95% of my childhood (memory loss is an effect of childhood trauma) I still react to situations that “remind” me of the initial trauma.

It takes a profound amount of self-realization to recognize and navigate through situations where I could be set off. That’s why it’s so important to know and understand what potential triggers are in parenting.

For me they are touch, loudness, rudeness and messiness. Knowing that those things set me off I can be aware and mindful of when situations arise that have potential triggers. And being mindful forces you to recognize and label the emotions. It’s almost like categorizing books on shelves. You can read the title, know the genre, and see who wrote it, then you can put it away where it belongs. Only difference is that you wrote all the books in your library.

Recognition of when a trigger presents its self is another important facet of navigating through the storm. Somedays it is harder to be completely mindful because emotions are running high. And parenting presents a plethora of situations where emotions can easily take hold. I’m not saying that I push my emotions away, because it is important to feel them to understand them. Sorting through emotions is very difficult for me. But the more I practice and meditate the easier it gets.

The Struggle With Parenting Perfectionism

I hold myself to unachievably high standards when it comes to parenting. Because of that, I am so fearful of getting it wrong that sometimes it actually hinders me from being a good parent. There is a fear that I could potentially mess my daughter up leads me to want to control everything. And that need for control is what can cause the most damage.

The emotional fallout from feeling that I got it wrong or that I have just done unrepairable damage is paralyzing. When a situation is presented that requires discipline or direction I feel frozen like a deer in headlights. Because I literally don’t know what to do. In those moments the fear that I might make the “wrong” decision prevents me from making one. I am actually a little panicked in those moments.

The perfectionism I hold in parenting does not leave room for much error. It does not give me the opportunity to forgive myself for being human. It leaves me with the belief that my family is better off without me. The narrative that cycles in the back of my mind is that I am not a good parent. Even though I know this to not be the truth, I can’t stop the feelings of inadequacy. And to silence that narrative is a long, and hard road to travel.

Silver Linings Behind the Storm Clouds

Without the proper therapy my PTSD symptoms persist. It is only through my own desire to end a cycle that I am motivated to do better. So, I do what I do in every situation that I want to learn more. I want to learn how to let go of perfectionism, and learn how to stop the storm before it tears the house apart. Understanding the effect that my outbursts have on the rest of my family provides enough motivation to drive a change. And this is where I start to read everything I can get my hands on, attend counselling, journal and meditate.

There are silver linings behind every storm cloud, and the will and desire to change is the biggest one. Although I am on a “wait-list”, I will be undergoing Cognitive Processing Therapy – an intense therapy to allow your brain to process the trauma. In the mean time I read everything I can about parenting. The best books I have read so far are (you can click the links in the names to get your copy):

Also, above I had mentioned that I journal. The greatest gift I could have given myself is the ability to open my mind to a new perspective. And, the greatest way to gain a new perspective is to work on self-awareness. A short while ago I started to journal my triggers, as they happened, to the best of my ability. But, it is not just the act of writing it down, I ask myself why I feel this way. Where does the origin of this trigger stem from? Asking why is giving yourself the chance to dissect and analyze and think of a solution for a similar situation in the future. And, each time there is an identification made it becomes easier each time to tread lightly through heavy situations.

It is also very important when recognizing these hard situations to know how to let go. Before things get too heated, walk away. This is the hardest thing for me to do. Honestly. My want to control sometimes overtakes my logic. Again, this takes an ongoing practice of mindfulness. I have to not only walk out of the room, but get as far away from the noise as I can. Because, loudness sets me off more. Then there are deep, deep breaths, and lots of reminders that this situation and feeling is going to pass.

In a parenting event that I have let my emotions overcome me, and it feels like I can’t stop the storm from coming, what I do after is the most delicate time. I have learned in life to never assume that people can just understand your emotions. Because, no one is a mind reader. Unless you say you aren’t ok, people assume you are fine. That is why, even though there is no excuse for the pain I may have caused, I must acknowledge the existence of my err. After finding myself crouched beside the bed, watching my hands as the adrenaline escapes, I know what comes next.

The best parenting advice anyone could have given me was to say what I mean and mean what I say. An apology is useless if there is no effort to change. So while I do apologize I also come up with a plan of action to change. I explain that mommy isn’t ok, sometimes she has such big feelings they burst out. I explain that it isn’t ok that I acted that way. And, I tell my daughter what I will try differently in the future. But most importantly, I make the effort to change. That is the best gift I could give my daughter, my husband, and my step-sons.

Forgiveness in Parenting

Even though it is obvious that forgiveness is crucial it is still hard. A lot of the time perfectionism in parenting blocks that ability. Sometimes it could be days before I have learned a way to forgive myself. But, once again, each time I practice forgiveness, the easier it gets.

Why is it so important to forgive yourself? Because you are human, you are going to mess up, it is important to come terms with that. Life isn’t perfect. And denying yourself forgiveness only perpetuates that belief that you are unworthy of this beautiful life. Complex PTSD can rob you of that ability to forgive. It is a skill that I am learning through continual practice of self-awareness. However, it is also the most pivotal of skills when it comes to parenting with CPTSD. Because, the more you forgive and accept that you are going to mess up, the easier it is to let go of the need to control. And, letting go of that need to be perfect and in control strengthens the relationships with the loved ones around you.

I am not saying it is like a switch you can flick. It has taken me years to make the little progress I have. This is why it is called a healing journey. It is not something that happens overnight. and, it is not a destination that can be reached alone. The journey takes guides, and instructions, and stopping to ask for directions when you are lost.

The Tidy Up

Parenting with CPTSD puts a whole new constraint of expectations we give ourselves. It is so hard to not put the pressure on yourself to reach those unrealistic goals we give ourselves to reach. It is exceptionally hard parenting with CPTSD because the fear of re-enacting your own childhood. But it is crucial to remember this:

Their childhood isn’t yours. All you can do is your very best and allow yourself room to make errors. It’s from those errors that we grow. Learn how to forgive yourself, and learn how to let go. You are doing your very best, and that is the best you can do.

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I am a stay at home mom with one daughter and two shared step-sons. Life gets seriously busy, hilarious, crazy, and sometimes I write about it. Please join me in this wacky, yet very wonderful, journey of parenting, coupling, and just living.

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