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If you asked me in December what it’s like to be a parent with PTSD, I likely would have laughed in your face, shrugged, and walked away. I felt like a lost-cause parent – always with a muddled mind just trying to make it through every day. Do you know how children are masters at getting their parents to the brink of insanity? Well, combine that with a parent who has PTSD. Parenting with PTSD is difficult, y’all!
What exactly is PTSD and how does it present?
According to the DSM-5, the following are the PTSD diagnostic criteria for adults and children over the age of 6:
- Having exposure to, be a witness of or threatened with death, serious bodily harm, or sexual violence
- The presence of at least one of the following symptoms associated with the trauma:
- Unintentional recurring thoughts or memories;
- Recurring dreams;
- Flashbacks or incidents in which the individual feels as if the event is happening in reality;
- Profound mental anguish after triggering events or thoughts; and
- Physical reactions from triggering events or thoughts
- Avoidance of thoughts, places, events, people, etc., that bring upon memories of the trauma
- Adverse cognitive thoughts and moods, such as:
- Forgetful of important facts of the trauma (dissociative amnesia);
- Continual distorted thoughts about oneself, others, society, etc.;
- Continual distorted emotional state;
- Loss of interest and/or lack of participation in previously enjoyable activities;
- Feelings of emotional Isolation and/or physical isolation from family, friends, loved ones, etc.; and
- Continually unable to perceive positive emotions.
- Distinct changes in behavior in response to triggering thoughts/events, such as:
- Impulsive, self-destructive behaviors and thoughts;
- Irritability and/or verbal and/or physical aggressive outbursts;
- Extreme likelihood to be startled easily;
- Poor sleep habits; and
- Inability to concentrate.
- The duration of the symptoms associated with points 2-5 is at least one month
- The symptoms cause disruptions in the individual’s daily life, relationships, occupation, and any other aspects of daily living
- And the symptoms cannot be attributed to any other psychological condition or mental impairment by way of drugs and alcohol
What happens to the children of parents with PTSD?
According to a 2006 study, females are twice as likely than men to be diagnosed with PTSD, which poses the question of how mothering is affected during a struggle with PTSD symptoms. Another study from 2008 studied three measures related to PTSD and parenting:
- Partner violence – violence by the veteran directed towards the veteran’s partner/spouse;
- PTSD symptoms – associated with points 5 and 6 in the above list of diagnostic criteria
- Parenting satisfaction – veterans were rated on 5 aspects of parenting: their ability to parent, the level of enjoyment of parenting, how the veteran perceived the quality of their relationship with the child(ren), how the veteran perceived the success (or lack thereof) of raising the child(ren), and if the veteran was able to indicate any problems that the child(ren) exhibited.
This study found that:
- the effect of all PTSD symptoms were highly correlated with low parenting satisfaction, while hypervigilance was the greatest factor in decreased satisfaction and more common in mothers than in fathers.
- surprisingly, partner violence did not play a role in decreased parenting satisfaction.
- poor sleep habits decreased parenting satisfaction.
Other related studies have indicated that:
- hypervigilance led to more stringent reactions to the child(ren)’s misbehavior (here).
- mothers with PTSD were more impulsive with their children, which could increase misbehavior in the children, thus leading to a decrease in parenting satisfaction (here).
What all of this means to me as a mama
Do you see now why I express the importance of educating yourself? Not only am I here to bring awareness to PTSD and its effects, but I’m also doing this for myself. By finding published research and studying the trends, I am noticing that the patterns in my behavior and reactions to my children’s behavior are expected.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been brought to my knees uncontrollably crying because my screaming toddler triggered me into a panic attack. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to lock myself in my bathroom because my teenager’s persistent badgering felt like glass shards in my brain (I won’t even get into the topic of my tinnitus right now, which is a confounding factor).
Because of all of this, I can tell you without a doubt that my parenting satisfaction was at an all-time low. Everyone who knows me can attest to how much I adore being a mama; my children are by far my greatest achievement ever and will ever be! However, I do not feel like I am the best mom to these boys that I can be. And that HURTS!
Hypervigilance is a never-ending struggle for me. Just one example – it takes me days (yes! days!) to gather the strength and energy to go grocery shopping. Not only do I isolate myself (including my kids) as a symptom of my PTSD, but my hypervigilance in public is extremely exhausting. I am terrified of something happening to my children or even worse, something happening to ME in front of my children. I am constantly on guard, always with the expectation that something bad will happen.
Speaking of exhaustion – the feeling numb, the hypervigilance, the emotions running high – all I want to do is sleep. I want nothing more than to enjoy a day at the park with my kids or go on a nature walk looking for bugs with my littlest one. While I intend to nap while Joshua is napping, I can’t. My mind races here, there, and everywhere. Although, there was a point in time several months ago where I could sleep all day and night… and there were plenty of times that I did. I beat myself up so much over the loss of quality time that I could have had with my babies. Thus, leading to low parental satisfaction.
What I’m doing to change my parental satisfaction
Remember my post about PTSD Awareness Month? I listed many of my favorite apps that I use as tools to manage my PTSD. My goal for 2020 is to become a better mom, to be more involved, and to live more in the moment with my children. But how can all of these be achieved? Here are my top 5 ways to become a “better” parent:
- Putting down my phone and paying more attention
- Watching at least one personal development video daily and taking detailed notes
- Journaling 2-3 times per week about my trauma and feelings
- Intentional meditation and prayer
- Practicing mindfulness and intentionally being in the moment with NO distractions