how PTSD can overshadow an entire family and children

Bracing Our Children for a Lifetime of PTSD

It has been almost five years since my husband was diagnosed with 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 three. 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.

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

Our son was not yet one 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 from his children.

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.



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  1. Love reading your posts. I always can relate and it’s helps to know we are not the only ones living through this PTSD as a family. Thank you

    • Thank you, Joan. It also helps me to hear from others travelling this same journey, so I know that I’m also not alone.

  2. How have you managed it? My daughters are 21 and 18 now, both finally in counselling of their own, their dad only recently officially diagnosed with acute on chronic PTSD – and finally in treatment (but he was first treated over 14 years ago and returned to work so there have been years of added trauma and not really understanding what was happening for all of us). I know they’re older but the one at home right now struggles a lot and there have been things recently that have been really hard. How do you talk about it with your husband? I feel like we’re walking on eggshells, afraid to set him off or make him more depressed or set him backwards. How can we go forward as a couple when he can barely cope with himself?

    I’ll take any thoughts at all.

    • Angela, your questions are the same that swirl through my own mind. And I wish I had all the answers for you. Unfortunately, every one has a very unique journey with PTSD, and every one makes different decisions along the way. It is good that your grown children are seeking counselling of their own, it will help them understand and process all the years leading up to this point. Sometimes talking about things with my husband can be really difficult, and in those times I’ve found the only way to move forward is to go along to his regular psychologist appointments with him. This may also be an option for you? Or at the very least, seeking counselling of your own would be hugely beneficial.

    • Thank you for your honest, raw, and vulnerable posts. I read them and find myself nodding and agreeing so many times. The title of this one came across my Facebook feed and I felt my breath catch and tears streamed the entire time I read. The guilt I feel about the fact that this is my children’s reality is huge; seeing their reactions to their dad, and even worse, witnessing their apprehension in not knowing how he will respond to them is both frustrating and infuriating. There is not blame to be had, sometimes just a deep sadness that comes with trying to accept the injustice of this life at times.
      I really appreciate that you talk about the good days and bad. This journey is far from linear. Secondary stress disorder is real for people supporting loved ones with PTSD please continue to encourage your readers to get support for themselves and their children it is imperative to their health and development.

      • Thank you for your comment. This is the reality for so many of us, and our children. And you’re right, there is not blame to be had. It’s a tough journey for everyone involved, and so often I find myself wishing our life had been different somehow. But this is our life, and we need to make the best of it we can. I involve our children in many discussions, and try to stay vigilant to how everyone is managing. But it’s so tiring at times. Take care.

  3. Thank you. It’s a sad journey for all. My hubbie has passed on, and our children are stronger now with littlest of their own. I know how much they love and protect them. PTSD is so hard on our Veterans and families.
    Please let other families try a little to understand, and thank you to all of our veterans.

    • I’m sorry to hear that you’re now widowed, the pain of PTSD trickles down through the generations of their loved ones. Our veterans fought bravely on the battle fields and had to continue their fight when they came home. We owe them so much more. Take care.

  4. Thanking you for your writings. How do we keep it from over shadowing our kids though? How do we explain the raging and brokenness isn’t normal while trying to add some normalcy to our lives? I worry my kids will grow up thinking the rages, fits arguing and slamming doors are normal and expected. Im always buffering trying to keep what piece I can for them.

    • Megan, I think we can only shield them from so much. Kids still need to grow up in the real world, and the real world is not always safe and pretty. I strive to keep our home the safest and happiest place for our children, but they are also learning that adults aren’t perfect, and that mental illness is something that can be lived with and managed. I used to blame my husband’s rages on his PTSD, as a way of excusing his behaviour to the kids, but now I remove us from the situation when he’s like that and explain that he’s not in control of his PTSD, and that we should not have to tolerate the arguments and yelling. It’s automatic, as a mother, to want to buffer the situation, but maybe try putting the accountability back on your partner instead. Take care.

  5. My husband ( and our family) has been living with PTSD for the entire 48 years of our marriage. My husband is retired after 30 years in the US Army…and is a Vietnam Veteran. Our grown children have told us that it was “like being raised in a Schizophrenic household”….they never knew which Dad they would be dealing with from moment to moment. I can see a lot of the fall out of this in our children to this day….poor choices in male companions…difficulty maintaining a stable family relationship. I blame myself a lot of the time for staying…I wonder if we all would have been better off if I had taken them and gone. He finally got help about 10 years ago….and it is better but he self medicates…his drug of choice is alcohol. I feel like I lived my entire life, stepping between him and our children…playing referee and juggling to keep all those plates that I had in the air from crashing into a thousand pieces.

    • I can completely understand their “schizophrenic household” analogy, that’s what my children see too, although they’re too young to articulate it as such. At every turn, we question if what we’re doing is the right thing, the best thing. But try not to look back and blame yourself or your choices, it will only cause you more unnecessary grief – we can only ever make the best decision with what we have at the time. But it’s never took late to open up the conversations with them, and speak freely about your feelings then and how they’ve changed now. It may not affect much, but then again it might. Take care, and try being as kind to yourself as you would your best friend.

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