Parenting While Living with Complex PTSD

March 21, 2019 Traci Powell

Successful parenting while living with complex PTSD can be challenging, but not impossible. Learn how to be the best parent you can be at HealthyPlace.

Parenting is tough in general, but when you are raising children while living with complex posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sometimes parenting seems impossible. Often trauma survivors hold themselves to a higher standard when it comes to parenting in an attempt to avoid repeating the abusive patterns of prior generations, or the opposite may happen. When you are stressed as a parent, you may overreact and be unfairly harsh with your children. As trauma survivors, it's important to stay mindful in order to avoid passing your traumas on to your kids. 

How Trauma and Complex PTSD Affects Parenting

For many years, decades even, I did my best to avoid dealing with the traumas I had endured. All I knew was I wasn't going to allow the same things to happen to my kids, so I watched them like a hawk. Fear controlled my parenting for a long time. No sleepovers with friends, because I was worried someone in the house might hurt my child. I was the parent who drove them to and from everywhere, despite other parents offers to help. I closely monitored everything they did. It wasn't until my daughter very bravely told me one day that she felt like she couldn't breathe or make a move without worrying me that I realized I was suffocating my children. I started to give my daughter some space and let go a little.

She got a boyfriend and one day I was angry about the way he was treating her. I completely flipped out on her, cursing and screaming at the top of my lungs. I was so uncontrollable with my anger that the only thing that finally stopped me was seeing my young son out of the corner of my eye staring at me with terrified eyes filled with tears. It was the first time I had ever done anything like that. After I stopped my tirade, I knew I had to get help, because it was very clear to me that my anger was about way more than the antics of my daughter's boyfriend. There was a nine-year-old little girl inside of me who had been triggered into lashing out her anger onto my daughter and I was not going to let that happen again. 

When your trauma is still unresolved, you can parent from a place of constant fear, without even realizing it. Your fear will either cause you to become much too over-protective of your children or irrationally lash out at them in a manner unfitting the situation. Either way, the end result is a child who becomes psychologically stressed and can ultimately end up with their own complex PTSD, so it's important that you learn to manage your stress to avoid taking it out on your children. 

Knowing Yourself Can Help You Parent Successfully Even with Complex PTSD

Living with complex PTSD is hard, but it's not an excuse to hurt those around you, especially your children. It's important you hold yourself accountable for your actions and know when to take a breath. Tightly controlling your kids to protect yourself from the fear something will happen to them can be just as harmful as lashing out at them. Kids need to form a sense of identity and learn to manage their own lives. If you are too overbearing, they don't have space and room to grow into the independent, secure adults they need to be, just as your abuse prevented it from happening to you. 

How to Parent While Living with Complex PTSD

All parents make mistakes and later regret them, but you need to be aware of when your actions may become abusive or too controlling. The following tips may help you  if you're concerned your complex PTSD is affecting your parenting:

  1. Take a step back to consider if your reaction fits the situation. If your child spilled milk and you are berating him and screaming at the top of your lungs, chances are the traumatized, stressed part of you has taken over. This is very common, especially if, as a child, you were never allowed to make mistakes. Now, as an adult, you may flash back to the fears that you felt as during these times, resulting in an overreaction today. When you feel ready to boil over, rather than choose to overreact, step away from the situation to allow your traumatized brain to relax, so that you think through what happened and respond appropriately.
  2. Communicate with your kids. Be willing to apologize, but understand that a true apology comes with change. As a childhood trauma survivor, you may have heard many apologies as a kid, yet your parents turned around and did the same horrible things again, only to once again apologize. It's important that you talk to your kids and help them understand what it feels like to like with complex PTSD and how it can sometimes affect that way that you react. This will help them learn your reactions are not about them, but you also need to take responsibility to control the way you react when your kids make mistakes to prevent your child from being the recipient of your childhood pain. 
  3. If you feel you simply cannot stop overreacting or let go of constantly controlling your child's every move, it's time to seek professional help. Overcoming childhood trauma can be very difficult on your own. A trauma-informed professional can help you understand how your own childhood is affecting your parenting, as well as how to manage your complex PTSD to prevent continuing the cycle of trauma in your family. Addressing your trauma can be life-changing, not just for your children, but for you as well.
  4. Allow yourself to be human. As a childhood trauma survivor, you may be determined to never make your kids feel bad like you did when you were a child. This can result in you constantly trying to keep your kids happy. It may feel good to know they are never sad, but life's challenges are what help kids to build resilience and learn to overcome struggles. It's ok to not be the perfect parent, in fact, it's important for your child development. What children need more is to know that you are a safe place to come to when they need support, love, and encouragement. 
  5. Consider taking parenting classes. As a childhood trauma survivor, you likely were not properly parented yourself, so you had no good example of how to parent your own children. Parenting classes can help you understand how to meet your child's developmental needs and cope with challenging parenting situations.

While parenting while living with complex PTSD can be a challenge, your early experiences don't have to prevent you from being a loving, capable parent. By taking accountability for your actions and seeking the help you need, you can become the parent your children deserve through learning to manage your complex PTSD and eventually spilled milk will just be spilled milk.

APA Reference
Powell, T. (2019, March 21). Parenting While Living with Complex PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, November 29 from

Author: Traci Powell

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Kathryn Morris
August, 3 2020 at 5:13 pm

Thank you Traci for writing this. I am dealing with CPTSD and this has made me feel less alone, understood and so much better. Thank you.

June, 13 2020 at 6:24 pm

This article made such a difference to me. I was wondering about my parenting. My recent cptsd from my kid's dad. My my coexisting bipolar
I have raged at my poor little girl before
I can't stop crying. I always want to make her happy and this article is me to the T
I can now see that it could be childhood trauma because there's so much of my childhood I don't remember. My dad had bipolar and my first memory was domestic violence and hiding under a table. My folks deny anything ever happened but it was probably their fighting.
I am set to give my kid a childhood to remember but I am likely making it unmemorable.
This gave me insight on what to address with my therapist

January, 6 2020 at 2:58 pm

Thank you for this article.

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