My Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis has always been a reality for my kids. A survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I was officially diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety in 2006. At that point, my boys were four and one year old.
One of the advantages of having this combination of diagnoses is that I simply don’t have the energy to hide anything from my kids. They have seen me in PTSD triggers, huddled under blankets, unshowered for days. They have heard my conversations with my husband about my symptoms. They have been privy to information about therapy and mental health and hope that other kids probably have not thought about yet.
My kids have had questions about my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder through each stage of their growth and development. Throughout each phase, my question has always been, “How much do I tell my kids about my PTSD?” While I have not come up with the ideal answer to that question, I have come up with some ideas that have helped me.
How Old Are Your Kids?
There is such a thing as developmental appropriateness when it comes to important information. I compare information about my PTSD to sex education. When my boys were little and started asking where they came from, I didn’t lead with mitosis and meiosis. We talked about love and private parts that remain private and that together mom and dad made a baby and that baby grew in mom’s uterus. Now that my oldest is almost fifteen, however, we can now talk about mitosis and meiosis if we wanted to.
When my kids were younger, they asked why I didn’t have a mom and dad. Part of my healing from abuse was cutting those abusive people out of my life, but I couldn’t say that to them. Instead, I said that my mom and dad were really mean to me when I was a kid and adult. They accepted that for a long time, and then asked more questions as they were ready.
Are Your Kids Asking Questions?
If given the time and attention, kids will tell you what they are curious about. Now when they ask about my PTSD and depression and my parents, I can talk about child abuse and we can look up information online together for more discussion. However, sometimes providing resources can be tricky.
As I was going through my initial healing process from abuse, I wrote Caskets From Costco. This funny book about grief and healing details some pretty raw experiences about abuse, depression, and PTSD. Since the book came out when my boys were in elementary school, they weren’t paying attention to it. Now that they’re older, however, they have been asking to read it.
I allowed my oldest to read it when he turned fourteen. A thoughtful, compassionate child, he has not said much about it at all since he finished it. To be honest, I’m still not sure that allowing him to read it was a good idea; however, he has not suffered negative consequences from learning the truth. In fact, he is more open and communicates more readily than he did before he read the book. And when he asks questions, he knows I will answer them.
Are You Ready to Tell Your Story?
One of the advantages of going through the healing process is that you are in control. You never have to disclose anything to anybody without making the conscious choice to do so, including your kids.
If you are not ready to talk with your kids about your PTSD, tell them that. You can be honest and say that you have been deeply hurt and don’t feel comfortable telling them about it right now. You can say that you will tell them in the future. Or not. You have all the power here.
Why Tell Your Kids About PTSD at All?
Going through life with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder gives us a unique opportunity to create change. We can raise children who have more empathy and sympathy for others. We can teach our kids the importance of protecting themselves, and give them the skills they need. We can show our kids that even though life sucks sometimes and isn’t fair, that they can be strong and fight and be resilient.
Building deep, honest relationships with our kids can help us break the cycles of abuse that resulted in our PTSD in the first place. Is there any better way to shine a light in the darkness than with our own kids?
Kelly Wilson is an author and comedian who entertains and inspires with stories of humor, healing, and hope. Kelly has published a wide range of work for both children and adults. Her latest book, Caskets From Costco, has been chosen as a finalist in the 18th annual Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards, the 10th annual National Indie Excellence Book Awards, and the 2016 Readers’ Favorite International Book Award Contest.
As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Kelly writes and speaks about finding hope in the process of recovery. She has been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.
She is the founder of PTSD Parent, a website and podcast that educates, supports, and inspires all people living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in their homes and families. Kelly currently writes for a living and lives with her Magically Delicious husband, junk-punching children, dog, cat, and stereotypical minivan in Portland, Oregon. Read more about her at www.wilsonwrites.com.
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