Mothering while Struggling with Mental Health

Parenthood Experiences

By: Kelly Sutton

Most people I know desire to raise their children to be better than them by giving them a better life than they had.  For me, raising my children to be better than myself starts with being honest with and loving all of myself.

Unconsciously and consciously our children internalize our learned behaviors, mannerisms, and personality traits. As a child, I struggled greatly with my confidence.  Am I beautiful; am I worthy? Therefore, one of the habits I started while my son was growing in my womb was verbalizing affirmation statements:

I am smart.

I am kind.

I am beautiful.

I am safe.

I am loved.

I am strong.

BUT I learned that just because I tell my son those affirmations, it doesn’t guarantee that he will internalize and believe the statements because (1) he too is human, (2) he has own life experiences, and (3) he first looks to my partner and I to display those affirmations in ourselves.

How does it look if I believe I am smart, kind, beautiful, safe, loved, and strong?  Unconsciously and consciously, I have to try to uphold the same expectations of affirming myself, as I expect my children to do the same for themselves.

Another way I try to make sure my children have a better life than I had is by accepting and dealing with my past. I’m not perfect therefore THIS step has been my most challenging process and somewhat of a revolving  door. The door of PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  I’m not saying I’ve had the worst life possible, but I’ve definitely been through some things that have mentally changed me forever. One can be traumatized just by witnessing a traumatic event. For me, there were multiple domestic violence experiences in my childhood home that still make me jump at sudden, loud noises or always wanting to sleep with someone and never alone.

This year, I was diagnosed with PTSD through my therapist and I was instantly relieved!!! For once, I had a starting point to work from. I felt like someone acknowledged and believed me. The taboo of not dealing with or talking about mental conditions and illnesses is one of the reasons why mental issues take over and sometimes destroy a person’s life and those lives around him/her.

Personally, the affects of PTSD run ragged at night when the hustle and bustle of the day is over and there’s no one but me, myself, and I. My anxiety rises, my thoughts perseverate, and sleeping/resting becomes a distant desire for hours. The flashbacks and/or nightmares make it hard reset my brain and move on.

I wake up tired and not my best self for my son. But I push myself to the side and I pretend/strive to be the best mom in the world for him!  One thing I’ve learned from my childhood is that I will not allow my mental state negatively impact my children. I lived through my family members struggling with mental illnesses, alcoholism, suicide attempts, and much more. How they handled those issues pushed me to handle mine in the opposite manner.

Even when I’ve coped, grew, and closed the trauma door, life triggers can reopen that door and I realize, again, that accepting and dealing with my past experiences are necessary for the future success of myself and my children.

A simple day-to-day example is working through passive vs. assertive situations with my son. We go to numerous play dates in a week and I see myself in my son all the time. We are both non-confrontational people, therefore if someone else is persistent enough, we tend to give-in; even though we want to stand up for ourselves.

EX: My son has a toy and another toddler wants it too. For the first 30 seconds, he’ll hold on to the toy tightly, but will eventually let go and give in. Sometimes he’ll go find a different toy, but most times, he cries. I tell him to use his words – say NO;  tell the other kid that you’re using the toy right now; tell the other kid that we can share; tell the other kid something

My maternal heart breaks. He sees me in adult situations when I should stick up for myself but instead I give in. Practicing assertiveness – believing I am STRONG – is a life skill that my son and I are now learning how to do together. Humbly, admitting that I can’t just teach my son this skill is hard, but necessary. 

Taking the personal steps like engaging in regular therapy and utilizing healthy coping mechanisms are key to mothering with PTSD.

One of my coping mechanisms is writing. Through writing, I can share my stories, experiences, and vent/reflect positively.

Another coping mechanism, I’ve had since I was a child, is singing. I’m not the best singer to the extent of performing on stage, but that wasn’t the reason why I believe God has blessed with me with some talent. My singing has always opened up an alternative world of expression and PEACE – a world where words and harmonious sounds engages my heart and heals my mind.

I mostly sing by myself, to my children, and my husband. Singing releases a plethora of emotions ranging from love to pain. Singing connects me to my spiritual being, which leads me to my most important coping mechanism: PRAYER.
No matter if prayer if something you do, my belief in a higher power has literally saved my life. In my past, I’ve been suicidal in times when my life was hard to handle. That’s why I’m unapologetically a Christian. Some people meditate, do yoga, exercise, etc. I give my burdens to God in prayer.

Jumping off the hamster wheel of reliving my past or redoing current situations that I could’ve done better is mothering while struggling with my mental health, but I’m learning how to cope AND heal! 

Mental health is something I’ll always have to be aware of, but the most important shift in perspective is that I’m not bound by PTSD and it doesn’t control my life. My mental health struggles have actually made me stronger. I’m a better mother because of my experiences. I’m a better mother because  of the multiple coping mechanisms.

My children will have a better life than mine because through me handling my struggle, my struggle will be their strength to tackle bigger and better things of this world.


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