Not enough attention given to children of parents who live with the symptoms of PTSD!

by | May 19, 2012

Based on my observations and the following comment from a teen who found the posting, we are not getting connected to the kids who are affected!!  My own experience as a child growing up in a toxic home living with a very angry and disturbed parent who spent 66 months in continuous combat during WWII, reinforces what this teen is saying.  And while visiting with my Mother, Marcella, who is approaching 94, she still has “flashbacks” of my Dad’s anger, and still believes he was angry with her.  I tried once again to explain to her that Dad was not angry at her, and loved her dearly.  We all loved him…  Dad was angry because of his experience in combat during WWII.  He experienced significant trauma while being exposed to death and destruction for the entire war beginning with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941 while serving on the USS West Virginia.  We must do more, especially with young children and loved ones who are affected with secondary PTSD, often for their entire life…  Specifically, try to connect to kids in the public school setting first, then connecting the family to appropriate resources.  Easy to say, but hard to accomplish due to limited resources in public education.  We are attempting to educate parents in my community through the public schools and after-school programs i.e., Neighbors for Kids,  Other resources include Sesame Street Workshop,

Please join the conversation on this subject and offer your own experience and ideas to help kids with the challenges of living with parents who suffer from the symptoms of PTSD!

Steve Sparks
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

Anonymous said…

“I just came across this site.. I’m only 16 but my mom has suffered from PTSD my entire life. I had to “be the parent” at 7, and am constantly switching roles between the child and the adult. There should be more sites like this that offer support, but I can”t seem to find any.”

The following quote is from the above National Center for PTSD site.

“A parent’s PTSD symptoms can be directly linked to their child’s responses. Children can respond

in certain ways:

The “over-identified” child

might feel and behave just like their parent as a way of trying

to connect with the parent. Such a child might show many of the same symptoms as the
parent with PTSD.

The “rescuer” child

takes on the adult role to fill in for the parent with PTSD. The child

acts too grown-up for his or her age.

The “emotionally uninvolved child”

gets little emotional help. This results in problems at school, depression, anxiety (worry, fear), and relationship problems later in life.”

The PTSD paper written and published by the National Center for PTSD addresses an often not discussed secondary PTSD problem in a family where the parent shows severe symptoms from experience in combat or other traumatic events. My book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story, describes my own family’s post WWII culture in the context of how we siblings behaved under the toxic home life conditions resulting from my father’s extended combat duty. Dad’s symptoms became worse in the ’50’s following a tour of additional combat duty during the Korean War. It is highly painful but healing at the same time to revisit the past in our family story. Kids take on PTSD like bad genes and often deal with the symptoms for a life time with or without treatment. My family deals with this so much better these days after learning and becoming more aware of Dad’s mental health challenges following two wars and over five years of combat duty beginning with the South China Sea just before WWII, surviving the Japanese attack in Pearl Harbor while serving on the USS West Virginia, the Asiatic Pacific Theater serving of the USS Belle Grove, and finally the USS Andromeda during the Korean War. This was far too much combat duty for one human being to endure. And think of it, 1000’s of combat veterans experienced the same kind of combat duty during my father’s “Greatest Generation” of warriors. Life after war for countless wartime veterans was a total experiment in coping with symptoms of anxiety and depression, including acting out with rage at home around spouses, children and loved ones. We really didn’t begin to learn a whole lot of PTSD until the post Vietnam era, and now are in a much better position to provide diagnosis and treatment. The key to healing is awareness, education, and discussion among ourselves as families and the community as a whole. We must take responsibility and action as a community where our veterans return home to live a healthy, happy, and productive life after war.

Steve Sparks
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

About the author

Steve Sparks is a retired information technology sales and marketing executive with over 35 years of industry experience, including a Bachelors’ in Management from St. Mary’s College. His creative outlet is as a non-fiction author, writing about his roots as a post-WWII US Navy military child growing up in the 1950s-1960s.
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