It took me years to recognize that my struggles with mental and emotional health were not marks against me as a mother.
As a woman navigating PTSD and substance abuse (now sobriety) with two small kids in tow, motherhood became another venue where my failures felt featured on the center stage.
I was haunted by what a mother “should” be, “should” do, and “should” give—constantly falling short of the lofty standards I set for myself.
How could I be anything for them but broken and destructive?
Then someone shared this gem with me: to raise emotionally healthy kids, we have to be emotionally healthy ourselves. This doesn’t mean we have to master it, but simply live the journey.
I gave myself permission to attend therapy, pick up a hobby, get consistent exercise, adequate sleep, and time away—not just for myself, but also for my sweet kids who need to see how caring for oneself looks.
When I recognize my limits and stay within them, even when tested, I teach my kids it is OK to set boundaries and hold them in honor of yourself. We are not invincible, and we must treat ourselves like the exquisitely crafted beings we are.
When I say I’m feeling out of control and need time to gather myself, I teach them it is OK to create space and take the time needed to mend. We deserve to be patient with ourselves.
When I tell them I’m not feeling well and need to rest, I show them two things: not all sickness is visible, and caring for and protecting yourself is necessary. We must advocate for our own health and not sacrifice this simply because it can’t be seen externally.
While these essential practices help me maintain sobriety and minimize the trauma responses that are part of my existence, they also serve another purpose—I show my kids how love really looks.
By setting boundaries and making self-care a priority, I teach my kids that love is not based on how much one does or gives. Love is rooted in mutual respect and caring. We cannot love others if we do not first understand how to love ourselves.
When I don’t do these things, and lose my wits and snap, I show them humility and repentance and humanity. I show them how to not take for granted the love and forgiveness one extends.
Motherhood is hard enough without the three decades of trauma, abuse, addiction, and grief I carry. I must be gentle with myself.
I make it a daily point to remember I’m re-parenting myself as I raise them. This is no small thing. Struggling is not a failure. Instead, it’s a mark of strength that I continue on even when things are hard.
Breaking a multi-generational pattern of abuse and trauma will not be easy, nor will it be done without error. The healing, however, is worth it. We are worth the journey.
I might be learning as I go, but these aren’t tools that must be perfected to be imparted. There is no “arrival” point of being mentally healthy—we must exercise it daily.
We get there by going, so why not journey together, celebrating the wins and losses alike as a means to unite and strengthen our bond? Like anything we teach our kids, lessons are most effective when modeled.
When I let them in—with age-appropriate conversations and lessons—I teach them that emotions are a normal part of life. I show them how to weather, in a healthy way, the emotional storms they experience.
They, in turn, understand how to navigate and regulate themselves without shame or reprimanding.
My journey will be anything but failure if what my kids take into their teen and adult years are the practices of reaching out when they’re struggling; caring for their body in the way they are able; recognizing boundaries as safety nets, not cages; and practicing self-love as the first step in loving another.
If I can continue forward, focusing first on my own healing, I will send them into the world free of the scars I bear—the ones I share with my mother and hers before her. That will be the greatest success of all.
You’re more than your pain, more than what happened. You are strong enough to heal from the heavy you carry. We encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at firstname.lastname@example.org.