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What My Dad’s PTSD Taught Me About How I Treat My Kids

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I was about 5-years-old and stood in Joyce Kilmer Park in the South Bronx, awaiting the Fourth of July fireworks show put on by Yankee Stadium. My father was extremely drunk, as usual, but on this particular day he drank excessively because fireworks made him nervous due to his PTSD, since it reminded him of explosions back in his army days. His drunken friend also joined us, and ironically he brought some fireworks for us to set off, which normally would have made him nervous, but I guess the alcohol calmed him down just enough.

These fireworks looked like long incense sticks, and we ignited them on one end, placed them in a soda bottle, and then ran a few yards away before they went off. A few times the soda bottle fell over, so I ran back quickly to set it upright, and in hindsight I could have seriously hurt myself if they exploded in my hands, but my dad and his friend just laughed along like 2 drunken fools.

Due to my father’s drinking problem, stemming from his PTSD, this was a typical episode of my childhood. There are dozens of instances that, when looking back, I’m lucky that I didn’t get injured. Sometimes we did fun things, like set off fireworks, but other times he went off on a violent rampage and left me frightened out of my mind. I never felt safe as a kid, and because of that, I went the opposite way when I became a parent myself because I wanted to provide the safest possible environment for our child. I read books, took classes, made charts and lists, talked to people, and mapped out a road for us. I heard about a machine that analyzes the metals in your home in order to prevent metal toxicity, and when I told my husband that I wanted to buy one, he looked at me like I had 2 heads. Thankfully I came to my senses and didn’t buy it.

Once our child was born, I made lists for the pediatrician in case she needed to know every single detail about him, and I wouldn’t buy a Christmas tree that year because our son was only a few weeks old, and I read somewhere online that microscopic bugs in the tree could lead to long-term allergies, which probably goes to show that I spent way too much time on the internet.

The problem was that I was so worried about being like my father that I went the other way and didn’t give him any breathing room.

However, it’s hard to remain calm as a new parent, because there are so many conflicting stories out there, and I guess that my anxiety was heightened because I didn’t want to be like my father, and if something was identified as dangerous, I wanted it gone. I read an article a few months later about “lawnmower parenting,” defined as parents who take preventative measures to mow down problems so that their child could walk through a clear path, and that’s when it occurred to me that I needed to stop being so overprotective.

I had an eye-opening moment when my husband re-played a video of us at a block party, and I heard myself nagging our child to stay close and not run off. At the time I felt like we were very close to the road, and I was afraid that he would run off into moving traffic, but after seeing the video and hearing my nagging voice, and realizing that road was actually pretty far away, I couldn’t believe that I was behaving that way. That’s when I knew that I needed to give him space, because hovering around him was doing him an injustice. The problem was that I was so worried about being like my father that I went the other way and didn’t give him any breathing room.

Of course that’s easier said than done, and learning to give him space is still a work in progress. I still obsess over little things, like the type of food he eats, or whether there are toxic chemicals in our home, but I’m much more cognizant nowadays, and I’m determined to stop allowing my past to dictate my parenting.

Roxanne Lee is a hospitality professional and writer. Her works can be found in HelloGiggles (Time Inc.), From The Kitchen, Pink Pangea, and SELF Magazine.