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Do you have awhile? This topic about a mother’s guilt, could keep me busy for days, weeks, even months. Every mother has guilt about their children. “I didn’t breastfeed. I ate lunchmeat during my pregnancy. I didn’t catch the autism symptoms early enough. I didn’t let him be himself. I was too tough on him. I was checked out. I should have done more.”
I could go on and on.
Guilt is ugly and it is NOT our friend.
Now, let’s get more specific about our guilt. Moms raising children with special needs have an untapped resource of guilt for, not just their atypical child, but also his neurotypical siblings. I am talking about the other beautiful children we love with all of our heart. These children are the ones that can get the short end of the stick.
I spent YEARS researching, learning, and advocating for my son with autism. Managing the therapies and behavioral charts, and constantly worrying about him…years. During those years I had three other children. Three wonderful, awesome children, who didn’t get their mother’s full attention. I know I will be the cause of so much therapy when they are older. How do I justify this inattention, so that I don’t feel like a horrible mother? In my mind, there is no justification or excuse for not giving every single child my undivided attention (which is actually, physically impossible, right?).
Now, if my friend, who’s child has ADHD, was to tell me that she was a terrible mother because she has been focusing more on her special needs kid than with her neurotypical kid, I would slap her in the mouth! I would tell her that she is a great mother and is doing the best she can. I would tell her that her children feel her love and are learning so much about compassion, family and dedication, by just observing her. I would tell her that studies have shown that kids with siblings who have special needs become more compassionate and empathetic human beings. I would remind her that just last week she took her neurotypical son on a date to the movies. I would tell her that her son does not feel less important than his sister (even if I don’t know for sure). I would be kind to my friend. We are all doing the best we can, right? Yet, we are never that kind to ourselves.
We are our own worst enemy. Notice I would say all of that to someone else. But to me? I am telling myself that I should have stayed up later and read with Gabe, instead of rubbing Matts’ back so he would fall asleep easily. I should have sat on the floor and made slime with Lucy, instead of following Chris around to make sure he stayed on schedule. I should have told Matt that he is such a cool kid when he showed me his youtube channel, instead of nodding and half listening while I figured out Gabe’s meds. Shoulda Coulda Woulda.
Sibling Special Needs Guilt is massive. I agree with my kids when they say there are times that having a brother with ADHD sucks. It does suck sometimes. It sucks when their autistic brother loses his shit and we have to leave a party early. It can suck when a perfectly lovely family game of Monopoly turns into world war 3 because “someone” couldn’t handle losing. It definitely can suck when your mom can’t give you 100%, 75%, 50% or even 25% of her time because she is attending to the small, but mighty details of a special needs sibling.
The unfairness of it all is staring them right in their adorable faces. It can stink for my 9 year old when she cries, “It is unfair that he gets to sleep in Mommy’s bed and I don’t”. Or when my 12 year old challenges, “He can quit baseball but I can’t quit track? Really?”. And it can still suck at 13, when we are heading out and he says , “ Please don’t bring him with us. He’s going to make a scene”.
That mom guilt will never go away. I hope we have enough support surrounding us, telling us often, that we are making it work and crushing it. If you aren’t hearing that, call me. I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you that you are the BEST mom for your children. I will tell you that those little bastards are blessed to have you as their mother! And you can call and tell me the same thing!
Every once in awhile, let’s give ourselves a f’ing break. You are doing the best you can and your family knows it (or will appreciate it when they get older). They love you and would choose you over and over again (no matter what they tell you while you are grounding them!).
So, when the mommy guilt kicks in, just know you’re not alone. We all think we are screwing everything up and ruining our children’s lives. But, whadda ya gonna do? How about you come over, have a glass of wine and we tell eachother how awesome, pretty, smart, and funny we are! And then, have another glass of wine and laugh about our crazy lives!