Tag Archives: guilt

Let Go Of The Guilt For Mothers Day

13 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

I have a tendency to take on too much. In this regard I am very much like most moms. Whether it’s genetic wiring or just a normal part of motherhood, trying to do everything for everybody is just what we do.

From time to time, we get challenged on this by well-meaning people who say things like, “You have so much on your plate. You really need to learn how to say no.”

Yeah, like that’s going to happen. We can’t possibly say no, because, you know, we’re doing it for the children. All of the late nights, and the hours spent doing laundry, and the long commutes to full-time jobs – we do it all for the children.

While this is perfectly legitimate most of the time, there are times when we use the “for the children” line simply because we cannot process the idea that it’s OK to actually do something for ourselves once in a while.

For instance, when people ask me why I run, I tell them that it’s for my son, to raise funds for autism. It is true that this is what got me back into running after a long break, and it is also true that it helps a great deal with my motivation. But let’s be honest – there are other ways to raise funds for autism that don’t involve entire Sunday mornings spent running instead of with my family. When it comes down to it, I run because it makes me happy , but I’m darned if I’ll actually say that out loud.

My husband has this computer game that he plays most evenings. It’s one of those war games where tanks blow up other tanks – a guy game that I, as a woman, don’t really get. He says he plays this game to unwind and release some stress, and I completely understand that. He works hard and he does have a lot of stress to deal with. It’s perfectly reasonable that he would need an outlet. But when I play my computer games at the end of a long, stressful day, it is under the cloak of intense guilt. I feel that the time I’m spending actually enjoying myself should instead be spent doing something for somebody else.

I know I’m not alone in this. I ran an informal poll on my social media feeds asking fellow moms for their views. Here’s some of what they had to say:

Kerry says that she feels guilty when she does things for herself or buys herself anything. “Can’t get a hair cut, the child needs one first. Can’t buy a new pair of shoes. Too much guilt!”

Tammy had a one-word answer to the question of whether she feels the guilt: “YYYYEEESSSSSSSS”

Hollie poignantly said she doesn’t feel the guilt, “because it’s very rare that I do anything for myself.” This is in a similar vein to Ruth, who says that she doesn’t feel guilty as such, but she’s simply lost the hang of doing things for herself.

Sara, a single mom of special needs kids who really needs a break, reports that she recently considered canceling a vacation so she could buy a car seat for her child, who doesn’t even need it yet. And Nicole said that the few times she doesn’t feel guilty, she starts to feel guilty about not feeling guilty!

I wonder why that is, just why we moms are able to turn guilt into even more of an art form than the Catholics. I mean, we are fully prepared to acknowledge when other people, like our husbands, deserve a break. Why can’t we do the same for ourselves?

If we got just a little bit better at slowing down once in a while, and unashamedly doing stuff we enjoy simply because we enjoy it, maybe we would feel less overwhelmed.

I have great admiration for the moms who strike more of a balance, the moms who take a stand for themselves and say, “You know what? I deserve this and I’m going to enjoy it without feeling guilty about it!”

Fellow mom Marci says she used to feel the guilt, but not anymore. “I found that doing *me* made me calmer and more available to my cherubs!!! Best thing I could’ve done for the family.”

Marci is one of several moms who have managed to make peace with the idea that they are as important as the people they take care of. As Jacquie says, ” If I don’t take care of ME, who’s going to take care of THEM?”

Randi agrees. “I realize that if I don’t take care of me, I’m going to be grumpy and not a good mom.”

Today is Mothers Day in most parts of the world. It is a day when, if we’re lucky, our families take the time to let us know they appreciate us. Why don’t we do that for ourselves as well, and for each other? Let’s give ourselves a much-deserved pat on the back and acknowledge all that we do.

And let’s make a decision to take care of ourselves and spoil ourselves once in a while, without feeling guilty, not just today but always.

Because we deserve it.

Happy Mothers Day.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sergemelki/3519265411/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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The Good And The Bad

26 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 27 – 5 challenges, 5 small victories: Make a list of the 5 most difficult parts of your health focus. Make another top 5 list for the little, good things (small victories) that keep you going.

Autism can be a very complicated thing to live with. Its manifestations change from day to day. One day, my son will be able to tolerate loud noises but a small change in routine will send him into meltdown. The next, we’ll be able to turn his entire routine upside down but anything louder  than a whisper will set him off. Different strategies work for different kids on different days, and everyone you might see guidance from is convinced that their opinion is the right one.

The things I find most challenging about being an autism mom don’t really have to do with the autism itself. Whatever might be going on with my child on any particular day, I just deal with it. Sometimes it’s hard, but I always know that I’m doing my best, my son is doing his best, and at the end of the day we’ll all survive.

My challenges tend to come from sources other than my son and his autism. I list them in no particular order.

  1. The judgmental critics. It’s a moment every autism parent has lived through at least once. You and your child are in a grocery store, which let’s face it, is a mecca for sensory overload, and your child is getting more agitated by the second. You throw things into your cart at quickly as you can, but just as you get to the checkout, your child reaches his breaking point and explodes. As you are trying to calm him down, some snarky stranger loudly proclaims, “What that child needs is a good hiding.” I once heard someone say (referring to me), “If that mother was doing her job properly, this wouldn’t be happening.” Like I’m not already carrying around enough angst with me. With my social anxiety, I’m not great at the quick comeback, although I’m definitely better than I used to be.
  2. The third-person talker. These are the people who will talk about someone who is present as if that person were not in the room. The chances of this happening increase exponentially if the subject of conversation happens to have autism. I get it all the time. “Would George like a hamburger?” they will ask. My answer always seems to throw them a little: “Ask him,” I say. Yes, it is true that George is not the world’s greatest talker, and may not respond to everything that is said to him. But, you know. At least give the kid a chance to try. If he struggles to answer, I will help him.
  3. Guilt. I was educated at a girls-only Catholic school run by nuns, and I am married to an Irish Catholic man. I can therefore say with some authority that the Catholics turn guilt into an art form. And some of the guilt that I feel as a special needs parent (hell, forget special needs – just as a plain old parent) almost makes me think I should just convert. I feel guilty about everything. Did the Taco Bell I ate during pregnancy cause George’s autism? Did I give him enough affection as a baby? Am I paying enough attention to my other son? Did I get too mad at George when he tipped over the laundry basket?  The list goes on and on, and my guilt makes me constantly second-guess myself when I should just be following my parental instincts.
  4. Time. Time very often seems to be my enemy, so much so that I sometimes regard it as a person. Time with a capital T. No matter how much I try, Time seems to run away from me. At the end of each day, there is always something that remains undone. Parenting is my absolute number 1 priority, so my kids’ needs are always taken care of. But I tend to let other areas of my life slip occasionally, and that is detrimental to my physical and mental health.
  5. The Internet. When George was diagnosed with autism five years ago, the first thing I did when I got home was Google autism. I obsessively read web page after web page. Every link that I clicked on seemed to have some information that flatly contradicted something I’d read somewhere else, and in the end my brain was hurting from information overload. I was overwhelmed by not knowing what information to trust. Since then, I am wiser in my use of the Internet and I have learned, for the most part, how to tell the good information from the noise. But the Internet, with all of its gazillion theories about the causes of autism, can still hinder more than it helps a lot of the time.

In my house, there is no such thing as a “small victory”. Every single accomplishment, all of the positive things in our lives – are massive, big things. That’s the way it often is in special needs families. We tend to place extra stock in things that other families take for granted. And as hard as it can be to live with autism, there are many things that I am grateful for, that enable me to keep chugging along even at times when I just want to cry.

  1. Love. Love really does make the world go around. Out of all the challenges my son has, lack of affection is definitely not one of them. Both of my sons give the best hugs that I can carry around with me all day. My favourite moments are when my boys somehow manage to squeeze onto my lap together to give me a hug. I sit there, with my arms full of squirmy, giggling kid, and never want the moment to end.
  2. Running. Yes, running keeps me sane, and when something stops me from doing it – like illness or injury – depression starts to creep in. The fact that it keeps me in good physical health is almost a by-product of running. My prime reason for doing it, along with raising funds for autism, is to keep my mental health on an even keel. I struggle with mental illnesses like depression and anxiety, and there’s no better way to combat my darker moments than a good long run. I am stubbornly resistant to using medication to deal with my issues, and running acts as a decent substitute for chemicals most of the time.
  3. Therapy. It has been said that running is cheaper than therapy, and while that is certainly true, I actually do need both. The therapist/client relationship is a very strange one. It involves the client placing complete trust in someone they actually know nothing about. I have been going to my therapist for a little over a year now, and it has taken me almost all of this time to build up my trust to a level where I can really open up during my sessions. Sometimes the sessions are very hard and they make me feel all weirded out for a while, but the truth is that once a week, I get the opportunity to talk without reservation in the sanctuary of my therapist’s office. I can say whatever I like and there will be no judgment or anger.
  4. Writing. I am somewhat inept as a verbal communicator, and I experience high levels of anxiety in social situations. When I am talking to other people, I hold back a lot, not only because of my natural shyness, but because my brain actually doesn’t work well during conversation. I can formulate a completely coherent thought in my mind, and even mentally phrase how I want to say it, but when it comes time for me to speak, my words get lost somewhere between my brain and my mouth. With writing, that doesn’t happen. I truly have a voice, and I treasure the opportunities to speak my mind on things that are important to me.
  5. The Internet. The Internet is both a blessing and a curse. Despite the evils described in my “bad” list, the Internet is a haven of sorts. I belong to two Internet support groups – one for moms who have suffered pregnancy or infant loss, and one for parents of children with autism. Both of these groups are places where I can vent my concerns, ask for advice, or celebrate good news. Some of my best friends are people who I have known online for a long time, but have never met in person. Here’s the wonderful thing about the Internet: no matter what I am going through on any particular day, I will always be able to find someone who knows, at least to some extent, how I feel.

How Organization Creates Chaos

28 Jan

This morning I took my Christmas decorations down.  Yes, I know that it is January 28th, and that the 12th day after Christmas passed some time ago.  I have a history of being very last-minute where this kind of thing is concerned, and this laziness is, in fact, the reason we have an artificial Christmas tree.

When you have a real Christmas tree dropping dead pine needles and crap all over your carpet until February, things can get very messy.

The thing is, it’s always a bit of a hassle, not only to take the decorations down, but to put them up in the first place.  You have to dig out boxes that are buried under eleven months’ worth of crap in the storage room, then you have to clear a space for the Christmas tree and figure out how to make your home look festive without being tacky.  Let’s face it, I ain’t Martha Stewart.  I always envy those people who can casually throw a rug over a sofa and make it look like a designer item.  I can spend an hour arranging the rug on the sofa and it will still look like the results of the room throwing up.

Taking the decorations down is worse.  I mean, when do you get the time?  You’re so busy trying to recover – and get your kids to recover – from the remnants of the Christmas season.  You’re trying to catch up on work that’s fallen behind because no-one was at work.  You’re trying to figure out how the kids’ new toys work so you can show them, and you’re trying to figure out where the hell to put all of this new stuff.  With all of this going on, it’s no wonder my Christmas decorations stay up for so long.

This year, I have had an extra excuse, and its name is Autism.  You see, George’s autism hasn’t really affected the comings and goings of the Christmas decorations before, because George has always been pretty cool about things changing.  I always used to think that for a kid with autism, he was pretty adaptable.

That has all changed.

About six months ago, a fear of routine changes reared its ugly head. Now, understand that I’m not just talking about a dislike for or a resistance to change.  I’m talking about actual anxiety fear near-panic that sometimes gets intense enough to make George throw up. We had such an incident recently involving a mirror, and in that case, Gerard and I felt that the best thing would be to restore the mirror to its rightful place to ease George’s anxiety.

So today I took the day off work, with the intention of making a few changes while George wasn’t around.  They were necessary changes that included taking down the Christmas decorations and getting my scary mess of a desk organized (cluttered physical space translates to cluttered mental space and all that).  The kids went off to school, I took a brief moment to relax, and then I started working.  I got the Christmas decorations down and put away, and then I had a major decluttering session.  All of the boxes that were under my desk are now stored more appropriately, meaning there’s room to put my feet.  My filing cabinet has been rearranged, so my files are actually in the cabinet instead of in a broken plastic container on the corner of my desk, which now boasts two stacking trays instead – one for incoming mail, and one for the kids’ homework and school forms and stuff.

When George came home from school, World War III broke out.

First it was the Christmas tree.  Kiddo was insistent on the restoration of the Christmas decorations, and went so far as to start dragging boxes of decorations out of the storage room.  I firmly took said boxes from him and put them back.  He kept mentioning the Christmas tree, but I don’t think it took him long to realize that he wasn’t getting his way with this one.

My desk proved to be the bigger issue.  The broken plastic box that I had discarded?  George wanted it back.  George wanted it back so badly that he was almost panicking.  The poor boy was looking directly into my eyes – something that he only does when he’s feeling emotionally distressed and is desperate to impart a message to me.  Those eyes, those eyes… They had such pain and fear in them.  They were brimming with tears as George begged me to put the box back onto my desk.

I had to say no.  I’m always one to pick my battles with George.  If it doesn’t matter, I don’t make an issue of it.  I let George get his way from time to time.  But sometimes the battle does matter, and this is one of them.  I need for my home office to be organized.  I always have so much to do, so much admin to keep on top of.  The way I was going, I was paying bills late for no reason other than the fact that the papers were getting buried.  I had to arrange things so that I could keep up with everything.  This is definitely a battle I needed to win.

I felt so conflicted, though.  My friend Amy went through the heartbreak of burying her child yesterday, and here I was, with my child alive and well, and I was allowing him to be sad and fearful and distressed.  What kind of mother was I being?

Even with this conflict going on, though, I knew that I was right.  I knew that this was a storm I would just have to weather.  I needed to rearrange things on my desk, and George needed to see that things could change and he would still be safe.

The storm appears to be over – at least for now.  George was upset for a long time, but gradually calmed down.  He started walking around without looking suspiciously at my desk out of the corner of his eye, and he started jumping on the trampoline, making the kinds of sounds he makes when he’s happy and settled.  When he said, “Charlie is a girl” (with reference to Charlie the Unicorn), I knew that he was OK.

Sighs of relief all round.

At least for now.