“Do you think your son would have turned out this way if you stayed home and your husband worked?” As my sister said this, the pain of my son’s autism diagnosis became excruciating. As a mother I was shaken to the core. Guilt and shame became the accuser’s voice in my head questioning my ability to parent and help my son get better.
What if eating tuna during my pregnancy caused the autism? What if coming home exhausted after work and not interacting with my sons attributed to the lack in their social development? What if going to the toddler-parent gatherings would have helped me see the truth sooner?
As Mother’s Day approaches, do you wonder if your child will turn out alright? Do you feel guilty because you are not sure what to do? Are you so tired from everything else on your plate? Do you feel sad because your child is not reaching milestones or making friends like the other children are? Do you worry that another month, quarter or year might be wasted where your child was not learning enough to keep up? The worst part for me was I was not sure what to do. All I felt was intense fear and guilt.
I'm a software programmer. Most days, when my boys were little, I came home exhausted. I was too tired to cook healthy meals or play on the floor. I'm thankful for my husband who took the lead in this. But even that added to the guilt. Thankfully overtime I learned there are two types of guilt: healthy and unhealthy.
I experienced healthy guilt when I humbly recognized the tugs on my conscience to slow down enough to play with my sons on the floor were exactly what they needed. As I worked on myself by learning more about grieving and connecting with other mothers of children with autism, the feelings of guilt and shame, associated with being a mom, were replaced with hope and confidence. I began to see my children's strengths instead of their differences. I learned various skills that helped me become an advocate for my sons. I began to trust my motherly intuitions. And when our daughter came along, and developed in the typical way; eating a variety of foods, being and open and friendly toddler, I realized I'm actually a pretty great mom. Also doctors and therapists assured me autism was not the direct result of any choice I made. I finally believed my sons' autism wasn't my fault.
Now when unhealthy guilt comes to call, I use a strategy I learned in Oola: Ready. Set. Go!
Ready. I recognize guilt as a blocker. Guilt steals joy.
Set. I set my focus on the many things I have to be grateful for.
Go! The simple act of gratitude propels me to recognize all the many things turning out well, which, in turn, sparks more gratitude for a power much greater than mine.
I'm happy to say that my sister and I are fine, my boys are grown up and leading fulfilling lives pursuing their passions. My oldest son is going to a terrific small university that meets his learning style. He loves school, seeing his friends and has a solid work ethic. My younger son wants to use his passion for dinosaurs to become a Paleobiologist. He is a talented musician and can imitate the voices and movements dozens of characters and animals.
I hope that this Mother's Day you celebrate it guilt free.