Being a parent to a wonderful son has been one of the greatest joys in my life, but motherhood has also included personal regrets that I wish I could change. I’m guessing that’s true of most Moms and Dads. We think we know what parenting is going to be like based on the many examples we have seen over the years of other parents. We made a mental note of what or what not to do when we had kids of our own. We may believe that we had all bases covered prior to our child’s arrival into the world. But the fantasy versus the reality are often very different. Raising Brian is the hardest thing I have ever done. Sometimes, I wondered if I was really cut out for being a Mom. I had doubts in myself, in him, and how life was going to be. Fear and doubt were dominant forces, especially early on, but they are still there, just waiting to reappear in those difficult moments…
Reality tells me that my parenting has been successful, but for those of us who struggle with perfectionism, this truth can be hard to believe. Worrying about things that I couldn’t ( and still can’t) control in Brian’s life is probably one of my biggest regrets. I have gotten much better, but it took a very long time to relax and finally come to an acceptance that this is a trigger point for me, but, this anxious feeling WILL pass. I have years of evidence to prove this truth when I’m honest with myself about it. We humans like to control the outcomes of our lives on our own timeline, but of course life doesn’t work this way. Anxiety can be quite crippling and prevent us from enjoying the present moment- I had experienced enough of that and was desperate enough to choose something different, something better…Much to my pleasant surprise, life was not all a tragedy: there was enough good with Brian despite all the hardships of the special needs journey. Slowly, but surely, my perspective on motherhood and ultimately my life changed for the better- but it took work and time for the results to be apparent.
Another parenting regret I have has been comparing Brian to other children. I know we are not supposed to do that, for each of our kids has unique challenges and strengths. While this is certainly true, most parents will still take note of similarities and differences anyway. This was especially true in the early years when Brian was in early intervention. Comparison provided a frame of reference for me when so much was unknown about the extent of his disabilities, so in this way, it was actually helpful. However, as more issues came to light, comparing became extremely painful. I didn’t want to compare Brian’s progress ( or lack of it) to anyone else, but honestly it was hard to avoid when it was pointed out to you by well meaning professionals or in the sympathetic comments or glances from other parents. I felt very sad for a long time during these moments, trying to be positive, but the sting of disappointment and grief would get in the way.
As a result of my personal pain in those early years, especially immediately following the autism diagnosis, I went down a rabbit hole for a long while and isolated there. I didn’t have to feel in the rabbit hole, just survive, and that’s exactly what I did. I went through the motions and made sure to be physically present for all that Brian needed, including his doctor and therapy appointments, but emotionally/mentally, I was very far away. Keep in mind social media was just evolving around this time, but I was not a participant yet. There was a parent support group that I attended, but I felt like an outsider looking in and felt I didn’t have too much in common with the other participants. I wish I hadn’t isolated for so long, as I missed out on opportunities to engage with others and learn from their experiences and strength.
My independent spirit and stubbornness resulted in not asking for help for a very long time when I should have. I still struggle with this today, but I am now much more willing to vocalize my need for support. I believe the main reason for trying to do everything on my own was to avoid any discussion about the pain and sadness I was feeling on many days when I felt overwhelmed by Brian’s care. I realize now that there are blessings I could have had as a result of taking a risk in being vulnerable, but for a long time I just wasn’t ready..
I also regret not making more time for self care. I believed at one time that taking any time away from Brian would be detrimental to his well being. I didn’t want him to miss a moment of anything that would better his development. This unbalanced attitude eventually made me very depressed and of course nothing could have been further from the truth. The reality is when we take care of ourselves, we are better, happier parents. It can take a lot effort, planning, and creativity in order to make self care happen in a life where our kids need so much from us. It is often easier to dismiss our own needs or make excuses for them. But the consequences can be quite dire both for ourselves and our kids if we don’t make a deliberate effort to to do good things for ourselves. I now look at self care as an investment in myself that pays back dividends with compound interest. It’s the best thing I have done for myself since becoming a parent and it’s never to late to start!
Relaxation is an important part of self care that I also neglected for a long time. We are often so caught up in constantly advocating for our kids, planning their meals and their lives, that it’s really hard to decompress and detach from all of the special needs madness. The reality is: special needs parenting is a huge undertaking that is lifelong, so we better find ways of relaxing, lest we collapse! This may mean napping, reading for pleasure, or meeting with a friend and discussing something else besides disabilities. It takes time and practice to establish new and healthy habits but the effort is both worth it and necessary.
For every regret I have had, there are also truths that have evolved, slowly, over time..I am a worrier by nature, but looking at the track record of Brian’s victories in the most trying of circumstances reminds me of the good that can come out of adversity. I am stronger than I think I am. I will rise up again when I fall down. I can, even when I think I can’t. It’s not good to compare myself or Brian to other parents or children, but I can certainly learn a lot from both. I know when I need to be alone, but I also realize the importance of being in relationship with others and the blessings that brings. Today I am learning to ask for help when I need it and am getting much better at doing so. I now recognize allowing others to help gives them the opportunity to express their gifts and love. Finally, I promised myself that I will take better care of my own needs, relax more, and laugh lots, seeking such opportunities whenever possible. Life is too darn short to live with further regrets. I think Brian would agree! 😊
Until next time, thanks for reading! 😊