Autism Comes with an Extra Portion of Mommy Guilt. MMMMMM…

by J

So, once upon a time, a long long time ago, had you asked the 10 year old me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say: a stay-at-home mom and a photographer. Well, 5 years ago, after having studied the trade for over  a decade, I opened my own photography business. I worked another full time job while I built my business and I did it, because while I knew we would never be in the financial position for me to be a stay-at-home mom, photography would allow me to be a work-mostly-at-home-mom. About 2 years into building my business, I finally became pregnant with S and I was more determined than ever to put my plan into action. For the first two years of S’s life, I worked two full time jobs. Go ahead, you can re-read that sentence. Yes, I worked two full time jobs while raising a baby. I averaged 2-4 hours a sleep a night, but it was all worth it… because I knew I was working for a better life for my child and my family.

Now, I am sure that many of you are working parents. And, as such, I am sure that many of you understand the concessions that you make with parenting when you are a working parent. Someone else is caring for your child for 45 hours a week and well, sometimes you just have to allow things to be done the way they do them. There is some mommy guilt for ya! Not only does working keep you from spending the time you would like to with your child, but you also have to compromise on your parenting choices for your child. As time progressed, and S’s issues came more into light, I felt it was even more critical for me to be home with him. While his daycare was fantastic- they were just that- daycare. They were not a special needs education facility and they simply did not have the time (nor was it their responsibility) to provide S with one-on-one communication therapy throughout the day. Every day when I dropped S off at daycare, I felt the guilt. Guilty that I was not providing him with the consistent level of therapy and interaction that he needs to help rewire his brain to function a bit more normally. As S’s delays became more and more apparent our determination as parents for me to stay home with him became stronger. This, I thought, will be just what S needs… someone who can be there for him all day, one-on-one, helping him progress.

So, last month, I quit my day job. I am now a full-fledged, self employed, full-time photographer. Now, that’s scary! It has now just been two weeks that I am home with S during the day and I feel like he is back sliding. Honestly, I’m not sure if I just didn’t notice just how much autism has affected our son, or if maybe he is regressing due to the lack of structure here at home. Either way, I’m only a a few weeks in and I already feel like I’m failing him.

So, let’s recap… When I’m a mom that works outside of the home? Mommy guilt! When I’m a mom that works mostly from home and gets to spend almost all day and night with her kid? Mommy guilt! Yay! How awesome is that?

You see, before S’s diagnosis, I would feel a small tinge of guilt if I turned on the TV instead of playing a game or allowed him to play alone instead of joining him. I felt that I was cheating us out of quality mommy/son time. There you have your standard, run of the mill, mommy guilt. Now, toss autism in the mix and you get a whole extra helping of guilt. Because now, now I’m not just worried about missing out on some fun Momma J and S time, I’m worried that my lack of interaction with him will allow him to slip further away or somehow increase his autism. And you know what? As much as I love being around my son, I can’t be ‘on’ all of the time. It is so tiring to turn every encounter into an opportunity to increase communication. Sometimes, I just want to play puzzles or play doh with my kid without trying to use it as a tool. And you know what? sometimes I just want to plop him in front of the TV so that I can mess around on Facebook for a few minutes or read an article or clean my kitchen.

All of this makes me feel like a shitty parent. And, while intellectually, I know that this is not true… it is how I feel. I feel this way because autism is the master at making you question your ability as a parent.

So, tonight I am going to write out a set schedule/routine for each day. S’s early intervention team is making us a picture calendar to show S what is going to happen throughout the day and to help keep me focused on maintaining a schedule. This stay-mostly-at-home- mommy thing is a lot harder than I thought and I feel guilty that I over-estimated my abilities.