It’s tough to admit, but mom guilt is an unfair reality of parenting. I’m certain that I inflict much of it upon myself along with self-doubt and countless “I’m sorry” replies for situations I shouldn’t be apologizing for.
Spending the better part of my adulthood trying to be everything for everyone is a tough cross to bear. I typically never turn down a strongly encouraged suggestion to lead a special project at work or opportunity to volunteer for an autism fundraising event, even when the multiple plates I am already spinning are about to come crashing down. A simple “I currently don’t have time but thank you for asking” feels rude. The word NO is simply not a part of my vocabulary.
Motherhood is a challenging, permanent job that requires us to run in multiple directions simultaneously. Add to that working full-time outside the home and a child with profound special needs, and even I am unsure how I handle it all.
Sure, outward appearances may illustrate that I have life completely under control, un-phased by daily hiccups in our routine or new autism induced challenges. But do not be misled. I’m flailing and about to wave the white flag.
Buying into the concept that ‘you can have it all,’ the career, the family and the well-organized household, doesn’t come without great sacrifice and constant fear of being inadequate. In moments where I must choose between career or family, I hate myself regardless of my well-intentioned decision.
Last week was hard but typical. Skyler woke up at 4:30am on a morning that I absolutely needed him to stick to the schedule. I was flying solo for a few days while my husband was out of town and had significant work obligations which required that I shower, devote some energy to my hair and makeup and ditch my traditional virtual work outfit of yoga pants for some acceptable business attire.
As expected, when I opened Skyler’s bedroom door, I found that his internal dam had burst causing his pull-up, jammies and bed to be soaked through. I quickly stripped his sheets, quietly cleaned him up and encouraged him to go back to sleep for a few hours. I do believe I heard him giggle at those words the minute I whispered them.
Minutes after returning to my room, I heard the familiar sound of Skyler slamming his open hand against his bedroom wall. He was letting me know, in no uncertain terms, that he had no plans of sleeping or even resting quietly. Recognizing that I had limited options, I laid there debating how to efficiently spend the next three hours before we had to leave for ABA.
The sound of Skyler’s banging continued to rattle the house and permeate my shower walls like a timer pressuring me to hurry up. I got dressed and with wet hair proceeded to prepare his breakfast. Although irritated by the noise, I remained calm as I escorted him toward the kitchen table. He refused to sit or take a single bite. I knew I was taking a gamble by not feeding him at 4:30am. One of Skyler’s frustrating quirks dictates that he be fed within moments of waking up or he loses interest.
Having no choice or time to appease and entertain him further, I placed him back into his room so I could finish getting ready for the day.
The incessant pounding resumed.
Experiencing déjà vu, I was in tears as I stood there curling my hair. For 18 years this has been my reality – always feeling like I’m letting Skyler down if I occasionally must choose to put my needs before his.
I guess it’s the perfectionist in me, but I exhaust myself attempting to succeed at work and crush my parenting roles of chef, chauffeur, laundromat operator, calendar keeper and therapist (physical and mental) – completely on autopilot due to my limited hours of sleep.
I find it incredible that no matter the stress level, moms just somehow manage to get it all done… with very few mistakes, I might add!
When my kids were young, I was given some sage advice that I was just recently reminded of. Cherish the messes, crazy schedules and chaos brought on by your kids because it won’t last long. You’ll miss those moments when they grow up and leave the nest.
At this stage in my autism parenting journey, that is one of the hardest realities to accept – Skyler is now an adult and will never be moving out to live independently. The messes and chaos seem never ending.
The scenarios of Skyler in his late 20s and 30s still waking up well before the sunrise along with his need for continued assistance with feeding, bathing and dressing are tough concepts to grasp.
During the incredibly hectic moments like last week, I’ve often pondered out loud to my husband whether I should just quit working and focus solely on Skyler’s needs. Our retirement years will most likely mimic our daily life now, so why wait? However, the minute I pose the question, I quickly know that it is NOT what would make me happy nor what I want.
I cannot imagine a life where my only identity is Skyler’s caregiver and guardian.
So, are women truly able to ‘have it all?’ I guess it depends on your definition of ALL.
Through the uncertainty, guilt and difficulties navigating through being a confident career woman and special needs mom, I recognize that what I have is enough. I oversee my happiness and I get to decide what fulfills me. The roles of employee and caregiver will co-exist until I am truly ready for a change.