What if I told you that Mother’s Day isn’t always such a treat for me? Of course, I love my children and I am blessed in unfathomable ways, but there is also a deep-rooted part of me that wants to curl up in a ball and sleep the day away. In fact, that’s what I did for most of today. While I try to say it’s not shameful to suffer from depression, I still feel shame on such a deep level that I feel tired, sad, and weepy a lot of the time. Mother’s Day is really not an exception. I also feel a lot of guilt. I feel guilty about not being as attentive as I want to be and not feeling the joy when my youngest son sweetly surprised me with a bath bomb he made in his preschool class or that my autistic older son gave me a pretty pink carnation.
My friends, I am exhausted. And I know the depression has seeped in when I recognize just how little pleasure I take in the everyday pleasures of life. I know I have a paper to write, papers to grade, and a lesson plan to write, but I’ve put it off over and over. The thought of doing anything that requires work makes me feel like wrapping the blanket tighter around myself and sleeping some more. Also, I dream of a Mother’s Day filled with peace and relaxation, but have yet to embrace the fact that screaming meltdowns do not go away just because the calendar says it’s Mother’s Day. And today, of all days, I want to tell each one of you autism parents out there that it’s just as okay to feel sad that your child screams, throws things, and self-harms as it is for your child to have autism. If not only to relieve my guilt, I want you to know that you need not feel remorse for your feelings.
5 Reasons to Not Feel Guilty About Being Sad
- What good does it do to feel guilty that you’re sad? Trust me, enough people will beat you while you’re already down. Don’t do it to yourself. You need to use that energy to fight for your child and for your own sanity.
- Criticizing yourself for not feeling overjoyed does you no good. You will receive criticism from every person out there who has not idea what you’re going through that you don’t need to criticize yourself. Even people who are also raising an autistic child will criticize you because they’ve magically accepted everything and, of course, never ever have days where they wish things were different. They’re lying, by the way.
- Sometimes it’s okay to just take a break. I compare myself to so many other people out there who always seem to be doing something. They clean their houses, they cook elaborate meals, and they have time to look good while doing it. The reality is that most of those people either don’t have children in their homes, are raising children who don’t have intense social/emotional needs, or are lying to the world about their lives. Pay attention to Facebook only enough to realize that these people don’t post on their bad days. Look for the gaps in the days they post instead of the wondrous lives they live. Imagine what they must be hiding. That’s way more fun than feeling bad about not having an immaculate home.
- Stop comparing your child to other children. So what if your child still needs you to change a diaper or wipe for them or clean their entire bodies after a meal where they cannot use utensils? That doesn’t mean you’re lazy and haven’t done a good enough job teaching them self-care. It means you’re working your ass off for your child. All those other parents who have clean children who potty-trained at the age of 2 or 3 cannot even imagine how much work you’ve put into getting your child to eat near the table. It’s okay to celebrate that one time your child ate a tiny piece of broccoli, even if they spit it out later.
- It’s okay to admit you’re tired. You dozed off while trying to read a book or while watching the same episode of Dinosaur Train for the millionth time. You have the alertness of a cat now that you’ve been raising your child for the past few years. That’s probably why you don’t sleep well at night (aside from the fact that your child wakes up at odd hours). Stop admonishing yourself for dozing off and take pride in the fact that you woke up when you heard your child being too quiet.
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The point is, as parents of children who raise children with needs beyond that of “typical” children, sometimes we get depressed. Sometimes we feel sad when our children don’t behave the way other children do. But we’re 100% devoted to our children and work harder than anyone else to provide for them. We’re in debt up to our ears, we’re overbooked, and we’re exhausted, but we still love our children. So, my fellow depressed parents, it’s okay to get down sometimes. Just make sure you take the time to smell the dandelions that your child brought in from outside and pretend they’re daisies. Relish in the rare moments of peace and quiet that come when your overactive child finally falls asleep. Lean into your children when they hug you and hold on for dear life. Love them and love yourself.
Stop feeling guilty. Do it for your children. Do it for your spouse. Or do it for me if you really want to, because I know I have a hard time doing it for myself. I’m okay. You’re okay. And one day we’ll look back on all of this and either sob from relief or laugh hysterically. I’m not sure which one yet, but I’ll be sure to let you know when I get there. Just recognize what I did long ago. Mother’s Day is just another day. Your child loves you every day just for being you. Take the time today and reflect on why you should also love yourself. And then, once you’re finished figuring out how to love yourself and stop feeling guilty, you can tell me why you’re so lucky your children came into your life. Because the blessings are there. You just need to get past your own feelings of self-doubt and guilt to find them.