I had a teething, eight month old-baby who was awake at all hours of the night. It was a month past my daughter’s autism diagnosis. The medical bills were piling up. My husband had just lost his mother to cancer and was carrying that grief. As our day-to-day overwhelm slowly started overtaking me, I began to believe the lies I told myself about motherhood.
Most parents have faced the torture of fragmented sleep and endless screaming known as teething. You know what it feels like to rock a baby in pain all night.
Many of you have also faced the death of a parent and dealt with financial crises. You know the profound depth of grief and the weight of the worry over money.
But if you don’t have a child with special needs, you might not realize diagnosis comes with a variety of conflicting advice and all of it is high-stakes:
- Do ABA therapy; it’s the only thing that will save your child’s life.
- Don’t do ABA therapy; it’s a legalized form of child abuse.
- Get your child on a gluten and dairy free diet – it solves everything.
- Do Keto with your child – carbs are the problem for gut-brain health.
One of my actual Kinko’s trips
Diagnosis also comes with a stack of paperwork that makes any mortgage document look puny in comparison. The appointments, the new therapies, the IFSP and IEP meetings – everyone requires copies of everything. The extra paperwork is never ending.
During this time, I found myself in my doctor’s office with my own diagnosis: late-onset postpartum depression. I’m over two years past this battle. Time and self-reflection have helped me identify the lies I told myself.
Motherhood has endless demands and life constantly throws us new challenges. So regardless of whether or not you have a child with special needs, you will relate to the lies I told myself about motherhood.
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Lie #1: It will always be like this
During these dark months, I was truthful with the people I knew about my postpartum depression. We’re not going to change the stigma unless we’re honest.
My honesty didn’t stop a mother with typically-developing with school-aged children from flippantly telling me “parenting is always hard.”
True? – sort of. Helpful? – no. Minimizing? – absolutely. But this message become one of the lies I told myself about motherhood.
Friend, it won’t always be THIS hard. I promise you. Yes, your special needs child might always be dependent on you. I know that he might always need to live with you. But he will gain some life skills and you will gain some parenting skills. You will find some help and it won’t always be this hard.
You have a teething baby who doesn’t sleep. It won’t always be like this. I promise. When he is three, he won’t wake up most nights. It won’t always be this hard.
Girl, you just lost your father-in-law a few months ago? Yes, you will always carry the grief and loss but it won’t bring you to your knees the way it does today. It won’t always be this hard.
What you are going through is HARD. It really is. You are not crazy.
Truth #1: It won’t always be like this.
Lie #2: I have to do it right now
Post-autism diagnosis I felt such a crushing sense of fear for my daughter. I was constantly bombarded with the message that interventions must start immediately. This time-based lie is well-intentioned but still based on fear. I have to do it right now became one of the lies I told myself about motherhood.
Many of the early messages parents get around autism or other developmental disabilities are based on fear. While research and experts agree that early intervention is helpful, it is not the only critical factor for a child’s success and well-being.
This high-stakes message can harm families and children. I experienced it myself. I heard that I needed to get my child signed up for ABA, OT, Speech, a developmental pediatrician, a psychologist, and Developmental Disability services AS SOON AS POSSIBLE (i.e. right now – or ideally yesterday). Remember these all came with mountains of paperwork and bills.
Guess what happened? I burnt out and wasn’t able to get it all done. And my child is still thriving.
This fear around timing is prevalent in our society. And this fear isn’t exclusive to special needs children.
You’ve heard these messages:
- You better get him on the soccer field in preschool if you want him to have a shot at playing soccer in high school.
- Your child needs to be reading by the end of Kindergarten or your child is at risk of falling behind.
- You better get your kids into this correct elementary school in the correct neighborhood if you want them to be successful later in life.
(Spoiler: the work ethic children develop through chores and jobs is more instrumental to adult success according to research).
Addressing this lie about timing is really about addressing our fear as parents that we will fail our children.
But really, your child can skip soccer and extra-curricular activities as a preschooler. Your child can continue to learn to read in first grade. He can go to community college. Extremely successful adults have gone these routes.
The most important thing for children is that they come from a loving family. Besides loving our children and caring for their basic needs, nothing needs to happen right now to guarantee later success.
Truth #2: It can wait.
Lie #3: I can rest later
When we were dealing with my daughter’s diagnosis, my husband and I were still awake at night with a teething baby. I was also in the midst of figuring out what was causing my pain and fatigue with a rheumatologist.
In truth, I didn’t know I shouldn’t be feeling as physically awful as I was. I thought it was just aging until my husband Kyle told me it wasn’t painful for him to walk down the stairs. I thought I was dealing with postpartum tiredness until my rheumatologist (also a postpartum mom) told me she didn’t deal with chronic fatigue.
But because of Lie #2: I have to do it all now, I also told myself another lie. Thus, “I can rest later” became one of the lies I told myself about motherhood.
It didn’t matter if I was tired and fatigued. It didn’t matter that it hurts to get out of bed and walk down the hall or stairs. I had to do it all now, so I would rest later.
Society tells us to just push through.
- Play through the pain.
- Just do it.
- Be tough.
- Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.
- Remember, your grandparents lived through the Depression.
(In retrospect, I’m not sure why I thought I should listen to society and I’m a lot more comfortable ignoring those messages now.)
These themes dominate our culture. And while sometimes they can inspire, often they can harm.
You’ve probably listened to this lie about motherhood, too. Maybe you’re working and balancing motherhood and marriage and feel like you should clean the bathrooms instead of reading or connecting with your friends. I’m giving you permission to rest now.
Please listen to me because I learned the hard way: it’s important to be gentle with your physical and mental health.
Truth #3: I can rest right now.
Lie #4: No one else can do this
Kyle and I attempted to split up some of the phone calls with insurance companies and providers and the paperwork post-diagnosis. But I was the stay-at-home-parent so I felt like it was my responsibility.
Plus Kyle would agree to do something and then not follow through on my timeline (see Lie #2: I have to do it right now). So “No one else can do this” became one of the lies I told myself about motherhood
This is an issue we continue to work through in our marriage. Kyle agrees to do something and I have to let go of my timeline and need for control. I’m learning to allow him to get it done on his schedule in his way. (Because see Truth #2: It can wait).
He takes our daughter to speech now and he is the employer for our personal support worker through the county Developmental Disabilities services. It looks a lot different than if I were to do those jobs, and that’s okay. We’re all okay.
You might tell yourself this lie too. Maybe you believe you have to do it because your husband won’t do it correctly. Or you’re worried he will resent you if you ask him to take on more responsibilities. You might just believe all the lies society heaps on working women about doing it all.
So it’s not going to be perfect and you might not have a supportive partner to lean on. But what is something you can allow someone else to help with? Grocery shopping, doing homework with the children, cleaning the bathrooms?
- Get a free trial to Amazon Prime and stop doing all those Target runs for one month.
- Sign the children up for after school care that does the homework.
- Hire a housekeeper or trade babysitting with another mom so you can clean in peace.
You can get imperfect help for lots of things.
Truth #4: I will find and accept imperfect help.
Lie #5: Her future depends on this
This lie is intertwined with lie #2: I have to do it right now. There is a high-stakes message embedded in modern parenting, and so “Her future depends on this” became one of the lies I told myself about motherhood.
Sure, all parents are charged with the responsibility to give our children what they need to be successful but this doesn’t mean everything depends on us.
(Check out How to Raise Adults if you want to read more about this.)
Believing our children’s future depends on us undermines our children’s ability to develop grit, resilience, and competency.
Our job is to meet our children’s basic physical and emotional needs. We need to provide them with some educational opportunities (i.e. enroll them in school) and ensure some basic skills for their safety.
- Related: Teach Your Child how to Cross the Street Safely – free printable
- Related: 10 Water Safety Rules to Teach Your Children
But unless your child has profound special needs, often you just need to get out of your child’s way and give them more responsibility.
We’re two years past the autism diagnosis and almost at the end of kindergarten. I’m a certified teacher and school administrator and still my daughter’s teachers have gently nudged me to get out of my daughter’s way. They see ways in which she can become more independent. So I’m right there with you – the roadmap to giving independence isn’t crystal clear.
Our children’s future depends on them. We do our best to teach them but their lives are their journeys.
Truth #5: My children are resilient.
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Lies about Motherhood
Society does bombard us with lies about motherhood. So what’s the answer? There is no easy solution to make the changes our society really needs in order to adequately support families.
But you don’t have to listen to the lies while our society gets its act together. You don’t have to be a victim to hurtful messages from yourself or from others.
I’m a big fan of mantras so I made some printable coloring sheets with the five truths I now tell myself.
Remember: It can wait. I can rest right now. I will find and accept imperfect help. It won’t always be like this. My children are resilient.
Get the coloring sheets here: