I think we all know that feeling of momma guilt. You know the one – the little voice that says “you’re not hiding enough vegetables in their food” and “that they’re four so obviously they should be playing violin and speaking mandarin by now“. It was the one that when they were born told you that “if you’re baby is crying you are doing something horribly horribly wrong!” And I’m here to tell you that that little voice is b*ll*cks. Well not entirely, it evolved to make us good care givers – but you know what so often these days it can go a bit haywire and make you feel awful, incapable, scared, depressed. And no one likes feeling those things. Or should miss out on the joys of raising small ones because they’re feeling those things.
And don’t get me started on if you’re a disabled parent. You’ve spent a big chunk of your life (depending on when you joined the ranks of the crips) being told you ‘couldn’t’ and ‘shouldn’t’ and ‘won’t’ ever. And yet when you have a baby suddenly you are deemed by all the professionals an expert in parenting and left to get on with it … Deep Breaths.
But it’s true. Not only are you dealing with all the feels of a new parent, you are dealing with all the feels of disabled parent guilt – “I can’t run around with them”, “I’ve fed them chicken nuggets and chips for the third time this week”, “it’s been four days since anyone had a bath” …. Oh wait, able bodied parents have those issues too. But when you’re on your fifth day of a flare, and you’ve got no spoons left (if you don’t know what spoons are click here) you can really begin to feel like you’re failing as a parent. And it’s hard. I see you. I’ve been there. I still am there on a regular basis. I know.
I am going to preface this story with the fact that I had severe undiagnosed post natal depression spanning the first three and a half years of parenthood, so I would urge you to see a medical professional if any of my story feels familiar.
When I first had, now, 6er I was 22. I had just finished university, been married about 7 months, and moved to a new town to be nearer my husband’s business. I didn’t know who I was, let alone who I wanted to be as a parent, and having a baby was nothing like Eva Longoria’s experience in Desperate Housewives. I had a baby who refused to sleep in his cot, who woke every hour to feed and whose undiagnosed tongue tie left my nipples red raw. The two legged part of “three legged parenting” responded to our new baby by throwing himself into his business to earn money, so I was basically alone. It was tough. To say I wasn’t coping would be an understatement.
Everything. Absolutely Everything I was reading said that my child needed me. That I needed to be with him 24/7 to create a strong attachment. That crying meant he had an unfulfilled need, and so if he was constantly crying I was doing something wrong. It didn’t matter that that’s not what the stuff I was reading actually said – that was my takeaway. I was at breaking point. My own parents and parents in law were both too far away or busy with their own work to help, and I needed more than anything to sleep. If I could just have one morning a week where I knew I could have a couple of extra hours I would be golden or at least maybe I wouldn’t hate motherhood anymore.
I grew up in quite a poor household so the thought of spending money on something I didn’t ‘need’ was difficult for me. I wasn’t working so I didn’t ‘need’ childcare. Or at least that was what my sleep deprived brain was telling me. Luckily, we live less than a mile from the loveliest, friendliest, most musical nursery in the universe, full of staff who love my kids as much as I do, and with owners who prioritise the children over profits. Enter Do Re Mi Nursery (if you live in Durham, UK and are looking for childcare I can highly recommend them). But for all the relief I got for being able to sleep another three to six hours a week, it couldn’t shake the feeling that I had somehow failed as a mother. Everyone else could be around their baby 24/7 and not go quietly mad. Couldn’t they?
It turns out most don’t. The first baby is especially a shock to the system, and everything you see online, all the blog posts, the tv shows, even your parenting friend you have coffee with are all lies. Not intentionally, but to admit how grim it really can get sometimes, can make it impossible to continue going on. The only reason I can be this brutally honest now is because I am through that stage now, and I have new issues to deal with.
I am lucky enough that a lot of the solutions I came up with to deal with guilt back then, help me when it rears its ugly head once again. And I am going to share with you now, just a few of the things I do when dealing with parenting guilt to pull me out the other side.
Identify Your Guilt
Is the thing you are beating yourself up about in fact a thought distortion? Is it all or nothing/over generalisation? Is it mental filter? Are you fortune telling? Are you mind reading? Are you catastrophising? Are you using should too much? Are you personalising?
Positive psychology talks through some of these thought distortions a little more detail and even has a handy worksheet if you really want to get down and deep with yourself, and have the time to spare. If you are feeling down most days, have feelings of low self esteem, or find yourself crying a lot then please PLEASE PLEASE talk to a health care provider.
In identifying the feeling you have (eg. guilt) and the thought attached to it, for instance, I feel guilty because everyone is a better mum than me (over generalising) allows you to see the route to disproving it. In this example a truly open conversation with a parenting friend, or your own parents would show you they have many of the same problems, worries and feelings of inadequacy. And if you don’t have anyone you can trust watch season 1 of Desperate Housewives, in particular ‘Guilty’ Episode 8 and reach out to a health professional. You are not alone with these feelings, I promise.
Practise Daily Forgiveness
“Loving people are compassionate towards others. However, if that compassion doesn’t start at home and doesn’t include self-forgiveness, it is incomplete and lopsided.”Annette Villaincourt
Forgiveness is a thing that has to be practiced and learned, and even more so to learn to forgive yourself. To begin the process acknowledge the thought (the guilt) out loud, or if that feels too much or you can’t find a calm moment alone, try writing it out – by hand with a pen and paper. It’s important if you choose to write it you do it with physical pen and paper in order to connect you to the process.
Reflect on what you wish you had done differently and explore whether it is possible with where you are right now. And if not put a pin in it for now.
Apologise if you need to, the might be to yourself, or your littles, or your partner.
Adopt a Mantra, if you are really struggling to believe you are worthy of forgiveness and being guilt free. Look into the the mirror and tell yourself – I am enough. I am trying.
Identify your strengths
So you’re not going to be the one taking your kids to play football at the park? What are your skills? What are the things you want to share with them? Maybe you’re a great photographer? Or you are the best at completing your physio? Or perhaps you know loads about all the suitable materials for straws? All of those things are important to a learning child, and more so because your child recognise they’re part of your world. Visit my post on teaching Japanese with Pokemon when you don’t know the language if you’re stuck for inspiration.
Reflect on the things your kids are learning
When you’re a parent, and particularly a disabled parent, it can be easy to dwell on those things you feel you somehow ‘lack’. When 6er had his two year check and was a little bit ‘behind’ it was easy to blame my inability to demonstrate ‘two footed jumping’ (hello personalisation) and that my disability was going to have long term effects on my kids and how could I be so selfish as to have children … etc. etc. etc. You know, rather than the fact that children hit certain milestones at different points which was actually what was happening there.
But you know what my kids are learning from me? They’re learning how to pace themselves and why it is important. They’re learning that creativity is an important part of daily life. They’re learning that people are different and that disabled people are fully human beings, who are NOT lacking rich inner lives.
And for me those things are far more important than being able to jump with two feet.
It’s a long journey, this parenting lark. And trying to pretend you can do it alone, disabled or not, is leading you down the path to mummy or daddy burnout. I’ve already touched on the types of support all parents could access – friends, family, home food delivery, paid childcare etc. but as a disabled parent there is also a need to recognise a few things within yourself.
Have you been avoiding using that mobility scooter because physios and occupational therapists and doctors and all sorts of other people involved in your care told you it was giving up? Yup, I thought so. Sometimes using mobility aids isn’t giving up, its opening the world up. When I finally allowed myself to use the mobility scooter to take 6er to school, not only could I feel better about my impact on the environment (goodbye short car rides twice a day) and not worry about exercise for my kids (hello 1 mile of walking every day). But the best part was an unexpected positive. I was also able to have quality time on each journey to talk with 6er and hear about his world, as well as have time on my own after drop off and before pick up to move from mummy to writer and back again. And I must say, in this current Covid-19 world, it is the part of my day that I am really missing.
You are the expert in you, of course, and I am not trying to tell you something you already know about yourself. But sometimes it just needs to be said by someone else out loud.
YOU ARE ALLOWED TO REST!
The washing up, or the tidying, or even cooking a meal from scratch can wait. If you need to rest that’s okay. It has taken me five years and two children to move into a place where I naturally prioritise rest. Yes, that means some nights I am asleep by 8:30pm but what am I actually missing out on? Not much, and there will be other things, and other days to sort washing, catch up on Grey’s Anatomy or have a romantic evening with my other half. Plus a well rested parent can more easily manage all the other things that life throws at them AAAAND has more patience and better health outcomes. Quick, turn off the internet and go to sleep.
I hope that this post has either given you some new insights, or reminded you of things you may have forgotten, and I hope as you implement some of these ideas you find yourself feeling a tiny little bit less guilty. I do respond to all emails and comments, so if you are a disabled parent finding it all a bit much, do get in touch and I can talk with you and find some potential solutions to the issues you may be facing. It would also be great to have you sign up to my newsletter so we can start to build a great community and support each other! Follow me on Pinterest so we can share tips and ideas together too.