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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Letting Go of Guilt

Guilt goes hand in hand with parenting.  This guilt can be magnified when you are raising a special-needs child. On any given day, I've felt guilty about so many things, from wondering whether I'm doing "enough" to help my son, to worrying that I'm shortchanging his brother, to feeling guilty about time spent reading a novel rather than working on remediation with my son.  I've found that guilt can be all-consuming if I allow it.

As parents of special-needs children, we live with challenges that other parents cannot even imagine. If we are to meet these challenges, we must be the best that we can be.  This means letting go of those things that hold us back, and guilt definitely holds us back.

At any given moment, I truly believe that we are all doing the best we can.  True, very few, if any, would choose to have a special-needs child if given the choice at the outset.  And yes, these feelings of frustration, of wishing things were different, can show us sides of ourselves that we want to deny. How could any of us admit to wanting something different?  We love our children so very much, but there are days when we want to just give it all away and not have to deal with it anymore.

My son's autism has brought many of my own frailties to light.  I have never been a particularly outgoing person.  I've been rather shy since childhood.  By fifth grade, I'd perfected the art of being invisible - I did what was expected of me and stayed out of the spotlight.  Even into adulthood, I have never been one to mingle easily in a group of people I don't know at social gatherings.  I generally prefer the company of a familiar companion or a good book.

Not only did I feel guilty about my "flawed" genetics that possibly led to my son's autism diagnosis (after all, if I was less than social then it can't be that much of a stretch to have a child with autism), but I also felt guilty about my inability to "blend" in with other parents whose children behaved normally and said cute things.  I felt guilty about my reluctance to advocate for my child, my natural lack of assertiveness that I had to get past when his IEP team wanted to place him in a class that I knew was wrong for him.

My son's diagnosis has pushed me out of my comfort zone in so many ways, and eventually I realized that I can wallow in guilt and self-blame, or I can grow and learn, and forgive myself, and him, and others who may or may not understand, and I can move forward with pride and strength.  I am learning to be more assertive, not only on behalf of my son, but also about my own needs and preferences, which really tended to go by the wayside during my "invisible" phase.  I'm still no social butterfly, but many times I've been pleasantly surprised when I tell a new acquaintance that my son is on the spectrum, and they smile and tell me of a close friend or family member who is also living with autism.  How ironic that it took a child with severe social deficits to prompt me into working on my own fears, and discovering that there are rewards for putting yourself out there as well.

I'm far from perfect, but I have been working on consciously letting go of the guilt.  It still pops up often.  I may be reading through one of the many online autism support groups, and come across a post from a parent who is taking a different approach to remediation than I am, and I find myself second-guessing my own choices.  I used to compare myself to these parents and come up feeling guilty, but now I try to remember that we are all doing the best we can in any given moment.  I love my son with all my heart, and I would go to the ends of the earth to help him.  I know this, yet I also know that I am one person who is limited in what I can do on any given day.  I also remind myself that the "super-moms" I come across in online groups probably have a plethora of things they feel guilty about as well, and that we are all in the same boat, taking things one step at a time, and hoping for the best.

When we let go of the guilt, we are able to be fully present for our children, and this is perhaps the best gift we can give them.  I know that my son takes his cues from me, even if it looks different than how a typical child would respond.  When I am overwhelmed with guilt and worry, he draws back, but when I am calm and emotionally present he is there with me, ready to connect in his way.  It is at times like these that his therapy seems to go more smoothly.  It is at times like these when I can let go and know that everything is exactly as it is supposed to be, whether or not I understand why.  As his mother, I am his guide in a world that can be overwhelming and confusing to him, but he has been my guide as well. He has forced me to look at some of my own shadows, and to realize that they are not as scary as I'd thought they'd be.


  1. This post is mirroring my mind

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I can totally relate. I too am someone who prefers working in the background, unnoticed. My son's behaviors have put me in the spotlight, a place that I am not at all comfortable with.
    There are so many times when I am overwhelmed with guilt. I am reminding myself to let it go. I think my new mantra will be...I'm doing the best that I can and that is good enough for right now.