This post is by Kathleen Lanese.
My favorite word is Mama.
I always wanted to be a mom, and my husband and I were blessed with two beautiful boys. When you first hold that perfect baby in your arms, you have expectations, hopes and dreams for his future. When your child is diagnosed with autism you have to adjust your expectations, change your dreams, and refocus your hopes for your child. But you have to also do that for yourself, and for the parent you thought you’d be. When BOTH of our children were diagnosed - well, let’s just say there’s a lot of adjusting going on in our house. Being Brendan and Kevin’s mom is the best thing that ever happened to me. Autism couldn’t diminish the love or pride I feel for my boys, but it changed what I thought I knew about being a parent.
It is frustrating, heartbreaking, and painful to see your child struggle with the challenges of autism, as our children do, each and every day. As parents we want to help and protect them, and save them from difficulties that nobody should have to endure. When we can’t “make it better” despite exhausting ourselves physically, mentally, and financially – it’s easy to feel like we failed, and let our kids down. I feel it, every day. Most of my autism mom friends do too – despite being the most strong, dedicated, amazing women I’ve ever known. These moms will fight to their last breath to change the world for their children, and help them be successful – one small step at a time. These women are grateful for every milestone and accomplishment (despite, and because of, how long it took to achieve), and treasure every hug, moment of eye contact, affectionate head-butt, and “mama”, if we’re lucky enough to get it. Autism moms make sure our children know that we will always love them just as they are, even as we’re fighting to make them the best they can be; that we are proud of them, always. We adjust our definition (and their definition) of “success”, as we should. But too often we don’t adjust the way we define our own success as mothers. Even if we DO recognize and admire another mom’s parenting skills, we often don’t give ourselves the same credit.
This autism mom thing is hard, but you all do it (and do it well) for your children. It takes strength and courage to face every day ready to go to battle for (and sometimes with) your child. You can take a hit better than a Golden Gloves champ, find that elusive Elmo videotape (yes, I said videotape), and endure 53 replays of the Rugrats theme song – all before breakfast! There isn’t a medal for that, but there should be.
If the saying “the road to motherhood is paved with guilt” is true, then the road of an autism mom is a six lane highway with no exit ramps. It’s Mother’s day, ladies. Find a way to get off the autism guilt super-highway, at least for the day. The Mother’s Day shown on TV commercials (peaceful brunches with fine china, gourmet food, beautiful clothing and classical music) probably won’t resemble Mother’s Day at your house (unbreakable dishes, chicken nuggets, t-shirts and sweat pants (NO TAGS), and an endless loop of Thomas the Tank Engine and SpongeBob). That’s ok, you’re not alone.
This Mother’s Day, I’ll be thinking about how grateful I am for my amazing sons, and the joy and meaning they have brought to my life. I will try to remember that I’m doing the best I can – and I’ll be thinking about all of you other moms who are, too. Our kids might not be able to say “thank you” or “I love you”, but they show us - if you know what to look for. If you get a fabulous Mother’s Day gift, or a fancy meal, good for you – you deserve it! Me? I’m going to be really happy just hearing the word “Mama”. And I’m praying that each and every one of you gets to hear it too, some day.