Parenting Guilt


October 4, 2013 by Marj Hatzell

I know most parents experience guilt. It’s just part of parenting. Are we doing enough? Are we sending them to the right school? Are we living in a place that we want to raise them? Are we too strict? Are we too lax? Did we teach them to be polite enough?

There’s something about raising a child with a disability that raises it to a whole new level. That guilt is compounded by the
“typical” parenting issues, times infinity. We are also wondering if we’ve done enough therapy, or too much, or if we missed the boat or if our child(ren) is going to progress, if we’ve worked hard enough to promote independence, if we’re too much therapist and not enough Mommy and Daddy, or too much Mommy and Daddy and not enough therapist…you get the picture. The worry about the future is totally different. We go from, “If I don’t teach him to behave in a restaurant he’ll become an axe murderer” to “If I don’t teach him the restaurant routine, he’ll never become independent enough to go to a restaurant when he’s an adult.” We’re always being told by doctors, teachers, therapists, other parents, specialists and the like that we have to strive for independence. We have to push them to do things themselves. We have to start early so they learn it well and establish good habits.

Naturally, this goes against EVERYTHING I believed as an Attachment Parent. Yep, I was one of those hippies. Still am. I believed in extended breastfeeding, co-sleeping, staying home as long as possible, wearing my baby, making their baby food, you name it. I was totally into it. I think I was good at it, too. And it went against everything I learned as I studied to become a teacher. In special education it’s all about the behavior, the behavior modification, the therapies. ABA ALL THE WAY. It was difficult to write a thesis to graduated debunking everything I learned and going all Floor time and natural environment.

Then I had my kids. I did the baby wearing. I did the cosleeping. I argued with well-meaning relatives that my kids weren’t going to sleep with me when they were twelve because Attachment PROMOTES independence when they are older. Except, ummmmm, they are sorta kinda still sleeping with us (me) sometimes because Ummmmmm…they sorta kinda still need to sometimes. Just a recent example? Bugaboo broke his arm in January. It took us six months to get him back into his own bed again. Just in time for relatives to visit, which threw off his routine. We got him back into his bed, sleeping the whole night again LAST WEEK. Yes, I’m aware it’s October. And Bug Boy? Well, anxiety over the summer about attending sleep away camp resulted in him dragging blankets onto the floor next to my bed and sleeping there for a month. I finally got him back into his room and anxiety over starting school resulted in him back next to my bed again. Last week we took apart his bunk bed, put his mattress on the floor and he finally slept in his own room again.

Then The Guy I Live With went to Belgium for work. You’ll never guess which two boys ended up sleeping with me every night. GO ON. GUESS.

Basically it comes down to this. My hippie attachment parenting eventually had to make room for therapies I never believed I would do with my kid. I equated ABA with dog training (because I hate to say it, it’s basically the same concept.) I hated it with every ounce of being in my soul. The problem? One of my kids responded to it. He made progress with it. He craved the routine and the structure and the whole A-B-C thing. He was a smartie. He realized what the deal was early on. And he thrived on it.

I still hated it. I felt guilty because I was DOING it. Even though I was still doing AP/Floortime as much as I could myself at home.

Then I felt guilty because maybe I did some stuff before he was ready and that’s why he didn’t get it.

Then I felt guilty because I insisted he was having seizures and it took two doctors and multiple EEGs to prove I was right and we lost months of precious time and basically had to start ALL OVER AGAIN when he was four. It sucked.

Then I felt guilty because I wasn’t giving his brother enough of my undivided time.

Then I felt guilty sending off to all-day school when he was three because I was a stay-at-home-parent for a reason. But then I felt guilty for feeling guilty because he NEEDED something I couldn’t give him.

(Why yes, I was raised Catholic, how did you know? Oh, is my guilt showing?)

So on, and so forth, and more guilt, and even more guilt…until two years ago when I said to myself, “ENOUGH. You’re doing the best you can with what you have and then some!”

I stopped second guessing myself. I started believing in my parenting. I started educating myself more. I worked even harder.

A few weeks ago a friend of mine complimented me and said, “You and Bugaboo are very well bonded. You’re attached. Most of the adults I work with (she works with autistic adults in a day program) aren’t attached at all to their parents. You’ve done such a great job with that.”

I was blown away. Because here I was feeling guilty that I still wasn’t doing enough. It’s self-defeating, yo. We are beating ourselves up far too much. We really are doing a pretty decent job. Yes, it’s fine to keep trying to improve and do more and better. But why is it so hard to give ourselves credit for doing a good job?

We are doing a good job. Now pat yourself on the back, darn it. NOW. I SAID SO. There, doesn’t that feel good?

It’s a work in progress, though. Just this morning, I felt guilty because Bugaboo and Bug Boy are doing so well. Because they are sleeping a decent amount. Because they are making so much progress. Because they are having their needs met. Then I realized how ridiculous that was. I feel guilty because other friends and families are struggling with something I struggled with for twelve years? That’s silly. Stop that, self. You’re self-defeating yourself again. Self. And stuff.

I mean, I think I’ve pretty much earned it. This good feeling. This easier time. This sleep. Yeah. I was totally due. And so were my kids.

13 thoughts on “Parenting Guilt

  1. Dawn says:

    i hear you. My boy’s aide gives me compliments all the time about Benji and how i parent him. And i still feel like a noob who has no idea what she’s doing.

  2. Cheryl says:

    Thanks–I needed that. The guilt is strong in this one. (I’ll match your Catholic guilt with my Jew guilt…)

  3. Yep. The way I see it, parenting leaves a trail of pebbles of guilt and shame in its wake. Parenting neurodivergent children leaves a trail of boulders.

    Aaannnddddd….even though I know what kind of mother I want to be, often I’m not. I’m mostly over the guilt though. Maybe I’ve used up my life-time supply, Catholic upbringing not-withstanding.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I am so glad I read this today!I really needed it! Feels so good I am not alone in my journey with my son or the guilt I feel to always be doing the right thing for him

  5. joeinvegas says:

    Um, are you still breast feeding them? (thoughts of that woman in Game of Thrones crossed my mind)

  6. Sarah Almond says:

    You certainly deserve an easier time of things! I have come to the conclusion that no matter what you do, SOMEBODY is going to tell you you’re doing it wrong. As long as it seems to right to you, then that’s all that matters.

    But enough about parenting guilt, ooooo oooo your blog looks so purty! πŸ˜‰

  7. Dani G says:

    Such a great post. I just shared it to the Birdhouse For Autism page πŸ˜‰

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