5 Ways to Let Go of 'Parent Guilt' When You Have Kids With Disabilities
All parents feel guilt at some point in their journey. After all, we constantly make mistakes as we try to navigate raising little human beings.
Parent guilt can often be more pronounced when you have kids with disabilities or additional needs. We can have more questions and more doubts. We may wonder if we are cut out for the job. We may feel like we are not good enough to do it.
An integral part of the process of parenting a child with disabilities is acceptance. Letting go of guilt is a crucial step.
Here are five common ways a parent of kids with disabilities may feel guilt and how to let go:
1. We are not doing enough.
Parents of kids with disabilities often feel like they are constantly battling: for services, for acceptance, for support, for understanding. The list goes on.
Even though we have a lot of fight in us, we feel exhausted. We constantly question whether or not we are doing enough.
It is tough to not compare your child to others and wonder if we only took them to more therapy or chose a different school, then maybe the progress would be better.
We feel inadequately prepared to give the time and attention and energy necessary to our children. We feel guilty for feeling overwhelmed.
SOLUTION: Accept that we are humans and doing our best. Yes, easier said than done. However, at some point, we need to believe that our love and fierce advocacy for our child is enough.
A wise person once told me the fact that I’m feeling guilty or questioning whether I’m doing enough is proof that I am. Someone who was not doing enough would not worry or care.
The key is to not allow yourself to get stuck there. If you wallow in feeling guilty for not doing enough, it will prevent you from continuing to do the best job you possibly can for your child.
2. We somehow caused the diagnosis.
After an official diagnosis and hearing that something is “wrong” with your child, it is common to feel like it is your fault. After all, you created and gave birth to your child.
This guilt can often become consuming. A mother can feel shame and blame herself for causing a disability.
SOLUTION: Ask yourself whether you intentionally did anything while pregnant to harm your baby. Most parents will answer, “Absolutely not!”
A mother’s instincts are to want what is best for her child. There was nothing we physically did to cause our child’s diagnosis.
Many of us also question whether we may have caused some of the behaviors that may accompany a diagnosis. Did we spoil our child too much? Did we not play with him enough? Engage her enough?
SOLUTION: Behavioral challenges are probably the most difficult to manage. We somehow feel guilty and ashamed because we worry the behavior reflects on our parenting.
We want to “fix” things so we naturally wonder what went wrong in the first place. We often end up blaming ourselves. We ask “what if we did x, y, or z? Then would things be different?”
The short answer is no. A diagnosis is not caused by what a parent may or may not have done. The more we research and learn about our child’s needs, the more we come to know that there is no room for blame.
A diagnosis is not anyone’s fault. Our energy would be better spent figuring out ways to support our child to help them succeed.
3. Not giving siblings equal attention.
Families often center around the needs of the child with a disability. It is not always a conscious decision but naturally tends to happen since there are therapy appointments, behavior management or medications and other physical needs to be met.
As parents, we often feel extreme guilt that we are not giving our other children the attention they deserve. We spend a lot of energy wishing we could be in multiple places at one time.
SOLUTION: Depending on the age of the siblings, in my experience, it is best to be extremely open and honest. Communicating and discussing the reality of the situation can help that child to learn empathy and even a desire to help.
Of course, that is not always going to be the case. Children want and need their parents’ attention. And there are little ways to do this.
Include notes in their lunch, make a big deal out of spending time alone with that child (even if it is 10 minutes, reassure them that you cherish the time together).
To be sure they are not missing out on things outside of the house, you need to be able to ask for help. Let your loved ones know you need help getting your other children to extracurricular activities.
4. We shouldn’t need help.
We know we need help, but we feel guilty asking. This goes back to not feeling like we are good enough to do the job. It strikes at the core of our fear about somehow failing as a parent.
We have high expectations of ourselves that we should be able to provide what our own child needs. If we are a perfectionist, this is deeply rooted within us.
Admitting that we need help feels like we are admitting defeat. The guilt of feeling inadequate can be quite intense.
SOLUTION: This guilt runs deep. As mothers, we feel an innate need to be able to take care of our children.
Having a child with disabilities challenges us because we have to admit that we can’t do it alone.
One thing that has helped is to ask myself if I would feel badly seeking out professionals if my child had diabetes or cancer. That question has literally stopped me in my tracks. Of course I wouldn’t.
So how is this any different? We need to give ourselves permission to ask for help. If we reframe our mindset, the guilt can be turned into a drive to seek the best for our child.
5. We need a break.
We are tired. We are worn. We are weary. Sometimes we think about what it would be like to not lead this life of constant battle. And then we feel guilty.
SOLUTION: Often times I have a tough time distinguishing which emotions are “typical” parent emotions and which ones can be attributed to having a child with additional needs.
In this case, I think many parents can relate. We lose sleep, we lose part of our identities, we are battle worn and we want a break.
Parents like us may experience intense guilt from time to time. The key to letting go of guilt is to accept the reality of our circumstances.
For every reason we may feel guilty, there is a way to reframe our thinking. Using the solutions above helps us to let go of some of our guilt.
Ultimately, parents of kids with disabilities need to find others who “get it.” Connecting with others and hearing that you are not alone in the way you think can have a huge impact on your perception.
A version of this story originally appeared on Life With a Side of the Unexpected.
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