When I Worry I'm Failing as an Autistic Mom During the Pandemic
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I did not sign up for this.
I signed up to be a mom, yes.
I signed up for dirty diapers, catastrophic messes, potty training, tantrums and sleepless nights. I did. I signed up for bear hugs, starry eyes, long fascinating “why” chains and unconditional love. Yes. I signed up for all of the financial, emotional, mental, and physical commitments of motherhood — for sure — knowing when I did so that I couldn’t truly know what I was signing up for, because you can never really know what this is like until you’re in it.
But up until now, the mom gig I signed up for — while still the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life — included time spent working or being on my own. Whether for a company or for myself, I was in my own space, doing my own thing, for 40 out of the 100 or so waking hours of any given week. Half of my time was still mine.
Not to say that my time doesn’t belong to me when I am with my children, whom I love dearly, and with whom I treasure spending my time. But this is different — this 24/7 unplanned and unexpected plunge into isolated 110 percent mom-hood due to the coronavirus pandemic has thrown my whole family off balance.
I have lost my balance as a mom, and I am flailing around trying to get it back before I fall off the edge.
They say our true selves come out when we face our biggest challenges. Well, I guess my true self is a hot mess!
It has taken me over a month of existing in this new order to finally figure out how to carve out time to shower on a regular basis, and get my whole family dressed in something other than pajamas each day. My apartment has looked like a tornado ran through it for weeks, because by the end of a day spent with a toddler and a baby underfoot, neither of us had anything left except the energy to collapse onto our bed at night. My son is spending more time than he ever would have on his tablet or watching TV, just so we can cook dinner, make a phone call, take care of the baby or even just use the bathroom. It’s a zoo in here.
But this is the reality. And this is why that awful question has been racketing around in my mind for the last month, plaguing my dreams and leaving my stomach in knots: Am I failing? Am I failing as a mom? Am I failing as a wife, as a professional, as a contributor and co-leader of my household?
Am I failing my family?
Why do I feel like a freight train ran into me every single day? Why can’t I get my 4-year-old to do simple reading or writing practice or eat a healthy protein without a fight and a bribe and a deal and another fight? What is wrong with me?
But here’s the truth: Nothing is wrong with me.
Somewhere in the back of my brain is some idealized version of what a mom should be.
Back there in her palace of a perfectly beautiful home, she is tranquil, unruffled. She keeps everything tidy, she makes neat little sandwiches for everyone, she thinks up intricate and engaging arts and crafts projects and educational games for the kids, she provides emotional and nutritional support for her partner, and she still has the wherewithal to enjoy a quiet glass of wine at the end of the day.
She. Doesn’t. Exist.
At least not in my reality. In order to be there 100 percent for my family, like that ideal-mom, I need to be able to re-energize myself with “me-time.” But the availability of me-time in this new pandemic world has decreased from 40 percent of my weekly waking hours (mostly spent at work, but still) to something close to 5 percent.
Five percent is not enough. It’s simply not enough.
But it’s all we have right now.
And so, I make do. I do the best I can with what I have. And with only 5 percent regeneration time, the best I can do is not that great, to be perfectly honest. And that’s OK. It really is OK right now for me to be a fraction of the person I normally am, while I am operating on a fraction of the fuel I normally have.
Being autistic, this is an especially hard pill for me to swallow. I’m a perfectionist. The default setting in my mind is that if something can’t be done perfectly, it’s not worth doing at all.
Well that’s just not how the world works.
If I can’t be perfect-mom, then is it not worth being mom at all? Of course, it’s worth it.
I am learning that sometimes — like in the middle of a global health crisis unlike anything we have seen for over a century — sometimes, my best just won’t be good enough. Let me say that again: my best just won’t be good enough. But that doesn’t mean I stop trying. It means I have to dig deep and find the courage to keep trying over and over again, knowing it won’t be enough, knowing it won’t be perfect. And knowing that, it’s OK. It’s what makes me human.
I cannot be perfect-mom. I cannot expect myself to be a perfect mom, and I cannot blame myself for not meeting an unrealistic expectation.
What I can expect is that I continue to model kindness and patience for my children, even as they scream because they haven’t been able to get outside and use up their boundless, explosive energy running around at a playground. What I can expect is that I use the limited resources that I do have in order to facilitate some semblance of calm and structure for upholding our family values, like cleanliness, respect, health and some form of daily fresh air. What I can expect is that I take care of myself as well as I can in those 5 percent “me” moments, so that I can give everything else to the people I love, and be present for my partner and my children.
Because in the end, even in a “perfect” world as a “perfect-mom,” I would never be able to meet 100% of my kids’ needs anyway. That’s not the point of being a mom. The point of being a mom is to make sure that my children have the foundation they need in order to learn how to meet their own needs. I can’t be everything for everyone. Nor should I be.
So no, as much as I might feel like a failure in those moments when my son is *literally* climbing up the wall from the back of the couch and my daughter is screaming at the top of her lungs and my husband is clutching his head in pain and I just want to be anywhere else but in the middle of my family – I am not failing. I am surviving.
And I love my family enough to survive for them, and to make sure they survive with me.
For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our autism community:
- I’m Autistic and This CDC Equation Says My Life Is Less Valuable If I Get COVID-19
- One Reason the COVID-19 Pandemic Might Be Extra Challenging for Autistic Adults
- What to Do When Your Child on the Autism Spectrum’s Routine Is Disrupted by the Coronavirus
- 5 Reasons to Try Telehealth Services for Your Autistic Child During the COVID-19 Pandemic
This story originally appeared on Sarah’s blog.
Getty image by Fizkes.