Carrie Fannin says, my Mom of the Year certificate must have gotten lost in the mail – because it still hasn't shown up), a term I have great trouble with, because it suggests that I don't make any mistakes and must do things ‘right’ all the time, I got to thinking about why we as special needs parents seem to always feel like we are the worst parents ever -- when we should really spend our times patting ourselves on the back for how great we're doing. But I am in the same boat -- I have the "I'm the worst mom in the world" feeling more often than I'd like to.
Why? Because I have as many bad parenting moments, if not a lot more, than any other parent out there. And it seems that as the parent of a high needs child the pressure to do everything 'right' and 'now' is greater -- how you should be rushing to each new therapy, or try each new 'magic pill' before it's too late -- so when we do have a bad moment, we are harder on ourselves. Aren't we? You know what I mean, right? Some days, I make mistakes. I start yelling or say something that in retrospect has me feeling awful and guilty like the “Worst Mom” award is going to arrive on my doorstep via courier by 8am.
I've had a lot of them lately too.
The hard thing to explain to most people, let alone accept it as part of being the parent of a high needs child, is that we are just human. We give super-human effort and appear to have super-human strength when facing our children’s obstacles, but at the end of the day, when we take our capes off, there we are: Just human.
Because we wear our capes so often, it is sometimes hard to remember that underneath that apple-red unitard, there is a person who gets burnt out. We are giving so much energy, so much effort -- hands-on, brain-on, creativity-on effort -- to help our kids, it is no wonder we get burned out.
Hence I am now coining the term (probably not) Parent Burn Out – or PBO (not to be confused with PTO or PBJ, both of which would be much more enjoyable).
This is a real phenomenon that affects parents of special needs kids all the time.
We don't take time for ourselves to reboot – to refresh – to get ourselves recharged and ready to go again.
There are many reasons this happens, as life has a way of getting away from us often. You know, you have to get to another therapy appointment, get the groceries, clean the house and RSVP for the birthday party that you aren't even sure your child should go to– so you get swamped by real life. Add to that the chaos of managing meltdowns at the same time and the inscessant requirement to worry about the future more than the average parent, and voila! PBO.
It is no wonder we burn out.
I know there are many ways to avoid this and many ways to recharge, but that isn't why I am writing this. I am writing this to acknowledge that it is real. That it sucks. And that it doesn't make you a BAD parent just because some days you take your unitard off early. And by “take your unitard off early” I mean have a glass of wine by 4pm (or 3…I’m just sayin’…).
To illustrate my point, as I write this, Matt is sitting in my lap. He has been really clingy lately, and I understand that intellectually, but Gabriel's behavior also been ridiculous to deal with which is my kryptonite, so let’s say that I am not exactly primed for a best parenting moment: I am on PBO, but Matt doesn't know that. He just needs to be close to me -- he is a touch seeker. But, it drives me nuts to have Matthew touch me excessively all day long (my own sensory issues), yet normally I can be pretty tolerant of it. Today I am not doing so well.
Then, he actually climbed on my head, wrapped his legs on my shoulders and then attempted to bite my ears. OMG. So I yelled at him. Not my best moment, and I apologized immediately, put down my laptop and smothered him with kisses and touches all while finishing the “Backyardigan’s Robot Rampage” which prompted him to get up and literally do the ‘robot' dance. Thank you Austin.
I know this feeling of PBO and 'bad mommy' will pass, and when it does, my parenting skills will increase, in direct correlation to how well my kids are doing and if I have had any respite time.
Here is my theory of being a great parent: Special needs kids have real highs and real lows in their behavior and functioning, which leads us as parents to have to constantly readjust what we are doing and how we are handling it. We have to crank up the good parenting to 250% to get through most days (doctors, therapists, schools, and meltdowns), but by the end of the day – or week – or month – that prolonged parenting at 250% crashes down – to 10%. Most average parents probably hover around the 60-80% and can just slide by on that – with spikes to 100% when they are feeling particularly inspired. But we can’t roll like that, can we?
So, after being at 250% and wearing the apple-red unitard and flying (in our minivan) from one thing to another, saving our kid from the latest fill-in-the-blank-problem, we come home and hit PBO.
What’s my point?
That PBO is normal. Quit being so hard on yourself.
You are a great parent– and I’m sending you a virtual "Mom of the Year" award right now to prove it.
Now – go – fly away!