“I don’t know how to tell you this…”
She didn’t. Not kindly or tactfully anyway.
I should’ve stopped reading her message. I knew where it was headed. I could feel my face getting hotter and my pulse racing faster as I contemplated stopping there. I wanted to delete the whole thing, no looking back. I can’t explain exactly why I kept reading, but I did…
“You need to advocate for your children!”
Her words cut deep. The hurt began to surface immediately as I recalled the past few hours of my life. A life she knew nothing about.
I had spent the morning on the phone, arguing with specialists over which course of action to take in handling my daughter’s chronic pain. As I balanced the phone on my shoulder, I was sorting paperwork for my other daughter’s ABA therapy meeting later that day and my son’s next diagnostic assessment. My coffee was sitting next to me, cold, and the baby was crying at my feet.
This scene is an accurate depiction of my daily life. A constant stream of therapy appointments and evaluations. Piles and piles of paperwork. Trips from specialist to specialist, followed by trips to the pharmacy. A series of late nights researching which toys I should buy to help my youngest reach those coveted developmental milestones, and which stores still carry the specific brand of crackers that my oldest child with Autism will eat. Hand cramps from filling out countless medical assistance forms and writing multi-page appeal letters explaining the details of why my daughter desperately needs her therapies covered by insurance in order to give her the best chance of success as a child with a disability.
Advocate for my children? My entire life is advocacy! Every ounce of strength I have. All thrown out the window by the words of someone who had only met me a handful of times.
She wasn’t done yet. She had more.
Her “words of wisdom” continued in a five-part message on everything from her belief that I was choosing to be blind to what’s “really causing” my children’s medical issues, to suggesting that some of those issues were actually my fault. She made reference to several conditions she thought my children (whom she’s never met, by the way) suffer from, on top of what they’d already been diagnosed with. She explained how she believes that I have the power to “cure” my children’s Autism, but that I am simply too lazy to do the research and take action. She said she knew that I was in survival mode most days, but that it was no excuse for the way I was handling things. Then, she decided to end her message on a positive note…
“I know you can do this. Fight the fight.”
Did these parting words make me feel better? No. They felt condescending. Insulting. Ignorant. Her words wounded me.
Fight the fight? I’ve been doing nothing but fighting for the past seven years of my life!
Many of us have had this type of experience. A well-meaning friend, family member, or even stranger gives us a hefty dose of unsolicited parenting advice. Or in this case, not so much advice as flat out criticism. It can feel like a slap in the face.
What’s the best thing to do in this situation? I don’t know. I’ll admit that I don’t have the answer. What did I do in this situation? Nothing. I never responded to that woman’s message. Instead, I laid awake at night for a week, wondering if I really was doing it all wrong. Obsessing over every mistake I’d ever made in caring for my kids. Her harsh judgement made me ache inside. I knew in my mind that she was clueless about my life and my parenting skills and yet, in my heart, I took it personally. I felt attacked. This person was not raising a child with Autism. Her message made it clear that she didn’t even have a good understanding of what Autism is. Yet, she felt she had the right to judge how I was caring for my children. I was angry and I felt tempted to return the favor by becoming my own mom judge. I wanted her to know how terrible it felt to have someone who barely knows you tell you that you’re failing as a parent. Yet, again, I did nothing. Nothing but get up again the next day and pray my way through another set of appointments, phone calls, baths, meltdowns, spilled Cheerios, and diaper changes. I’m just trying to move on and somehow leave her words behind.
I’m exhausted and overwhelmed. Most moms are. Most moms are doing what they think is best because they love their children more than life itself. There are a million ways to parent in a million situations and every child is completely different. What works for one child, doesn’t work for all. Trying to successfully raise the next generation of humans while running on cold coffee and half of a granola bar you found in your kid’s carseat is really hard! But that’s motherhood. There’s no room for judging the mom next to you. This parenting thing isn’t an every-mom-for-herself situation. It’s a team effort. If we don’t do this together, our children suffer.
So, from one advocating, fighting mom to another…Unless I ask for it (or my kids are literally burning my house down), please don’t judge my parenting. (And if you find me judging yours, kindly call me on it! I never want to make someone else feel this ache.) Please give me some grace. I know I’m screwing my kids up a little. We all do it. I’m also doing the best job I possibly can, because I love my kids just as much as you love yours.
My positive parting words to you: All that you do for your children matters. Every exhausting, selfless moment. If your kids know that, no matter what, you love them THIS MUCH…and if you’re teaching them to love others…You’re doing an amazing job.