This is beautiful writing from Autisms and Oughtisms, who I have recommended before. This time she is writing about the unforgiving role of motherhood. This post of hers really stopped me in my tracks.
In it she describes how particularly unforgiving the ‘good mother’ role can be when your child has disabilities. One of the reasons behind this is that your child may never grow out of the most demanding aspects of mothering. Therefore the pressure will be on you to reclaim your identity as an individual through your own means – it won’t just happen that you will suddenly find your old life returning to you as your child gets older.
Over the years my body had started to show the strain; bent over more at the shoulders, avoiding others’ eyes, a sort of defensive exhaustiveness that comes from getting used to a world that judges your child – and you – because they have a diagnosis (the mere act of seeking or achieving a diagnosis being a reason in itself for others’ superiority). I noticed this a while back and made a conscious effort to change my body to better reflect the strength and pride I have for my son and myself; a strength and pride that came with a better understanding of my son, and that I’m not to blame for his autism – to not even see autism as a “blameworthy” thing.
But going through motherhood under this much pressure; trying to live up to the ideals of other mothers and other mothers of special needs children, does more than leave you burnt out and bent over. It depersonalizes you, as a human being, in a number of ways. It depersonalizes you because you spend a lot of time externally observing and judging yourself, “have I done enough, did I do it right, will she think I did it right…” It also depersonalizes you because your own identity can melt away; your own interests and desires and passions are forgotten and moth-balled. The only thing you can not feel guilty about, is the passion for your child. The only social activities you can engage in, are those directed at your child’s well-being and development.
Your existence becomes referential; to the child. You are not “Emma” anymore, you are “mother of Sam.” This secondary, referential existence is one of the few ideals that carry through most mothering ideologies: The good mother is the one that holds every personal action up to question, “is this the best thing for my child?” The good mother always follows the child’s lead and never specifically encourages the child towards the mother’s own interests; that would be called “living through the child” otherwise (as opposed to, say, calling it engaging the child in what you are best able to teach them). The good mother puts her life on hold for at least the first three years of a child’s life, since the child is so dependent and easily influenced by the powerful figure of “mother” during those years.
But what happens when it’s not the first three years? Or five years? Or 18? What happens when the child is highly dependent all their life, and there is no point at which a mother is free to “rediscover” her friends and her own interests? She’s not allowed to be resentful about this of course – who is there to be resentful towards anyway, the child who had no choice in the matter either? No, you just keep mothering, under high scrutiny, and conflicting ideals. Listening to strangers and family alike tell you that you’re still doing too much for the child, or not enough, and knowing that you best never ask “what about me?”