Let’s play a word association: autism and moms. What comes to mind?
For many people, it’s a specific picture. Namely, a non-autistic parent decked out in blue, puzzle pieces galore. They often tweet, post, and retweet jokes about chicken nuggets and lamentations about their saintly sacrifices. They’re quick to defend ABA, quicker still to dismiss autistic adults’ criticisms. (Note: this doesn’t apply to all parents, just a vocal subset).
What you don’t hear about as much are moms who are also autistic.
Well, I just became one. I’ve wanted to have children since I was one, but now I feel out of place. Not parening itself– that’s equal parts awesome and challenging– but from a stifilingly neurotypical mom culture.
I blame the Interent. Social media has turned into a competition between who has the most “advanced” children and who can schedule the most enriching activities. It reminds me of reading about martyrs in Catholic school; everyone needs to prove how selfless and sacrificing they are, or risk being labeled a “bad mom” who lets her kids use a tablet and feeds them processed, pre-packaged food. And I specify “mom” for a reason. Society often reinforces this attitude for moms, not dads, no matter how sexist and archaic that is. It also leaves out parents who are nonbinary.
I haven’t felt so much pressure to conform since middle school. It’s a performance, and an exhausting one. I have to hide my true self enough as it is. I don’t need another reason to put on my mask.
Control is another common theme in the competition to best perform the role of mom.
There’s a widely-accepted idea that parents should always control their kids, down to how they play. We treat parenting like a formula, where if a parent does x perfectly, a child is garunteed to achieve y.
As someone with near-crippling anxiety, I get it. As JFK said, “To have a child is to give fate a hostage.” However, I also remember what it’s like to be a kid. I cherished my freedom, and unstructured time was the fertile ground in which my imagination grew. While this might be especially true for neurodivergent kids, I suspect it’s a universal childhood truth.
So it’s no wonder I feel out of place. What comes natrurally to me seems to go agaisnt the new accepted wisdom. The world that wasn’t designed for me– the combination of strong sensory stimuli with the pressure to mask can lead to autistic burnout. I can manage this by taking time to myself and focusing on my interests. I can’t be the perpetually self-sacrificing mom. If I don’t take care of myself, I’ll burnout.
Despite this, I believe there’s strength in autistic parenting. I might stick out from the parenting norm (what else is new?), but that isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes it can even be a parenting strength.
For example, I can be very empathetic thanks to my challenges growing up in a neurotypical world. That’s a good trait for anyone to have, but it’s essential for parents.
I vividly remember what it’s like to be a child, and can put myself in their thought process. As a parent, I strive to consider my child’s point of view when making decisions that will effect their life. I also won’t subscribe to “one size fits all” parenting styles that I know didn’t work on me as a kid.
Autistic parents can also lead by example. When society dismisses the disabeled, they don’t see our strengths. We are often passionate about our interests, which can encourage children to develop and embrace their own passions.
Taking time to recharge as a parent teaches children to care for their own mental health. As someone who often doesn’t conform to society’s expectations, I can show my children the value in being true to themselves, as well as standing up for what they believe is right, no matter how unpopular.
I’m not saying autistic parents are better ( “better” is a highly subjective concept when it comes to parenting). Like everyone, we have our strengths as well as weaknesses. I needed to remind myself that being different is not a bad thing. Though I still might feel out of place in most mommy groups, I’m happy being me, and I think my baby is happy, too.
That being said, please let me know in the comments if you know any great actually autistic parenting blogs.
- The Hidden Strength of Autistic Moms in a Neurotypical Mom Culture - September 13, 2021
- What I Wish Neurotypicals Knew About Meltdowns - February 25, 2021
- Review: The Promise and Disappointment of Everything’s Gonna Be Okay - September 21, 2020