Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had…and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.Linda Wooten
It’s no secret that working moms have exceptionally high standards placed on them.
Society judges us if we give anything less to our children than a stay-at-home in the 1950s. We must justify our ability to raise children, keep house, and be great employees to ‘earn’ the privilege of having a job – and avoid shame.
It’s an impossible juggle of expectations. We’re expected to do it all.
I remember when I became a first-time mother – I didn’t want anyone to know how much I struggled. I thought it was supposed to ‘come naturally.’ With every meltdown, I felt like a failure.
Good mothers did everything. And LOVED it!
That’s what all the doll commercials told us growing up. It’s easy! You’re a natural because you are a girl.
I hated playing with dolls. But I digress.
The shadow of grey clouds marks my memories of my son’s first few years. I never had time to recover from all the new day-to-day demands and felt guilty for even thinking of taking time for myself.
It’s crazy how much a diagnosis can change your life. Once I understood why I couldn’t keep up with work, children, playdates, birthday parties, and other demands of life, I could be forgiving of myself.
The autism diagnosis started my journey to self-awareness. Instead of looking at everything I was as “wrong,” I began to look at myself with acceptance. The more I learned about myself, the more I crafted my life around my needs to be a better mother.
This self-awareness has allowed my strengths as an autistic mother to float to the surface. And my children have benefited from it too.
I need a set routine and schedule.
Sometimes my husband calls me at work and asks if I can run by the store on the way home. And he waits quietly for my answer. He knows my weekly schedule is set in stone. Any changes to it will disrupt my focus and, depending on my state, push me into the overwhelmed zone.
I process this and do an inventory of how I feel. Can I handle it? How do I feel about it?
Sometimes the answer is, reluctantly, yes, but sometimes it’s no.
When I start a week, I need to know the schedule. When too many variables are at play, I am overwhelmed. It’s also essential that every day of the week follows the same routine. So, every Monday looks the same – the same schedule, routine, and set of demands.
This is how I avoid cognitive overload. Because I stick to a routine and set schedules, I have more energy to deal with things that pop up “out of the blue.”
I’ve also learned how much my children rely on our routines too. Because of my need for routines and schedules, my children know what to expect daily. They know what days they have after-school activities. They know Saturday mornings are for leisure and recovery.
They know what is expected of them every day.
The assurance is especially important for my autistic son, who is still learning to be aware of his needs.
Routines bring a sense of stability and security for autistic moms and children.
Everyone has limits – including me.
This one is difficult for the nonautistic women I know. They push their boundaries by overloading their children’s schedules. But they can push further than I can. This is something I’ve had to accept. It takes work. There’s so much pressure to be involved in school activities, birthday parties, playdates, etc.
I’m pulling the brake when other women are still running their engines.
And that’s okay. Because I know I will suffer cognitive paralysis if I push too far. When I’m overwhelmed with commitments and demands, I shut down. I can’t move, think, or speak. I go into zombie mode, which isn’t a good place to be.
So, I avoid overloading our schedules, which prevents me from overloading my brain. Most importantly, I purposely build in time for recovery based on the energy I’m using. (Spoon theory, anyone?)
While schedules are good for children, overscheduling them isn’t. I know a few nonautistic moms like this, and they are burned out. Shuttling their children from one place to the next and running through fast food drive-thrus occupy the bulk of their week outside work.
All moms need a breather. And children need self-directed free time. Boredom breeds creativity. As with all things, balance is vital. By knowing my limits, I can give my best without the increased anxiety of unending life demands.
I self-advocate for my needs.
At home, this means pushing back when others ask for more. It means being honest about and speaking up for your limits. The plus side? Your children will learn to speak up for their limits too.
If my husband had it his ADHD way, we’d be active 100% of the week. He. Doesn’t. Stop.
Sometimes I tell him, no; I’m out of steam. Other times I speak up and voice my need to “not be needed” for a while.
Quality time alone in a silent environment with a hobby is necessary for me to recover from overwhelm and avoid a sensory meltdown. I’ll leave the kids with him, head upstairs, and lock myself in my craft room for a few hours.
It’s also important for my children to witness boundary-setting and self-advocacy.
I prioritize what needs to be done based on my available energy.
Every day has a routine and schedule. Top priorities like feeding my kids are included, of course. But some days, I get home and have little energy left, so I tackle something else on the priority list. A load of laundry gets folded, or I sweep the floor.
To be direct – the house is never spotless. I do things when I can. And so does my husband.
We are not perfect parents, but we are the best parents we can be.
I’ve let go of guilt – mostly.
Autistic women don’t fit into a societal mold, not in the workplace, social settings, families, friends, and not as mothers.
So, why try?
Accepting myself means accepting all of me, including the way I parent.
Sometimes I feel guilty that I can’t be more like nonautistic moms. The playdates, volunteering at school, and letting my children join any activity they wanted, no matter the time commitment.
But I’ve grown secure enough in my strengths to be okay with my limits. Brushing off the guilt gets easier.
My children are happy and well taken care of. They are loved – and know it.
No one has all the answers, especially about parenting. But we could do with a little less judgment and more support.
Just because parenting looks different with an autistic mom doesn’t mean it isn’t quality parenting. All moms, autistic or not, must extend each other more grace. It’s impossible to believe that anyone can do it “all.” And there is a lot we can learn from each other if we only take a moment to listen.
What are your greatest parenting strengths? What helps you? Please share it in the comments below!
2 thoughts on “Finding Balance: How an Autism Diagnosis Helped Me Be a Better Mom”
Here is what I think
This is a powerful article about the strengths of autistic mothers. By prioritizing self-awareness and setting personal boundaries, they can be better mothers and provide stability and security for their children. Well said!
Thank you very much, Ely. Society seems to focus on all the things Autistics can struggle with, but we must remember that we also have many strengths. Thank you for sharing your perspective.