I’m sure you’ve seen the memes and articles where it is proclaimed that moms of children with “special needs” are “Warrior Moms” or “Supermoms.” Or, of course, “Autism Moms.” Many of those are actually written by a self-proclaimed Warrior/Super/Autism Mom. The idea behind this is innocent enough. It is meant to support moms and cheer them up as they go through this… and here we go… this difficult, awful path, with the moms being exhausted, depressed, hopeless, helpless. This is similar, in a way, to the game played by moms of “typical” or “typically developing” or just “normal” children that also cheer each other non-stop. But. It’s not helpful. Or fair to our children.
A couple of years ago, a mom friend told me “I just don’t know how you do it!” I asked her what she meant and she said that well… my daughter… being autistic, but so smart and… well, how did I dealt with both things at once? (I’m paraphrasing). I told her that, well, we sent her to summer camps that were stimulating and she liked, but she had an aide. That summer she had been to a math camp and then went to a science camp, but always with someone keeping an eye on her. Just like during the regular academic year, when she attended an integrated class (“general ed,” with children with and without disabilities) and had an aide. (Note: she no longer has the aide at school). Both of my kids (one autistic, one with ADHD) went to those camps and some others that were more fun-focused.
Many people look at “autism moms” or “special needs moms” and think very highly of them. But it is mainly because their children are autistic or have some other disability. The underlying message is: “This is awful. That child is a burden and I would not be able to deal with the whole thing. Those moms must be special.” And, nope. My children are not a burden, not more than any other child their age. Comparing my two children, I cannot say that one is incredibly more difficult to raise than the other. Or much more difficult than my nieces and nephews (none of whom has a diagnosis) were for my siblings.
Honestly, I would like to tell some of those admiring parents: “Actually, I truly admire YOU, because Johnny seems like a handful…” And yes, I’m sure we all know kids who are nice and that you like, but you would not want to parent. Some children seem to always always be in a bad mood and look down on absolutely anything, and complain about everything. Or plain misbehave, throwing their food, kicking people or what have you not, with no diagnosis in the horizon.
Anyway, there are children that because of their personality or general mood make me believe their parents are the ones in a difficult situation. Or… did you think only parents of autistic or ADHD children face challenging circumstances? Nope. My daughter’s autism is not overwhelming. My son’s ADHD isn’t either. Yes, there are some difficult issues, but that you can have with any child, with or without a diagnosis, with or without “special needs.”
I am not blind to the fact that some parents of children with disabilities do have sleepless nights. Maybe because the child is not falling asleep due to anxiety. Maybe the child is asleep and the parent isn’t, because they worry about their child. Maybe because their child also has another neurological or medical condition. However, you cannot assume that this is always the situation and for all parents or caregivers of children with a disability. All children bring moments of joy and gratefulness, even if they are rare or infrequent.
The images and phrases of “Warrior Mom” elicit the idea of a constant fight. Those of “Supermom,” superhuman strength. And they necessarily convey the idea of a tough, overwhelming life, with no or very few rewarding moments. And they imply that such a hard life is because of your children.
If we don’t want to be seen with pity and to have our children be seen as a burden, I believe we as parents must be the first ones to state that we don’t need such pity. Compassion and understanding, yes. For instance, when our children are in the middle of a meltdown, which will probably look to you as a temper tantrum, yes, give us at least the benefit of the doubt. Don’t lecture us and don’t look at us reprovingly. Our children may be feeling overwhelmed by sensory stimuli.
A last point: Many of these campaigns underestimate or nullify fathers. If we want fathers to fully participate in raising their children, we cannot and should not ignore them.
I am not a Warrior Mom. Or a Super Mom. Or an Autism Mom. Or a Special Needs Mom. Or an ADHD Mom…. you get the point. I’m just a mom.
And my children are not a burden, they’re a blessing.
Originally published, in Spanish, August 7th, 2015. Updated to reflect the diagnosis of my son, and clarify some points that don’t translate very well.