Telling the Whole Story

Princess Kate is one of my heroes.  She is incredibly beautiful, always smiling, intelligent.  She married a Prince and became a Princess.  She is a mom.  She lives publicly, always watched by millions of people, and does not seem to mind.  She appeared publicly in high heels hours after delivering her second baby.

And she is speaking loudly and publicly about supporting our children and their mental health issues.

I could not be more impressed.

She has said that she wants to remove the taboo around talking about mental health issues.  She and William and Harry have been working together, have founded their own charity, Heads Together, with the focus of changing the conversation, getting people talking.

She even said, to the media, that she and Prince William “wouldn’t hesitate” if their children needed help with their mental health.

Duke-of-cambridge-family
William and Kate with their family, smiling and looking radiant, from wikipedia

 

Right now, I know several mamas who are in the process of trying to figure out assessments for their children.  They are not sure if their children are autistic, have ADHD, have ODD, are bipolar, or none of the above.  They are heroes as well.  Because while they are searching for answers and pushing against teachers, doctors, and therapists for more information, they are also being watched and scrutinized by the greater parenting community.

There is still a feeling that if there is something “wrong” with the child, there must be something wrong with the parenting.  There is a feeling that this generation of parents just isn’t in control of their kids.  There is a feeling that diagnoses are excuses to medicate and avoid parenting.  It comes from our parents’ generation, and the way that we have been raised, and the intensity of parenting while trying to maintain likes on Instagram and Facebook.  How can I admit that my child is struggling while still smiling and sharing pictures of the paintings we did this weekend?  How can I admit that I am seeking answers to my questions about what makes my child different if the constant message from the online world is that “God designed me to mother these children, and I can handle it”?

I want to be a strong woman, and to support strong women.  There is a meme that reads: “Here’s to strong women.  May we know them.  May we be them.  May we raise them.”  It moves my soul and makes me want to live as a strong woman.  There are supports out there that say things like, “Don’t mind the mess, my children are making memories.”  These are positive messages that encourage moms to breathe and appreciate their kids, but then it is even harder to admit, I live in filth, I struggle to smile.  Strength right now is putting on a show so my kids are distracted while I go hide in my room and cry about how I feel like I am a failure.

In the midst of all these parenting pressures, there is a deep culture of shame.  A definition of shame is that shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.  (B. Brown).  We all feel that we are not good enough.  Not doing a good enough job.  Not making enough money.  Not being fun enough.  Not praying enough.  Not worthy.  While the Bible does say, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” the entire rest of Jesus’s story is spent exclaiming just how incredibly valuable we are to him.  To Jesus, we are worthy.  In Jesus, we are worthy.  We are more than worthy, we are priceless.

“Shame needs three things to grow in our lives, secrecy, silence, and judgement.”  (B. Brown).  Shame is the pain we feel when we look around us and feel the burden of comparison and judgement coming from every single direction.  Intended or not, we can feel judgement from even our closest friends, even our partners and spouses.  Especially when it comes to raising our children or getting to the heart of their special needs.  However, it is not from God, and the pain it brings is enough of a reason to try to crack and break the silence.

When we share our stories honestly, we develop community, empathy, and resilience to shame.  When we talk about how things have changed with a heart that wants to understand across generations and differences, we can connect and understand each other.

I want to talk about how hard it was for me to seek an autism diagnosis for my son.  My son is amazing, intelligent, and even well-behaved much of the time.  He speaks clearly and is doing well in school.  And, he is autistic.

I want to talk about how hard it was for me to breastfeed my children.  I want to talk about how God loved me through my post-partum depression, didn’t leave me, but didn’t free me from it either.  I want to talk about how inadequate I feel as a mother, as a wife, and as a partner.

But I want to do it without whining.  Without pouting.  Without judgement.  Without judging myself.  Without making it sound worse than it is.  Without making it into a sob story.  It’s not a sob story.  On their own, none of those things I want to talk about is even a story.  It’s just part of my story.  And my story is long, convoluted, and far from over.

I guess I feel like the best stories have real hardship, but also have real courage, and I can see how choices made reflect the values of the teller.  I know that my story has all of those things in it too.  I just struggle to be real and tell it.  This is why I am so incredibly amazed and impressed by Her Royal Highness, and the changes I can start to see filtering down.  She is trying to be real.  She is trying to embrace her own struggles and talk about how real people are really working through their stories.

She inspires me.

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Job Number 1

It has now been almost two years since we received Jake’s diagnosis. I am starting to see some of the ways God has His hands in our family and our situation. I had just finished an incredibly stressful and emotional year of teaching more than I really felt I should, as I wanted to be able access my Maternity Benefits when Penny was born. I didn’t know if, when, or how I would be able to return to teaching. I had just given birth to the sweetest, easiest baby my little family has ever known, and while I struggled with some post-partum depression, I had a better handle on it for many reasons, one of which was Jake. I had to deal with Jake. I had to get him to kindergarten, deal with everything we were learning about him, and then there was the diagnosis process. There was a lot to get up and focus on every day.I can see now how far I have come.

I can see better where I want to go.

I am coming to grips with what my Father has asked me to do.

He has asked me to Mother these kids. I get to teach now, a wee bit, on-call, just a taste of other people’s classrooms, and it is wonderful. I cannot commit my heart to a class, to spending my precious minutes on prep and marking, because I have a high needs family. It’s okay. I have a special needs family. I don’t get to do more. This is all I can handle, and I can only handle it with help, support, loaned patience, grace, and strength.

I just reread one of my earliest posts, The Role of the Parents, and I can see that I glimpsed the truth even back then. I wrote, “It’s so intimidating to think that I am the autism mom, the one that is going to have a gigantic impact on Jake and what he thinks of himself, what he eventually can do or not do, what he can cope with and what he just can’t.” Right now, I feel like it is becoming less intimidating, and more a part of my identity that I accept.

The school sent home slips of paper reminding parents about picture day coming up. They asked us to fill in the students’ names, grades, teacher, and include any notes we thought might be important. I wrote, “Jake is autistic. He struggles with taking pictures, with eye contact, and with smiling. He loves Minecraft.” I thought it might help the photographer to know and give them a hint at how to get him to relax and open up. My husband looked at it with a sigh, smiled, and said, “Life, is this how we roll now?”

Yes. Yes it is. Because if the photographer understands Jake a little better, Jake will be happier. If the photographer can get a natural picture of him talking about something he loves, that will be so much better than trying to get him to “look at me,” or “say cheese!” Jake would be all frowning, and complaining. “I hate cheese.”

But it’s not just how we roll now. It’s just that I am getting better at it. Back then, two years ago, in kindergarten, they sent the same forms home. Back then, I didn’t know if he was autistic or not. Back then, I told the photographer almost the same message, however.

My colouring page, two fish, brightly coloured, with an antique and elaborate tea cup full of tea. How lovely.

When I became an autism mom, my parenting took a direct turn. But I do not, cannot, become stagnant. This incredible, amazing, beautiful child requires more of me, and God has asked me to do it. So I have been reading, literally, for two years straight, everything that I can find on how to do better, be better, make life better.

I am really excited lately. This past month, as I have read, processed, prayed, and experimented with new ideas, something fundamental in my soul has opened up. It feels bright and light and vulnerable. I have stopped thinking of myself as a teacher who is on an extended maternity leave, and started thinking of myself as a full time Mama who gets to teach sometimes for a break. It’s honestly a little terrifying. I have always hated when my deep identity is forced to change. I struggled hugely with becoming a mother, with becoming an adult, with becoming a working mom, and trying to find pieces of myself which were lost along the way. So I am scared to be changing again.

This time, I feel more that the actual change happened back then, two years ago. When everything in my life was lined up and organized by God so that I could shift into this new position. I’ve just taken two years to realize it. As such, it’s a little like cracking an egg. There are fractures that have been spreading over the past two years, and small chunks have flaked off along the way. All of a sudden, however, the shell of who I was has given way and a bright, new, stronger me is emerging.

I’ve decided to organize myself and give myself some long term goals for this new facet of my identity.

I came up with these.

  1. I will create a happy home that my family wants to be in. As we are a diverse and large group in a small house, I will model gratitude and a good attitude, I will focus on laughter, joy, peace and love.
  2. My children will learn how to manage relationships with each other and with their parents by watching me. I will teach them to love each other by modeling acceptance, compassion, understanding, and connection. They will grow into a family who remains connected over distance, time, celebration and hardship.
  3. I will be present. I will push thoughts of escaping out of my mind and create ways to enjoy and appreciate my kids. I will turn off my devices when they are talking to me. I will turn off my devices during special time with each child every day and I will turn off my devices in the time between dinner and bedtime. I will not drink alcohol to escape. I will not use their screen time as a chance to escape. Rather, I will pray. I will count to ten, or I will remove myself from the room for a few moments to calm down so that I can show them that the people who they are, that the efforts they make, are wonderful and appreciated. Their self-esteem will not be corroded by my lack of appreciation of them. The best way to teach them to value themselves is to show them that I value them.

When I read them objectively, I hear idealism and can imagine other mamas in the same boat laughing and saying that they are unrealistic or don’t account for how hard life is. I get that. I really, really hate the pressure that is on moms these days and I would like to write more about that too. The dream of perfectionism or appearing to have it all together is real and does nothing but create feelings of inadequacy and shame. However, when I look at my goals personally, and hear the love, journey, and calling of my Father to them, I feel like they are more than possible, they are foundational. I have been reading Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson and it really affected my thinking.

These goals are things I’ve always wanted and tried to do, the difference right now is that I am setting them as the priority knowing that Jake, Aiden, and Penny are my Calling right now. Because really, I cannot expect Jake to be able to manage his autism or his anxiety without me fully plugged in. He has so much to learn about himself. He is incredible, but he is only seven, and I am going to advocate for him and pour love into him until he really knows how wonderful he is. The same goes for Aiden and Penny. I can’t think of anything more important in my life right now.

Ha! Balance. God tells me I must not forget balance. Alright. So somehow I will remember to take care of my marriage and myself too.