I read something today that brought back such a whirlwind of emotions I was actually surprised that I could still feel them that intensely after all this time (and therapy). The most powerful of those today, though, was guilt. If you’re a mom, you know about guilt. Not the ‘I feel bad about taking the last cookie’ kind of guilt, either. But when you are the mother of a child with special needs, your guilt expands ten-fold.
I was reading through a discussion on a parenting website I visit infrequently, though I enjoy it immensely. The original discussion post was ‘I wonder how many people here have children with Cerebral Palsy’. About halfway through the posts, a woman began discussing in great detail and at great length how her aunt was to blame for her cousin’s CP. My astonishment at her ignorance and lack of human compassion in her post was great.
I am not going to give any further opinion of that commenter: I do not live her life, and she is not the focus of this post. But again, as the mother of a child with special needs, I am all too familiar with the ‘blame game’. No matter what the circumstances, it is damaging beyond any physical injury. Placing blame on a mother in her situation, I assure you, causes irreparable damage.
Until it is your child, you can’t know the number of nights we have lain awake wondering where we went wrong and what we could have done differently to prevent our child’s disease or disorder. And there is no number of reasons or justifications for your blame that can come close to the number we have already permanently attached to our hearts. Your finger is pointing directly at the insecurities, fears (terrors, actually), and faults that cause us to lay awake during those aforementioned nights. As there is no limit to the reaches of a mother’s imagination, so is there no limit to the depths of her guilt.
I have been on the losing end of the ‘blame game’, quietly absorbing all of the horrible ways that my son’s CP is a direct result of my actions. I don’t know how it does anyone any good, as it certainly didn’t ‘cure’ his CP, but it sure did make it a lot harder for me to function clearly as a mother with those things hanging over my head (along with all of the things I hung up there myself). In case you didn’t know, guilt is one of the most demoralizing emotions you can feel.
I will not ever forget the day one of my specialists leaned into where I was sitting, put his hands gently and fatherly on my knees, looked into my tear-filled eyes, and said, “This was not your fault.” I already knew he was speaking the truth. But the truth doesn’t always sound true when you’re consumed with guilt. ‘He’s human and he feels sorry for me,’ I’d think. ‘He knows it is entirely my fault, but he has a daughter my age and he is trying to be helpful.’
We don’t just feel guilty about the existence of our children’s conditions, either. Every time I make a decision regarding my son’s treatment, medication, education, haircut, etc., I feel that familiar nagging inside second-guessing me. The nagging is, of course, made worse any time a treatment fails, an educational goal isn’t met, or any of a million other imaginable (or unimaginable) things throws us off course.
Reading that post gave me a little bit of confidence, too, though. I guess I got my feathers ruffled just enough to want to stand up for myself and other moms like me. But this goes for all moms, not just those of us who have children with special needs:
We need to keep our guilty feelings in check. Keep them within the boundaries of reality. Because none of us is a super-mom. Yes, we will falter and sometimes fall, but dammit, we will get up, apply the boo-boo medicine, and go on.
This is how it’s done, how it’s always been done, and this labor of love we have taken upon ourselves will be all the more rewarding this way.
Guilt should be a four-letter word (and it would be, if it weren’t for that pesky ‘u’ in there). To put it in the admittedly-vulgar but totally accurate words of a favorite band of mine from one of their tunes: “F#<K the nay-sayers ‘cause they don’t mean a thing. This is what style we bring.”
Rock on, my sisters.