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  • Cynthia Coupe

Bad Moms

You’re a good mom, but your child needs more boundaries.

Maybe if you took a parenting class…

Have you read the book ___________?

My God, I don’t know how you do it. You must be a saint!

Is your child always that busy?

Give her a weekend with me, I’ll fix her right up.

Have you considered food allergies?

We can tell who’s in charge here!

S/he must be an only child.

I don’t know any other kids who do that.

S/he’s got you wrapped around his/her thumb!

We didn’t have any problems with them.

If you would just________.

Have you considered staying at home more? I was a teacher for a long time, and I can tell you, this isn’t normal.

How many of these ring true for you? Or maybe you’ve said or thought these things before…whispered them behind a back, or figured it must be poor parenting practices that make kids misbehave.

Or maybe it’s just because we’re bad moms.

Or maybe…just maybe, we have a child who is neurodivergent and they don’t fit into the box other kids fit into.

I would hazard to guess 100% of those of us raising neurodivergent kids have felt incredibly judged at one point or another. Whether it’s a sideways glance at the grocery store, polite smiles while your kid is having a meltdown, or far worse, we’ve felt it.

Perhaps it’s given to you through your spouse, passed along family lines like a bad game of telephone, where you, as the recipient, don’t even know why aunt Suzie thinks your child has ADHD because the only thing that happened was you had dinner with her one time last week and your 6 year old daughter refused to sit still the whole meal, which seems pretty normal to you, she’s 6...give her a break!

And if your child is dysregulated while any of these judgements are being made, the judgments themself might get even more over the top.

The funny thing is: parents, particularly the mother, are often the one to blame. It’s our fault because we were too lenient, let them eat too much sugar, didn’t get them to bed on time, continue to work full time or any host of other untruths.

Did you know that autism was originally thought to be attributed to frigid moms? Yep, that’s right. It was thought that these moms didn’t give their child enough love, and so they ended up autistic. (This theory, the Refrigerator Mother Theory, began in the 1940’s and wasn’t disproved until the 1970’s…with repercussions still alive and well today. There was even a documentary released in 2002 about this, called Refrigerator Mothers).

So yeah…moms. We take a lot of the heat. My child was always a handful, as was I. My family often said “Well, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!” “Oh look, it’s a mini you…now you get to see what it was like!” Those sayings didn’t actually hurt my feelings, rather I thought they were funny. I liked that my daughter was like me…independent, strong willed and curious about the world around her.

What hurt my feelings was when family members talked amongst themselves and then sent a message through my spouse, or good friend or what not. I was embarrassed, ashamed and confused. I couldn’t understand how being sensitive to my daughter’s needs meant that I was doing anything wrong. I didn’t see (and still don’t) why it was problematic if she was too sensitive to fall asleep in a new place, if she required me to lay with her for over an hour as she fell asleep, or how it possibly mattered that she had difficulty sitting still.

Of course, that was all before the diagnosis of autism and ADHD came through…my parenting practices haven’t changed but the perception of my daughter has.

There are still plenty of times others believe I “should” be a better parent, that I should be less sensitive to her needs, more willing to lay down hard boundaries, more in control of how she acts in public and probably work a little less too, while I’m at it.

But overall, the diagnosis has helped me shift the culture of perception. I wish that weren’t the case. I wish I could be seen as a wonderful mother who adequately anticipates her child’s needs, rather than a saint that can handle even a daughter who has a diagnosis. But at least it’s a start.

I’d like to stand on a giant platform and say: PLEASE LEARN TO BE MORE CURIOUS! You don’t know what someone’s going through. You don’t know why a kid is having a screaming fit in a grocery store, it’s quite possible it’s NOT because they are a brat, or because they have a bad mom. It’s quite possibly sensory overload, dysregulation, or maybe even a diagnosis you know nothing about and don’t need to know anything about. If we open our heart to empathy and compassion, we go a lot further to understanding and accepting those who we share this world with. How amazing would it be, the next time you’re in a grocery store and see a mom who is dealing with a screaming kid (yes, even if they are 8 years old!) to not judge, but to say to them “I see you. You’re doing a good job. Parenting is tough, do you need any support?”

I know it’s awkward to address someone. So maybe you don’t need to. But maybe you can recognize your judgment, and put it aside. Let the person with the screaming kid in line in front of you, smile at them like you mean it…realize that we are doing the very best we can, even when our kids look like a mess. There are things in this world we don’t have authority on, don’t understand, and don’t need to. But reversing our judgment is huge. And if you’re a family member who is wondering about someone in your family…reach out directly. “Hey, I noticed that Josh had a hard time sitting still at dinner/seemed to have difficulty falling asleep/screamed at you when you said no” can you tell me more about that? I want to understand and I find myself not knowing the whole picture. I like how you were so calm, is there something I should know about how you parent?” Or something to that degree…

Curiosity. It’s a game changer. It might not solve the problems, but it's a start towards building a bridge to empathy, and as a mom, we can use all the empathy we can get.

I see you, Mom’s of the world. Happy Mother’s Day. May you be acknowledged for all the love you give, and the lives you’re changing each and every day. Thank you for raising spirited, curious, kind-hearted and sensitive children. The world needs more of them, that’s for sure.

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