I freely admit that at times, the experience [of being a parent of a child with autism] pushed me into self-pity. When at the park with Rowan, for instance, watching other moms with their “normal” kids, I would start to feel very sorry for myself. Why can’t I have a normal child? Why can’t Rowan even respond when another child asks him his name? Why are the other kids making faces at how weird he’s being? I would start to feel isolated, alone, cut off from the world of “normal” families. I found myself internally screaming, “HAVING CHILDREN IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THIS WAY! THIS IS NOT THE PLAN I SIGNED UP FOR! WHY ME?” But luckily self-compassion saved me from going too far down this path. While watching the other kids playing on the swings or swooshing down the slide, I would remind myself that most families had difficulties raising their kids. Maybe the challenge wasn’t autism, but it could be any number of other issues—depression, eating disorders, drug addiction, being bullied at school, serious illness. I would look at the other families at the park and remember that they surely had their woes and sorrows too, if not now then sometime in the future. Instead of feeling “poor me,” I would try to open my heart to all parents everywhere who were trying to do their best in challenging circumstances. What about the millions of parents in developing countries whose children didn’t even have enough to eat? I certainly wasn’t the only one having a hard time.
Two things would happen as a result of this line of thinking. First, I would begin to feel deeply in touch with the unpredictability of being human. My heart would swell up with tenderness for all the challenges and sorrows involved in being a parent, but also for all the joy, love, and wonder that children bring us. Second, my situation was put into much clearer perspective. Rather than falling into the trap of believing that other parents were having an easier time than I was, I remembered that it could be worse—much worse. In the overall scheme of things, autism wasn’t so bad, and there were things we could do to help Rowan tremendously. The real gift of self-compassion, in fact, was that it gave me the equanimity needed to take actions that did ultimately help him.
Perhaps more important, focusing on common humanity helped me to love Rowan for who he was. Once I remembered that having problems and challenges was normal, I could more easily get over the disappointment of not having a “normal” child.
And what is “normal” anyway? Maybe Rowan had difficulty expressing himself with language, or engaging in appropriate social interactions, but he was a loving, happy kid.
Being human is not about being any one particular way; it is about being as life creates you—with your own particular strengths and weaknesses, gifts and challenges, quirks and oddities. By accepting and embracing the human condition, I could better accept and embrace Rowan and also my role as the mother of an autistic child.
From Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself. Reproduced with permission.