Each morning, I wake up to my children jumping on me and announcing that it’s time to get out of bed. Once I open my eyes enough to get out of bed, I head to the kitchen, where my large box of pills awaits me in its locked cabinet.
“Mommy, mommy, can I help you take your medicine?” my oldest son chirps with a large smile.
My heart sinks a little as I try to smile back and hand him my pill case. I can’t help but compare myself to the picture-perfect mom in my mind who would’ve already had homemade pancakes on the table. But my son passes me each of my bottles (under close supervision) and cheers me on as I twist the child safety lock off and dispense each pill into my hand. You see, to people without disabilities and chronic illnesses, medication is often something saved for emergencies. But my children know that Mommy can’t function without it.
When I start nearly every day coping with my chronic pain and often complex medical issues (like Irritable Bowel Disease), I feel guilty for already being at a disadvantage. I can’t help but compare the way I parent to what I know about other moms and what I see on television or social media. I know that I can never achieve an action-packed, early morning schedule or prepare an Insta-worthy breakfast spread.
At some point, most mothers have experiences with mom guilt, but when you’re a parent with a disability, it can add another layer of complexity. Parental guilt can manifest as remorse, sadness, anxiety, or even agony depending on the person; it is important to note that it can present itself in different ways.
At some point, most mothers have experiences with mom guilt, but when you’re a parent with a disability, it can add another layer of complexity.
As a mother with disabilities, I often fear that I have failed my children before the days have started because of the way our society has set us up to believe that independence is the key to success. As a mom, I feel like I’m supposed to keep a clean house, nurture and educate my children, and work eight-plus hours a day. And then, if by some miracle I succeed at multitasking all of that, I’m also supposed to come up with creative Pinterest-worthy activities, exercise to maintain a trim figure, and cook well-balanced meals for dinner. It’s exhausting.
Despite knowing that my children love me, I will always worry they will compare me to others and somehow wish for a mom who is “fixed.” I’ve come up with a few tips and tricks to help combat the mom guilt I face as a mother with disabilities. Here are my favorite ways to cope.
1. Find a support group tailored to moms with similar needs
Mom groups are great for any mother, but when you have disabilities that can make it difficult to make it to each meetup (pre-COVID), you can find yourself feeling left out. There were times where I felt left out of the “cool mom” clique and couldn’t help but blame myself for making my children miss out on valuable interactions with kids their age.
Each time I was invited on a playdate with any local mom, I dreaded the inevitable “I’m sorry” text I would have to send when I wasn’t feeling up to watching my children in an unfamiliar environment. When you have a disability, you can come to rely on certain medications, a familiar physical environment, or even a private bathroom. When these things are inaccessible while on playdates with other moms at parks or in their homes, it can create a barrier for moms who have disabilities.
In my home, I have child-safe areas that I can trust my children in if I need an emergency trip to the bathroom for longer than two minutes. But in another mom’s house or play area, I can never be sure of the accessible options or safety of my children. This is why having a close group of moms with disabilities who understand the challenges can come in handy. A mom friend who also carries an emergency bag with medication or has bad pain days like me can understand when I need to reschedule. And if you cannot find a few moms close by, online social media groups are great ways to gain the emotional support of other mothers who understand you.
2. Take advantage of daycare or a mother’s helper on bad days
When I was a new mom, I put so much pressure on myself to be the sole caretaker for my child. I thought needing help reflected badly on me. I’d think I didn’t deserve to have children if I needed help to care for them. But as my kids grew older and my circle of mom friends (online and in-person) got bigger, I learned that every parent needs help at some point. Asking for it doesn’t make you less than, it makes you human. Now I remind myself that getting appropriate child care for my kids is actually a good thing.
As my kids grew older and my circle of mom friends (online and in-person) got bigger, I learned every parent needs help at some point, and asking for it doesn’t make you less than.
If your family can afford child care a few times a week, it can allow you to save up energy for fun activities that you would not be able to do otherwise. Plus, many daycares have programs to make sure your kids have a creative outlet—like those Pinterest-worthy activities—and get plenty of exercise throughout the day.
3. Come up with a backup plan with your partner
When I was a new mom, I prided myself on doing everything on my own. If I needed help, I immediately felt guilty about it. If you’re married or partnered, it’s important to have open conversations about what you can and cannot do and ask for help when needed.
Instead of defaulting to feeling bad about asking my husband to take over child care when I was feeling unwell, I worked on reframing my thinking. How much time will it save in the long run if I take care of myself sooner rather than letting my health plummet because I felt guilty?
I worked on reframing my thinking. How much time will it save in the long run if I take care of myself sooner rather than letting my health plummet because I felt guilty?
Often times, asking for help sooner is a great way to prevent extended time out of commission—or even a trip to the hospital. Even asking your spouse to bring you medicine, ice packs, or other aids can help set you up for success to feel better sooner. Communication can help eliminate the misunderstandings and helplessness partners may often feel. Now that my husband and I have had many open conversations about my health and what I need to be at my best, we can work as a team when needed, which only makes me a better parent in the long-run.