Mother’s Day was on Sunday. It was mostly a joyous occasion for me because I am truly blessed and lucky in the mother department. On Facebook I said “Happy Mother’s Day to my kindred spirit, my tireless advocate, the love of my life, the best mother and friend a girl could possibly ask for” and I meant every word of it.
I also posted a collection of pictures of my mom and I through the years. A friend from High School recognized the picture of me hugging my mom as being from the Senior Breakfast our program had before I graduated. I read a letter to my my mom at that breakfast that began with “I’ve learned some hard lessons in life but the hardest lesson I’ve learned is that people let you down. Thankfully I have a person in my life who I know will never let me down. That person is you.” It ended with “I could not ask for a better mother” (along with lots of tears.)
The day before Mother’s Day I posted a video of an autistic man thanking his mother for everything she’s done for him. Motherhood in general is challenging and requires a lot of dedication but raising a child on the autism spectrum (or a child who has any kind of serious disability or illness) is a whole different ballgame. It means an endless litany of doctor’s appointments, therapy appointments and IEP meetings. It means constantly struggling to figure out what is wrong with your child and what you can do to help them. It means constantly worrying about your child, constantly advocating for them, constantly having to help them to do the things they cannot do for themselves. My mother has truly risen to the challenge of raising a special needs child, has truly gone above and beyond the call of duty.
The parent of a typical child can usually expect to raise that child until about age 18, then to let them go to live their own life and take care of themselves. However, when you have a special needs child, you sometimes have to take care of them well past the age of 18. Sometimes you have to take care of them your entire life and then figure out who will take care of them after you die.
In some respects being dependent on my mother as an adult is painful and humiliating for me but if I have to be dependent on someone, there’s no one I’d rather be dependent on than my mother. My life has been pretty hard but I cannot begin to imagine how much harder it would be if I did not have such a wonderful, supportive mother. I would really be up shit’s creek without her. Obviously I would never be alive in the first place if I didn’t have a mother but if I did not have a mother as wonderful and supportive as mine I’m not sure I would still be alive today and if I was it would probably only be in the technical sense of the term.
The card I gave to my mother said something about how a mother friend is the best kind of friend. I know there are a some people who love their mothers very much but who do not consider them to be a friend. I, however, have always considered my mom to be my best friend. I get judged a lot for living with my mom and am often told that I should be living on my own but independence issues aside, I enjoy living with my best friend.
At first I wasn’t sure what to get my mother as a gift. My brother had the flowers covered and I knew that if I got her chocolate I’d just end up eating it myself. I asked her what she wanted. Eventually she decided she wanted a notebook so I got her a nice notebook from Barnes& Noble and some pens to go along with it. You can never have too many pens because when it comes to objects that you’re always losing and can never find when you need them, pens are rivaled only by socks.
It was a fun day. Aside from a brief torrential downpour (Mother Nature is a mother who can be a real bitch) the weather was lovely. We even got a rainbow. I got a cute haircut from an awesome hairdresser. We had dinner at a friend’s house where we ate good food and played with a menagerie of cute pets.
Yet my joy on Mother’s Day was tempered by my pain and the pain I knew others were experiencing. A few days before Mothers’ Day I edited a blog for a friend about how hard Mother’s Day is when you’ve lost a child. The loss of a child is one of the many reasons Mother’s Day might be hard for someone. They might have lost their mother, they might have a strained or nonexistent relationship with their mother or child, they might be struggling with infertility, etc.
One of the points raised in the blog was that looking at social media can be hard for some people on Mother’s Day. I knew that I was going to celebrate my mother on social media on Mother’s Day but before I did that I posted a status acknowledging those who were struggling. I saw other statuses as well as articles and memes acknowledging those who were having a hard time on Mother’s Day.
A friend posted a status asking why Facebook was filled with stuff asking others to be mindful of those who are struggling on Mother’s Day and not to celebrate too hard lest you upset someone else but you don’t see things like that on social media on Fathers’ Day.
I and other people responded by expressing the sentiment that it’s probably because motherhood and Mother’s Day are generally seen as being a ‘bigger deal’ than fatherhood and Father’s Day. Motherhood is seen as being a more essential part of a woman’s identity than fatherhood of a man’s identity. Having a crappy mother is seen as being more traumatic than having a crappy father. I don’t think those ideas are necessarily right, fair or accurate but they are certainly widely believed and perpetuated both directly and indirectly.
It was also pointed out that acknowledging and being mindful of those who are suffering on Mother’s Day doesn’t necessarily mean you should temper your own celebration of it. The analogy was made that Christmas is hard for many people and it’s nice to reach out those who are suffering during the holidays but no one is expected to take down their Christmas tree or refrain from sending holiday cards because of it.
It’s not an all or nothing thing either. Someone could be celebrating their mother but grieving over their children or lack thereof. I’m in that boat myself. I’ve never tried to have children and I don’t actually want children. When I can’t take care of myself attempting to take care of children would be a terrible idea and I imagine I’d find parenting to be unbearably stressful. Autism does not preclude everyone from having children-there are plenty of people on the autism spectrum who are great parents. However, I have decided that the issues I have as result of being on the spectrum preclude me from having children.
What I do desperately want is to be the kind of person who could handle having children. I love children and if I did not have the autism spectrum related issues that I have I would absolutely want to have children. I think it is possible to lead a fulfilling life without having children but I also think motherhood is a rewarding (although challenging and sometimes heartbreaking) experience like no other. It makes me sad that I will never get to have that experience.
While I want to be the kind of person who can handle having children, I do not want to be the kind of person who can’t handle hearing other people talk about their children because it fills me with too much jealousy and bitterness. Luckily that’s not something I struggle with much. I feel genuine joy when pregnancies and births are announced, when I see pictures of children, when I interact with them, when I hear about the cute things they’ve said and the accomplishments they’ve made. I can empathize with my friends when they talk about how hard it is to be a mother even if I’m struggling with the opposite problem.
I hope everyone found something to celebrate this Mother’s Day. If Mother’s Day brought you pain and sorrow may you find comfort and peace.