Guest post by Judy Fiermonte
Seriously? I forgot who I was, other than mother, when my daughter was young. But then again, I had a child with Special Needs and felt that being her mother was the only thing that mattered other than my work as a professional Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in children and their families. I think I became a therapist so that I would learn how to do this mothering thing, since my own mother was not someone I wanted to emulate. I came from authoritarian parents who believed in spare the rod and spoil the child, shaming, and “get over it” when it came to upsetting feelings. I knew there must be a better way; and I was going to find it, master it, and implement it.
So it was with the greatest joy that I brought my one and only child, a daughter, in to the world, 26 years ago when I was a 38 year old Mom. Fortunately I made it through her childhood and adolescence and am now on the other side with time to re-discover who I am other than mother, while at the same time enjoying a close relationship with my college student daughter.
Mothers of children with Special Needs are a breed all their own. Wait, first….what do I mean by Special Needs? It is a broad term incorporating children on the Autism Spectrum, adopted children who may or may not have Reactive Attachment Disorder, Downs Syndrome kids, children with chronic illness, kids with extreme acting out behavior, and so on. While mothers of these children share many of the trials and tribulations of parents with typical children; they have their own kind of agony of isolation, worry about the future, wondering if the child will ever be able to live independently, what will become of them when we parents are gone? And then in the present there is the embarrassment and mortification of their behavior in public, often their lack of friends thus making the parents their only social contact, the learning issues in school, sleep issues, food issues, maintaining good hygiene issues, to mention a few.
And in most families with Special Needs children, the mother is a stay-at-home mom orchestrating all the appointments, from OT to speech therapy, to tutoring, to psychotherapy. And usually figuring out the insurance papers (if they have insurance) falls to the Mom. The Dad is usually working his tail off to pay for all this. The toll it takes on a marriage and on the other children (if there are others) is enormous, as well as the financial drain this puts on the family.
Let me say that I don’t think for one minute that any of us would give up what we have done for our children. They bring us the gifts of patience, compassion for others, humor, a deep love connection, self reflection, courage and the gift of accepting what is.
How do we begin to listen to our own being, our soul, our wants and desires? First by thinking about what we have ignored or neglected in ourselves since becoming a mother. And then by looking at what we want to cultivate in ourselves. In the Mom’s group that I run with my colleague for Mother’s of Children with Special Needs this is what we are hearing. We want to create, paint, act, sing, exercise, gab with friends, have alone time, develop a spiritual practice, meditate, read, write, become more financially independent, see movies, have a Voice, go back to school, and be playful and happy without so much worry. In the coming weeks we are going to explore some of these themes.
Tell me what you have neglected and what you want to cultivate.
Judy Fiermonte has been a Marriage and Family Therapist in Santa Rosa since 1980. She specializes in work with children and their families. Having had a child with special needs, she started a group with her colleague, Cynthia Hymowitz, for mothers of children with special needs, a group that has been ongoing for the past 3 years. She shares her experiences at blog momssoulsanctuary.blogspot.com.