I recently read an article about autism moms and the stress they experience. Here is the link to it. I have read it before and and listened to people to discuss it. I have never taken the opportunity to share my thoughts on the subject, though. Allow me to do so now…because I said so.
Let me just say right off the bat that I really hate that they compared our stress as parents of autistic children to that of combat soldiers. As an intelligent, thinking individual, I understand their reasons. I do. But I hate the comparison for one simple reason. People can be morons. After reading this article over the last few years since its dissemination, I have heard countless people say that “we experience the same thing” as combat veterans. No. We don’t. Our lives aren’t in jeopardy and our family’s lives aren’t in jeopardy every minute of every day, not to mention the countless other stressful factors they endure. That was not the point. The point is how our bodies deal with the stress. They were just surprised, apparently, to find that the hormones were the same, meaning there is constant stress. There. I said the mean part. 🙂
Moving on. So my body is stressed. So what? Big deal. I already knew that. I didn’t need an article or some researcher to tell me that. I swear, sometimes I read these things and think, “Duh. Do you even know anyone that falls into this category that you’re researching? Because if you did, you wouldn’t waste your time drawing such brainless conclusions.” HA! I know. It’s rude, but seriously. That was brainless. The rest of it, however, had a little bit of meaning! For instance, they referenced the long-term side effects of chronic stress like chronic health problems, glucose regulation, immune functioning, and mental activity. I was glad she brought that up because it is really important for parents to know that.
I know that I went through a period of a few years where I struggled with weight. (Weight wasn’t the only problem, but it was the only visible problem.) Never in my life before had I struggled with weight. I was still active, exceedingly so. I still ate pretty healthy, or at least the way I had always eaten. But with the stress I had been enduring, my body had changed. Literally. I was different on the inside and the out. I still am. I couldn’t figure it out, and I was a mess. A great big giant mess. I had to change the way I eat. I had to do everything I could to help my body manage glucose in a healthy way, something it used to do without any help from me, and it was difficult. I am now extremely careful about the food I eat and how I eat it. It isn’t only because I don’t want to be Large Marge again (bonus points if you know that reference). It’s because the food I eat greatly affects my mental state as well as my ability to cope with this “chronic stress” that I will suffer no matter what. To put it simply, when I make good food/fuel choices my body has a lot more strength and endurance for the days/weeks/months of autism parenting. When I make good food choices my mind is more capable of handling the interruptions, the behavior problems, the (what I call) “real” problems that require a lot of thought and research and problem solving, and the regular day-to-day life stressors. I think it’s important to know that chronic stress changes your body, and you may need to change the way you have always done things if you want to be your best self.
The article says, “On a day-to-day basis, the mothers in our study experience more stressful events and have less time for themselves compared to the average American mother,” and that sounds…hard. Ideally we would have more and better support options. Usually, though, it’s us doing it for one another. Honestly, I don’t think this is a bad thing. I think community is where things need to be. Friends helping one another, seeing each other’s needs and supporting each other. We have to take care of ourselves though (as previously mentioned) because it can’t all be placed on others to support someone. But then let’s talk to our trusted friends and partners and make these things happen.
I think sometimes moms end up falling on the sword when no one asked them to do it because it’s “easier” for the family. But is it really easier for them? I don’t think it is. They end up with a mom that doesn’t shine. Worse than that, they end up with with a bedraggled mom who is always fraying in one or more ways…patience, kindness, cleanliness, health, happiness…You get the point. But if we talk to the people who love us and that we trust, I know we could find systems that would work. For instance, I remember several years ago telling Mr. Fantastic that I had to be alone x-many nights a week. All alone. No children, no husband. NOBODY. I felt like I was being taken advantage of by him and the three demon-angels, and I demanded to be alone!! His answer? “Sure, babe! Let’s do that! I’m not insisting you stay home every single night!” To be clear, I approached him in this conversation all prepped for battle and went at him with a “Come at me, esé!” attitude. HAHA! That’s how sure I was that he would fight me. I was deflated when he agreed immediately…deflated and delighted. I am certain that you will find similar results. Perhaps an hour of childcare from grandparents/aunties/uncles? Join the Big MAK group in your area or your local Autism Support Group. Maybe even just jump on FB and join one of those support groups if that’s your thing. But I am convinced that community is the best support for anything, much better than anything the government could legislate or world organizations can give us.
This next part of the article, however, is what stood out most to me. “Despite all of this, mothers of an individual with autism were just as likely to have positive experiences each day, volunteer or support their peers as those whose children have no developmental disability, researchers found.” I mean, seriously. GO, US!! This tells me that we have found a way or that we are finding it. This tells me that we know compassion intimately. It tells me that we love our kids and even though we have rough episodes with them, we are happy to report every day that we have had positive experiences as well. This tells me that we aren’t quitters. This tells me that I am not the only one who knows how to take all of this madness and difficulty and still find happiness. We’re awesome.
People, life is meant to be hard. If anything, having a child with autism (or any other sort of “special” need) just forces you to face that reality. The storms of life just come with more frequency and ferocity. You can’t ignore them. It’s hard, but I really do think that if we strengthen ourselves both within and without we will be better equipped to handle those storms. Yes. Autistic children stress the parents’ bodies. Duh. But what are you going to do about it? Are you going to sit idly by while your strength is stripped away? Or will you find a way? I hope you find a way to replenish your soul and your body. I hope you brainstorm and write down ideas and then act on them. It’s hard to enjoy the peaceful moments if we are too busy lamenting about fatigue and exhaustion and troubles past and future. We can do this. You can do this. You are their parent for a reason. You are the best person for the job. Let’s try hard to be our best so we can handle the worst.
Take It, and Be Thankful