Updated: May 18, 2021
For Mother’s Day 2021
This will be the 2nd Mothers Day since the Covid 19 pandemic began and I’ve been reflecting lately on my journey as a mother. It’s been an extraordinary year hasn’t it? I know so many families have had such a dire time since the beginning of 2020. Many have experienced loss of loved ones, perpetual fear of illness and compounded stress of isolation and raising families with so many restrictions. It’s been HARD. Parenting is hard anyway as it is and frankly all of us who’ve been parenting during lockdowns deserve medals. Those of us who have been parenting neurodiverse, Special Education Needs, disabled children? Well, if you fall into that bracket you know what you’ve faced this year.
The mental health of all humanity has been severely tested. Our emotional resilience has been stretched so thin. As mothers, our maternal instinct to protect our children has been pushed to the limit. We have endured. We have survived. I say 'survive' intentionally as it has been a battle. It’s been a battle against this illness, a battle against insanity, a battle against loneliness and depression and a battle sometimes against boredom! When you’ve survived a battle you can come out the other side with a new knowledge of yourself, of your capabilities, of your own strength.
This upcoming Mothers Day has made me reflective of motherhood and my experience of it. I share it in the hope that some of you reading will see a little of your own story in here, gain an opportunity for gentle introspection and perhaps hope for your own journey.
The rather stern little girl in the middle there - with the epic pink clown dress on - is me! I think this was 1988. My Daddy is at the top, my eldest brother on the left, my sister just behind me, my middle brother on the far right and the youngest brother at the top right. And to my right our incredible mother.
I have been surrounded by love every single day of my life. If it is triggering and upsetting to read about someone being raised with such love when your own start in life was unlike this, I want to open my virtual arms to you and say that I believe it is the duty of us who have been raised with that love to support and lift up those who haven’t. Also to say that having that childhood surrounded by love does not make me more able to love my own children than those with a troubled childhood. In many cases I believe it can make your love and maternal instinct even stronger as you know what a childhood absent of love can do. It’s a privilege I do not take for granted. If you are still with me, thank you and also – you are amazing.
I want to tell you about my mother. My Mother, my Mama, is a goddess. Her name is Barbara. She is the mother of 5 children and we all absolutely adore her. She is incredibly kind. She is gentle and respectful. Nurturing and comforting, fair and fun. We laugh a LOT. She has just the right dose of silliness in her. I LOVE a bit of silliness. There's something so pure and innocent about a bit of silly that just fills me up. She is smart and wise but never pushes it onto anyone. Far as I'm concerned she is perfect. She (and my father) raised us with such pure, deep, gentle, unconditional love. There’s a 15 year age gap between my eldest brother and me. My parents had 3 wonderful children – 2 boys then a girl - and for a while they thought they were complete, until my sister turned 5 and was in full time school and my Mama started to get restless! She had a conversation with my Daddy which went something like this:
‘’Darling, our youngest is at school most of the day now and I’m starting to get bored. I could go back to work or we could have another baby.’’
My Daddy said ‘’ What do you want to do?’’
And she answered, ‘’Well I don’t want to go to work!’’
My Daddy was thrilled to bits as he loved his children so much and still really fancied my Mama so the decision was made! And my mother fell pregnant with my 3rd brother. As he entered toddlerdom my parents agreed that due to the 7 year age gap between him and my sister it was like he was an only child, so they decided then to make me, to be a friend for my brother. And then there were 5!
As I said, my parents did a glorious job of raising all 5 of us. I wanted for nothing. My physical and emotional needs were met always. I remember always loving school as well. When I was in primary school I remember an assignment where we needed to draw a self portrait and write a paragraph about what we wanted to be when we grew up.
I wrote that I wanted to be a Mummy. That was all I wanted to be for a very long time. During secondary school we had a more grown-up version of this followed by meetings with career coaches and by then I wanted to be a Sports Physiotherapist, mostly because I fancied Rugby players and liked the idea of manipulating their hunky bodies (in the end I just married one instead!) but I still wanted number 1 to be a Mummy. I had watched my mother and I thought to myself, I want to be like her. In the end, I copied her almost identically! She and I both got married at 22 and had our first children age 25. Our first-borns were also both boys, but other than that our experiences of motherhood were no longer the same.
When I was pregnant I was SO excited to be a Mother. I had wanted it all my life and now I was growing a little person inside me. As all parents do, Callum and I dreamed about what kind of child we had made. Who he’d take after in looks and personality. What skills and talents he’d have. Of course neither of us were thinking we had made a neurodiverse baby.
As I wrote on a previous blog about the diagnoses of our 2 sons, our eldest was diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder and learning disability at 2.5 years old but even before then it was different for us raising our son. Obviously because it was the Noughties instead of the Eighties but also because my mother’s first born was quite hard work and our Max was a dream baby. He slept beautifully, he fed easily, he wasn’t a big crier, he was not easily shocked, he wasn’t overly clingy or needy, he loved cuddles and affection, he weaned in a stress-free way... The list goes on! But there were differences as he got older that made us take notice of his development. He learned his first few words fairly easily but by about 18 months he started to lose them. He grew more quiet generally and his play was less interactive with us. We noticed he didn’t like to play with his peers very much and much preferred adult company. He liked to watch the same TV over and over and over for days or weeks on end. He was sensory sensitive to pain, hot and cold, lights and sound. After a while my husband and I decided to call in the Health Visitor to do his 2 year old check up a little early and she agreed there were some differences to his development that should be investigated more. I talk about the diagnosis in my previous post so you can read more there, but as you all know, he got his diagnosis and from then on we were a special education needs (SEN) family.
When my husband and I were dreaming of raising our family I was super confident that I was going to be a great Mum. How could I not be when I’d been raised by such an incredible mother myself and we had wanted this baby so much? We adored him before he was even born. I figured I knew what I was doing as well because I was already an Aunty and had been quite involved with my nieces from tiny babies. My eldest niece was born when I was only 15 so I’d had a lot of experience with babies by the time I became pregnant with our first. After that diagnosis though, I realised that actually in many ways I was going to have to learn a lot about how to parent our little chap from scratch! He is the first in my family with an SEN diagnosis and though my dear sister was a teacher and had taught Autistic children at her schools, no one in the family had experience of raising an Autistic child. I had to acknowledge that a lot of what I knew from my nieces and other children I’d been around and babysat for had not prepared me for raising this child of ours. He was different. He was going to need some different skills, techniques and lots of patience...
I’m not naturally a very patient person. I’m not a planner. I live in the moment and I’m reactive. I’m emotional rather than a thinker. I don’t analyse things. I was nervous! I wanted more than anything to do right by him and to raise him in the kindest way and give him the best shot at a fantastic life. We were very blessed because almost as soon as he was diagnosed we were offered a place on a parenting course for new SEN families called the Early Bird course. This was a 6 week course designed to educate and prepare parents for the road ahead with our little Autistic people. It was a seriously amazing course! I still have the workbook in my filing cabinet. I’ve referred back to it many times and taken advice from it to tell others with newly diagnosed children who weren’t able to access this course like we were. A lot of the reasons we were able to connect with and build a strong relationship with our son was because of this course. One of the most wonderful things about it as well was the fact we were learning this stuff alongside a small group of other families. We were able to share and support each other with our struggles and woes and our (and our children's) achievements and wins. I learned to be patient. I learned to really listen and look and pause before taking action or saying something. I learned to let go of my ego and allow our play and learning to be led by my child. I let go of expectation and lived in the moment; grateful for all the little wins and gentle with myself when I got it wrong; because of course I got it wrong. I still do! I’m human. I make mistakes. We all do. We’re not perfect and neither are they, but they are SO worth the effort aren’t they? These marvellous creatures we’ve the honour of caring for.
The Early Bird programme created a supportive community of parents and I’m still friends with a couple of them from that group 10 years later. The thing is that a community can be super powerful. It gives you a tribe. A safe place to be open and vulnerable, to learn, be empowered and to grow. This is why I created the Sonshine Art Facebook Group. I offer a space to do all those things. I’ll be sharing as much information and advice as I can, and providing ideas for activities and play that can lead to beautiful connection with our children.
Join me won’t you?
Send me a message if you want to have a chat.
Happy Mothers Day