Mommy Guilt is such a real part of having kids. Every mom I’ve talked to experiences it. Some of us really struggle with it. Some of us are able to more easily relegate it to the back of our minds, where it only tickles occasionally. Every kind of mom wonders sometimes if maybe that other kind of mom knows something she doesn’t. Every mom falls short of her own expectations pretty regularly and worries that it has affected her kids. All of us go through phases where survival feels like the best we can do, and we’re not at all sure it’s enough.
I am realizing that having a child with special needs introduces a whole new level of Mommy Guilt. Therapy appointments at this age are really more about me than they are about Lina. The therapists are certainly keeping a close eye on her to evaluate how she’s progressing and which areas we need to be focusing on. But appointments are also about the therapist showing me activities we can be doing at home to support her development. Without the work at home, therapy would be pretty pointless. Two hours a month isn’t going to change the trajectory of Lina’s development. The thing is, I don’t feel like I have a solid grasp of exactly how much time we should spend on these activities, and I worry constantly that I’m not doing enough. Sometimes I go several days without reading a book to Lina. I had a hard time typing that, because it feels like such an awful admission. It would almost be easier if the therapists would write out a specific prescription: “Spend 20 minutes every day on this list of activities and come back in two weeks.” Then at least I’d know for sure how far short I was falling.
I worried some (and still do) about these things with Corin. That mom uses alphabet flash cards. Should I buy flash cards? But really, I’ve been pretty comfortable with my methods. I’ve read enough about the problems of hyper-parenting that I felt my more laid-back approach was probably just about right. We have worked learning into our everyday activities, and it seems to be working.
Then came Lina. With her, the stakes are so much higher. I know she needs a more hands-on approach, and learning and development for her is a very deliberate process. I can’t assume she’ll learn how to crawl and walk and talk and read when she’s ready, as I have with Corin. She needs my help with these skills, and I know how much her future success depends on my ability to be her first teacher and strongest advocate: always pushing, always encouraging, always equipping. Imagine, then, how much louder that voice in my head is that asks, But what if I fail? What if in my effort to balance the needs of two kids, the house and life in general, I’m not giving Lina everything she needs?
Thankfully, I’m a mostly-balanced and reasonable person who knows that Lina is doing well and making very good progress. I know that amidst all I have to juggle in a day, I spend a great deal of time talking to her, playing games and working on her gross and fine motor skills. Yes, I have to be more deliberate about the work I’m doing with her. But I’m also realizing how much of the intuitive play we do with babies is actually promoting development. For example, the speech therapist talks about how key back-and-forth babble is. Lina says “Da-da-da,” and who really has to stop and think before repeating back, “Da-da-da?” It’s natural, and it’s key to helping her understand communication. We talk to her constantly, up close where she can hear us clearly. We really do try to read to her every day. And yes, judgmental voice in my head, the time she spends sitting and playing on her own with her toys is also promoting development.
Not that any of this completely silences that Mommy Guilt voice. I am working to lower the volume, but I don’t know if I’ll ever figure out how to entirely turn it off. I’m probably going to keep worrying that I’m not spending enough time in structured therapy activities. I’m probably going to see the moms with flash cards and wonder every time if I should go to Amazon right now and order my set, quick-before-I-forget. (I actually think we’ll probably use flash cards with Lina at some point, but not, you know, before she’s a year old.) Life is a constant juggling act, and I don’t know that I’ll ever have the balance just right. Most days, I can live with that.