Thursday, August 8, 2013

Can an Autism Mom Have It All? (My Response to Time Magazine Article: The Childfree Life)

By now you've seen this Time cover. The taunting photo of a couple sans kids sprawled out on the beach, hands over head, all smug and relaxed because their childfree life allows them to have it all.

The article explores the lives of childless women and couples. And ever since it's publication, the blogosphere has been all a buzz over it. 

Babble blogger Jeannette Kaplun wrote an excellent post in response
Being a parent has been the best choice for me, but it isn’t necessarily for everybody. That’s why it didn’t surprise me at all to see this week’s TIME cover, which looks at the choice more American couples are making — to purposefully live their lives without children. I don’t think that choosing to not be a mother is selfish. I actually think that it can do the world a ton of good. 
I agree with Jeannette, I believe in a woman's right to choose. I believe that not all women are supposed to be mothers. I believe that motherhood was the best thing that happened to me (even though it wasn't exactly in my life plan).

And I feel sorry for the women in the Time article. Not sorry that they don't have children - sorry that they feel the need to justify their reasons why they don't have/want children. 

Still the great debate continues. Can we or can't we have it all. And what does having it all really mean? Does 'all' even matter? 

We don't have to look to a magazine cover to see women who appear to have it all - all we have to do is log on to Facebook or Pinterest. Social media allows us to peer into the window of other women's lives and wonder how do they do it? They either have great jobs or they're stay-at-home moms or they have the best of both worlds - they are work-at-home moms. They live in the right neighborhoods, have the 'perfect' kids or the 'perfect' partner. They drive the nice car and eat the right foods. Everything matches and they're exactly the size they're supposed to be. Their hair and nails are always done. They wear designer clothes that I can't pronounce. They go on date nights, girls night out and romantic weekend getaways. Their homes are out of the pages of a Pottery Barn catalog - they can light candles without worrying about a kid setting themselves on fire. They craft and scrapbook and bake their own bread and do all sorts of amazing things with their kids that make me feel like a slacker mom. Their kids are on the honor roll, have dates to prom and get scholarships to college. They have empty nest syndrome, enjoy their retirement and/or surrounded by adorable grandchildren.

Time magazine makes me wonder: what about autism parents? Do we, can we or will we ever have it all?

I know many mothers who quit their jobs to stay home with their kids. Some autism moms home school. And when they don't, they wonder if they should. 

We spend hours researching, reviewing, learning about autism, therapies, medications and legal rights. We can easily spend more time on the phone fighting with insurance companies than chatting with our BFFs. We constantly worry about our kids and their future. Will they have friends? Will they fall in love? Have a job? Live independently? We want nothing more than to be there for our child, to live forever or secretly hope to outlive our child by a day (or less).

What about an autism mom like me?

I work (full-time outside of the home) because I have to and The Boy goes to a school I had to fight to get him into. As an autism mom, I am exhausted and overwhelmed. There isn't a night when I don't lay awake in my bed worrying over all the What Ifs and Will Hes

I look at the Time cover and I wonder if I will ever lay like that on a beach with The Husband. Our date nights are so few and far between - will a romantic weekend getaway ever be a possibility? Will we be able to relax and enjoy our golden years? Will we ever have a 'childfree' life even after our child grows up?   

I don't know. Honestly? The not knowing makes me sad.  

My life is far from perfect. I have more than my fair share of stress, disappointment and heartacheBy some women's standards, I don't have it all. Not many women would trade their sexy heels to step into my sensible flats. And that's okay because I wouldn't trade in my flats for their heels either. 

So when I read a headline like When having it all means not having children - I have to check myself and take inventory of what I do have.

I have a husband who adores me and genuinely supports me in every way.

I have a beautiful boy who lights up my world even on my darkest day.

I have parents, family and friends who accept The Boy just as he is.

I have a job that pays the bills (and provides health insurance) and a few freelance gigs that keep me sane.

I have a comfortable apartment that's a size I can manage to keep clean. We have a car that can get us from point a to point b. And I have a few cute pair of sensible flats.  

I never wanted to be a mother. It wasn't something I dreamed about or planned for. Motherhood, for me, just happened. But being a mother - being The Boy's mother - has given me more than I could have ever imagined. I don't have many material things but I have the things that matter most. I don't have to have it all. Because I'm happy with what I have right now. What I have is more than enough. 

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AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.