After my neurotypical daughter was born, I couldn’t avoid falling into the comparison trap– not comparing her to other children, but to her older sister who just so happens to be autistic. This was unfair to both of them but it happened none the less.
In fact, there are a few ways that I’ve become quite the failure though I’m also doing my best to rectify that. I have plenty of bad habits, and I’m also doing whatever I can to overcome that.
But there’s still one that I can’t seem to shake and I wonder if I ever will be able to.
I say this because it involves my daughters who are 12 years apart in age but so similar in some areas.
Sometimes I even have to wonder if my toddler is more advanced than her teenage sister.
It’s becoming clear to me that Squeaker will have more opportunities in life. And that’s not to say that Sweet B can’t enjoy a quality life, just that it will be so much more different. She’ll need on-going adult support and will likely never live on her own.
This is just one of the realities that goes along with being the parent of an autistic child. It’s a very real part of the future that our children face. And while I may not be able to predict the future, I can do whatever I can now to ensure that Sweet B’s future is full.
Even if that includes learning to forgive myself- something that I have struggled with from the day she received her autism diagnosis.
The Mom Guilt that Followed My Daughter’s Autism Diagnosis
Sweet B’s autism diagnosis has been one of the biggest ongoing struggles in my life.
Whether it was wrestling with the initial diagnosis or coming to terms with my personal guilt; this has been one journey that’s filled with seemingly endless ups and downs. And I promised myself that after Squeaker was born, I wouldn’t compare them because that wasn’t fair to either one of them.
They’re different, of course, but they’re also sisters so they’re bound to have a few things in common.
It wasn’t until I sat down and really thought about how much that they have in common that reality hit me in the face. Allow me to explain:
Aside from the obvious (they’re both female, they both have brown eyes, they both have dark hair) there are a few things that they have in common as of February 2015.
- They’re both in diapers. Though Sweet B is mostly potty trained, she does still require an adult diaper at night. Squeaker is only 13 months old and has yet to show any interest in potty training… I’m not going to force the issue with her either- she’s 13 months old. We have plenty of time for that.
- They’re both mostly non-verbal. At this point, I think they almost have the same amount of emerging vocabulary though, if I was going to be brutally honest- Squeaker may have a slight edge on her sister at this point. Her vocal approximations and attempts at vocabulary are slightly more coherent than her sister.
- They’re both fairly mommy dependent. And at times, rightfully so, though I should also call this adult dependent. In terms of every day life skills (feeding, dressing, bathing, etc.). They require almost the same amount of support. For Squeaker, I would expect this. She’s still a baby. For Sweet B, of course it’s a matter of what she’s able to do and what she’s unable to do. Everyone on her support team is continuously trying to foster independence with her. Some skills she can get and some she’s really good at. Others, not so much.
- They’re almost similar with basic fine motor skills. Sweet B is unable to write her name without assistance. She has difficulty coloring properly (ex. staying within the lines, filling in an area, drawing basic shapes) and holding writing instruments properly. Squeaker is just learning how to color and already her tripod grasp is similar to her older sister.
Of course there are some things that Sweet B can do that Squeaker can’t do or can’t do yet.
Cognitively, Sweet B is around 7-8 years of age with some skills. Other areas she’s higher and others she’s lower. I can’t really measure her literacy level because it’s difficult to measure that with someone who’s mostly non-verbal and can’t repeat. Squeaker is a year old and quite frankly, if she was reading independently, I would be floored. She can identify certain animals (mostly cats, but also sheep and cows) in books or elsewhere.
Sweet B is mostly able to feed herself independently, but then again, Squeaker is also catching up in this area. They both prefer to use their fingers, but with Squeaker I would expect it. With Sweet B, I’ve come to accept it.
The Mom Guilt I felt With a Neurotypical Child
It hit me, that one day, just how similar they really are. And after the moment, I also came to realize a few things:
- Sometimes being a special needs parent really sucks. And maybe I wouldn’t think this so often if I didn’t have a daughter who was, so far, developing normally. I’m beyond thankful that Squeaker is, for lack of a better term, “normal” and that she’s developing as she should. I’m also worried beyond belief that something is going to happen to her, that 15 months I’ll start to see the same regression that I saw in Sweet B. And at that point, all I can do is pray to God- please do not take my baby away from me. Because that’s how it felt with Sweet B. Yes, she’s still my daughter and I love her with my entire being. I love her for who she is and everything that she is. But I don’t know if I would have the strength to go through it again.
- Sometimes the guilt is really overwhelming. I should be thankful for everything that I have in life. I should be thankful that Sweet B is relatively healthy. Okay, so she has autism and she’s non-verbal but there are also a lot of things that she doesn’t have. And then after I look at Squeaker and pray to God to please not take my baby away… I am hit with an overwhelming wave of guilt. Who am I to ask God for such a thing when there are women out there struggling to conceive, who have suffered miscarriage, who have lost babies after birth… Who am I to even think such a thing when there are moms out there struggling or burying their children ahead of them. Who am I to be so selfish to ask God such a thing.
- Sometimes, I realize, I’m only human. I’m not above feeling, I’m not above reacting, I’m not above being selfish, and I’m not above feeling helpless. I’m also not above judging or being jealous. I’m only a human being. I was one of those moms who would judge other special needs moms for complaining about their special needs child- and yet, here I am doing something so similar. I’m now one of those moms who compares her two daughters, even though I know I shouldn’t because they don’t deserve that from anyone- and especially not from their own mom. But I also need to remember- I am enough.
My children mean the world to me and I would do anything for them. Which is why I know that it’s better for me and them if I stop the need to compare them. It’s not fair to them and it will only drive me to an anxiety attack. Even if I did see this coming- knowing that with every milestone that Squeaker hit, it could potentially be something that Sweet B didn’t hit. Or something that Sweet B did only to regress later on. I still can’t shake nagging feeling at the back of my head that yes- it could happen to Squeaker.
And if it does, it does.
That’s just life. And I’ll deal with it.
This post was originally published on February 3rd, 2015 and updated on March 4th, 2016 to include an updated image.
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All children are different even if they do not have special needs. It really takes a special person to be able to raise a special needs child and apparently God felt you were the one that could do it. I understand that it can be tough. You are only human and you do need some mommy time without the worry of children. Take it when you can. I did lose a son at 25 years of age when someone pulled out on him while he was on his motorcycle. It has been nine years and I deal with it but… Read more »
Such profound emotions, packed into this beautiful post. I hope that the those days when the guilt gets to be too much, or your realization overwhelms, that you remember so many people have your back! If you ever need a friend that won’t judge (since I don’t know you), please email me!!
Thank you so much, Jacqui- I really appreciate that and will definitely keep that in mind.
Thank you so much for opening up about this. I think you have tapped into a part of special needs parenting that many parents relate to. I know I do in some ways. My situation is totally different, my daughter is deaf and my sons are not. It’s not an issue at all with the older brother, but with her younger brother who is two and a half years younger there are some ways that he is further along verbally, but in other ways she is developmentally. I try not to compare, but it’s hard.
I try my hardest not too, but it is hard. I remind myself that they’re individuals and that they’re going to do things on their own terms. Being a special needs parent is challenging, but very worth it
Thank you for sharing your stories with the world. Autism is hard. I have been a special education teacher for 10 years and I see the stress on parents everyday. It is hard not to compare any children, but in your case it may be a struggle very few will ever truly understand. Keep up the good work just loving those girls!
Thank you for taking the time to read this, Megan. And thank you for being a special education teacher- the world can never have enough of those.
You know what? You’re an amazing mother. Because we ALL feel some kind of guilt somewhere along the way during the parenting journey but at least you recognize it. It’s not as if you are mistreating one daughter/favoring the other. You are dealing with something that, I’m sure, is highly stressful. It’s not easy to be in your shoes and I can’t even imagine. But it sounds like you are able to see the positives in both of your daughters and that’s what is important. I think special people are given children who need extra love and attention for a… Read more »
Thank you so much Sara, that means a lot to me.
I have a 16 year old daughter who is gifted and a 13 year old boy with Apsergers. My son is verbal, but does have some delays, putting him in line with most 9 or 10 year olds. I do find my self comparing the two kids and I think as parents, even with kids who are not special needs, it is normal to compare them from time to time.
I’m rendered speechless. The love for your daughters shines through, my friend. And that makes you a good mom. You strive and work and try new things that you think will help your children. That makes you a good mom. You’re a caregiver–give yourself a break. It’s ok to indulge a little in comparisons at times, because we all do that–no matter what needs our children have or don’t have–and it’s obvious that you don’t do it all the time and you don’t let it cloud your vision. May God continue to be with you on your journey!
Beautiful post. I think you are a wonderful mother and not bad at all. We all as mom’s go through a lot of things and feelings and often feel terrible about things but the fact you even asked if it made you a bad mom proves you are NOT. I have 6 kids, my oldest being extremely gifted and none of my other are like him, or each other. They are all individual and so different!
This is something I haven’t thought about with having more than one kid. I bet it’s really, really hard to NOT compare the two and I don’t think that makes you a bad mom at all! It’s just human nature to make comparisons, but I can understand the guilt at the same time. Us moms are just too hard on ourselves sometimes!
I definitely think that comparing daughters whether our own or to a friend’s daughter is common nature to us. It just happens but the important part is to love them for who they are and to encourage them when needed. I think this is definitely a very important point. Don’t be so hard on yourself!
It’s very courageous and generous of you to share your story. Really appreciate it. 🙂
This is an awesome post! I only have one child so I can’t really compare him to many. I am thankful that he is a very well mannered and respected child. I think in some aspects it’s okay to compare kids but i think it’s important to remember they are all different. Sometimes that can be hard to accept but you have too. Thank you so much for a beautiful post!!
You know, we always joke that having only one child kept us from having to choose who we liked best! But in all seriousness, I could see myself comparing Beloved to her siblings; if we’d had any. I appreciate your openness and candor. Parenting is hard and we’re rocking it!
I LOVE your transparency here, Kori, and appreciate it so much.
Having four COMPLETELY different boys who are probably each somewhere on the Autism Spectrum, I totally HEAR YOU!
And know what? It’s NOT fair that we compare. But life isn’t fair, is it?
Praying for you. I never had that fear, because they’ve all developed so completely differently, but I totally understand it!
Thanks for sharing!
I have only one child. I lost one in a miscarriage 11 years ago. My son is 21 and a great kid. I always wondered what it would have been like, had I had 2. As Moms we all want what is best for our children. I think it is probably normal to see the best in each.Thank you for this post.
Omg I loved this post!! I don’t really talk about it much because I’m still trying to accept things myself & learn how to deal with things, but my daughter is going to be 3 in march and is nonverbal. She lost her speech at around 15-16 months and hasn’t spoke a real word since. I have therapist in my house pretty much everyday and idk…. I’m glad to be able to relate to another mom in blog land when you say what I feel some days… It does suck sometimes. We have to deal with a lot. I only… Read more »
Wow, I’m sure it took a lot for you to share all of that emotion in this post. You are blessed to have your two daughters. This is part of your journey in life and I know it must be hard physically and emotionally but you were chosen because of your strength and courage. So yes, they may have a lot in common at 12 years apart that are becuase of your older daughter’s autism but they also both love you and each other. That;s the most important and purest love you’ll experience. God bless you and your family.
I think comparing children is something that is inevitable for all parents, but I do understand how it can be a unique situation for parents of autistic children. I have to say that I learn a lot from reading your posts and that your honesty is refreshing. I love your last statements in this post.
Bless you for such a painfully honest post. Although I can’t identify with taking care of a special needs child, I can say that I think it is perfectly natural to compare your children. It is also perfectly natural to feel guilty when you do so. So, although in your case the complexity of comparing your girls is much greater, all parents do it. So you might be more “normal” than you realize.
I can’t imagine how hard it must be to be a special needs parents. I take my hat off to you because I have a perfectly healthy two year hold and find it hard at times. You don’t sound like a bad mother at all, you sound like a normal human being who has normal thoughts and emotions. It can be hard not to compare your children, heck I used to compare my sons development to other kids his age and panic. It’s all part of being a mother, it’s all natural.
You love your kids, and that makes you a great mom. I admire your strength 🙂