autism · confessions

I broke.

Syndicated on BlogHer.comI’m on the floor of the bathroom with my fingers in my ears. I’m not sure it was even necessary as I wouldn’t be able to hear the cries of my child over the cries of my own. I’m crying so hard that my body has started to shake with exhaustion, and I’m sweaty from the exertion.

In the other room Casey screams from his carseat that I ripped from the car to buckle him in because I did not know what else to do.  He’s safe. Safe from himself, and so much worse, safe from me.

I hit him. I hit my six year old autistic son.

This was two years ago. It had never happened before and it has never happened since (and I feel a need to explain that it was opened handed and did not leave a mark…but it was so beyond wrong). I can give you every reason as to what brought me to this point: I hadn’t slept for days because Abby had pneumonia,  that this had been the third day in a row that I had to pick up Casey early from school because he was “a danger to himself and the other children in the classroom” and there was “nothing more they can do,” or that he had been screaming at that point for 3 hours, and in that time, he had bitten, kicked, punched and threw chairs and shoes at me and both of his brothers and was then threatening to hurt his baby sister. But you know what? Nothing I can say could justify my actions there. I didn’t hit the school, the pneumonia, or the the part of his autism that makes him rage. I hit my son. My beautiful boy.

I broke.

It kills me to put this out int he public. It kills me to relive this day. My heart still aches at the thought of causing harm to my beautiful little boy. So then, why am I telling you this? Because I think this is a conversation that is important. We as parents of children with autism feel a need to be “super parents.” I felt a need to fit myself into a mold that I thought a SN parent should fit. I didn’t ask for help because I was terrified of telling someone that I couldn’t handle what was on my plate. I wanted to look the part, and even moreso, I wanted to FEEL the part. I had a lot of people telling me how great I was based simply on the diagnoses of my children. I wanted to live up to what I thought I should be. In so doing, I had ran myself ragged, was overwhelmed, overtired and pushed beyond my limit.

I broke.

Parents of special needs kids are just simply parents. We aren’t endowed by God with any super powers outside of those that “regular” parents have. I’ve always felt like I wasn’t “allowed” to complain about even the regular things that happened with my SN kids. I couldn’t say that I was sick to death of potty training with Casey because I’d get that look that says, “You’re not supposed to complain about your autistic son! He can’t help it!” If regular parents can, why can’t I?  I’ve said it a lot that special kids don’t go to special parents, and I am proof of this. I’m no better than any other parent with any other kid. I was trying to shove myself into an impossible mold that no real parent can fit in.

And then I broke the mold (Yeah right. But I’m trying)

After that incident I fully realized how not special I am. It was a tough lesson to find myself in a situation I had never even IMAGINED myself being in. The thought of hurting my kids had never even crossed my mind. I’m not that parent. It pushed me to the point where I knew I had to ask for help. I knew I could never get that far gone again, and so in the effort, I had to give up on being the person I thought I should be and just be a better version of who I am. I like this:

I’m not saying getting good help is easy to find. That, my friends, is another battle completely.

We need help. We need respite. And in cases like mine, we need therapy and good antidepressants. We need to be able to talk about the reality that we are faced with. We need to not be judged any more than any other parent when we have crappy days and say we hate motherhood. We are regular parents in irregular situations. We need to do this OUR WAY and not be judged for doing/not doing what other parents of kids with the same dx’s are doing. We need acceptance of not only our children, but of us, the parents.

There’s a tendency within some SN groups to make the picture of raising a child with special needs much rosier than it is. I’m not saying that it’s not SO GOOD. It is. But it also can be SO HARD. I have promised to be honest about the good and bad in this blog, not just for you readers, but for me.  This is why I’m telling you this. Admitting I hit Casey is super hard. I’m afraid of the judgment. I’m afraid of hearing, “Well, I’d never get to that point!” I never thought I would, either. But if we can’t talk about the hard parts, we aren’t giving others the permission to do the same. And we need to be able to talk about it. And I’m not saying it needs to be done in a public forum, either. I am saying is that if you are having a tough time you NEED to talk about it. You NEED to seek help. Go online, go to a therapist, send me an email. Just talk about it. Get it out so you can deal with it and move on. There’s nothing worse than letting it build inside.

There is nothing that justifies hurting your child. Let me make this clear. There is no pain or exhaustion or stress that can should ever amount to what I did.  And I can assure you, the ramifications in my own life are still ongoing. I have not yet come to a place where my insides don’t want to fall out at just the thought of that day. I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive myself for it, and I’m pretty sure that is just. I need to remember.

I wish I had better answers for moms looking for help outside of just talking about it. I spoke to a couple of other friends who also have children with autism today about this very thing. Having a support system, at home and online is fantastic. There are great communities online, Circle of Moms was mentioned and I myself have frequented the Babycenter Autism and Down Syndrome boards.  Outside of the online world though, where does one go to get help? In your area, do you have programs for respite? How do you get them? How can we enable access to parents from all over? I’d love to hear where you are from and where you have gone to get services. I’d also love to be able to put together a guide for respite services and providers from across the country. If you know of one that is already in existence, let me know! What do you do for yourself? Are there parent support groups in your area? Have they been helpful?

47 thoughts on “I broke.

  1. Ah, Lexi – no judgement from this corner of the internet. No judgement, just complete understanding of where you have been. I've been there, too. I love how you wrote this. We ARE NOT endowed with super powers. You know how people say, "I don't konw how you do it" or "God gave him to you because he knew you could handle it"? Those are like stabs to the soul. Because we are just "regular people" doing the very best we can. Some days we are freaking amazing. Some days, we scrape the bottom of the barrel. In short, we are all too human.Thank you for writing this.

  2. Thank you, Kelly. It helps. I'm super scared about the reaction to this one. But people need to know that we are normal and in need of help. That we all didn't start out being good at this.

  3. Lexi, you are so not alone. I have been there too. I totally have and I hate myself for it. The only comfort I give myself is that I have improved and worked on it and I don't spank my kids anymore. And I had been at my wits' end, but like you said, there is no excuse. I appreciate you posting this, though, because you're right. We need help and we need to be able to ask for it and find it. That doesn't make us weak; it makes us better parents.

  4. Your honesty is special, and rare. Too rare. I think many of us struggle to say what you've said here, we can't find the words or we know the words and we're afraid of the reactions. I think your post is beautiful, and reassuring and even empowering by encouraging others to feel not alone and to seek help. Thank you so much for writing this.

  5. Whenever other people say to me "You're such a great mom" or "I don't know how you do it!" I sort of wince. We do it just like anyone else would do it, one painful day at a time. I live for the moments that my son is sweet and cooperative, when he wants hugs and kisses, when he's not trying to break our collective eardrums with his screeching. I can only imagine how hard this has been for you to put out in public. You are right on all counts — hitting our kids is not the way to handle things, and parents with SN children are not always great parents being heroic. Much of the time they are normal parents trying to hold it together and not always succeeding. I have had moments with both of my kids (bipolar/ADHD and ASD/SPD/Anxiety Disorder) when I have not been proud of my parenting. I am willing to be most of us have. You are not alone. The toughest times for me were right after my ex and I separated. The financial strain was unbearable and I was about as stressed out as I could be. Eventually I got used to the way things were and it got better. After I met SG things got tremendously better, but that doesn't mean I don't have moments where I feel that if the screaming/tantrumming/fighting doesn't stop that I am going to completely lose all self control. That's life with my kids. I wish I could tell you I found support groups, etc. I haven't, at least IRL. I have my online communities, I have my parents & my husband, a couple of close friends, and I have my horses. My trail rides out in the woods and the occasional days I can go to a clinic or work with my trainer keep me whole. When I need sanity I go to the barn and pick manure out of stalls or put together ziploc bags with the weeks' feed schedules. They are the glue that holds me together.Hugs to you, and thank you for this post. You gots cojones, mama.

  6. This, I know, was hard to write. So many parents get to this point or close to it. We need support, we need respite, we need to know that someone is there to catch us when we fall. I am glad you got help. I am glad I get help. And I hope that someone struggling out there reads your post and gets help now, knowing it is not them failing as a parent alone. You might have just saved a life today.

  7. I love what trydefyinggravity wrote. You are brave and awesome. And an incredible mom.I hate that our society assumes that parenting is something which should come naturally. It is hard, hard work and the early years especially will wear you down. Throw any special needs into the mix AND take away even the "normal" supports of a typical parent (family, friends, mom's clubs, church)—the ones which seem to disappear shortly after your child's diagnosis— and it becomes an insanely difficult balancing act. Not even a balancing act…juggling. Flaming knives. And it doesn't matter if it's autism or cancer; people around us don't know how to help us and we don't give ourselves permission to say "I need your help." After a while, they stop asking and we feel like it's not ok, even when we're drowning. And then…we break.I love this quote from Ernest Hemingway: "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places." I think that's especially true for us, my friend. Big hugs and a fist bump.

  8. Transparency…you have shown it and it will help so many parents. My husband and I ARE my daughter's respite providers. Actually, our we need the respite! Our granddaughter is a doll and her ASD is not "severe" so the biggest challenge is being 55 years old and keeping up with a six year old. Bless you, Lexi.

  9. Oh my heart breaks for you but I also have to applaud you. We are only as sick as our secrets and your just busted this wide open for love and support to enter. I am with you and have needed respite for years and have not been approved for it unless we paid COUGH 30 bux an hour. Get your respite and know you are human.

  10. I love anyone who uses the term "cojones". I love to craft. I "bead" when things get really stressful. Something about the repetition, or maybe making something out of nothing. I've only ridden a horse twice. TWICE. In my life. One of my dreams is to ride a horse REALLY FAST, preferably on a beach. Weird, no?Thank you for your comment. I totally wince when people say those things, too. As someone else put it a while back, "it puts us on an impossible pedestal." I can't live up to hero status. I'm okay with just making it through the day in one frazzled happy piece.

  11. I'm going to put that quote in vinyl on my wall. I want to be strong in the broken places. Work in progress, no?It is a balancing act. Autism is the great friendship sifter, too. You get to sift out the crappy friends and keep the gold ones. But it's still a painful process.

  12. You're only 55?! Holy hell, Gail, I thought you were older. You speak of being this old grandmother, I thought you were my mom's age. She's old grandmother old. You're just a baby!But bless you for providing respite. BLESS YOU!

  13. We need to do more. I just don't know what. I know the anger, I know the sadness. What can we do to lessen the next generation of moms who are getting dx's now? I wish there were programs for the parents. Our kids won't survive if we can't.

  14. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am mommy to 3 beautiful children…2 of which are firmly on the spectrum (and the third is only 7 months, so we'll see). I have broken before. Put that right on the top of the laundry list of things I feel guilty for. When people say to me that they don't know how I do it all, I've taken to replying with one word: Poorly. They always seem shocked when I say it, but it's the truth.

  15. Add me to the "been there too" list. How can you not? A person can really only handle so much before they break. We are only human. The part that makes a difference is if you learn from your mistakes and do better next time. There's no manual that we pushed out with the placenta. We're just like any other parent trying to do the best with can with what we have.

  16. "I had a lot of people telling me how great I was based simply on the diagnoses of my children." People say this to us to be kind, but it does put pressure on us to be something we just may not be. When friends say "I don't know how you do it," sometimes I think "do what?" I barely make it through most days. And then, there is the guilt about how much more I should be doing.I wonder how many men (even stay at home dads) feel this? I know my husband doesn't, and finds it frustrating that I do.

  17. Such a fantastic, amazing, brave, fabulous, amazing post!!! You are radical Lexi!! I myself drank merlot for many years, straight out of the bottle that I kept hidden in my underwear drawer. I was two people: The one that kept her shit together in public, and the one who unraveled on a daily basis in private. Driving drunk with my kids in the car? Check. Giving my son with autism a bath while I was trashed? Check. Forgetting to feed them dinner on time? Check. The list is long and OH SO Painful!!! But today, after over 6 years of sobriety, I know that sharing those terrible moments from my past as a HUMAN, let along a MOM, may help someone else struggling in a similar capacity. You are so so so brave and I am so so so so proud to have met you. You wonderful, blemished, beautiful, transparent, honest person you!!!

  18. Hugs to you, Lexi, for that. We get Isabella off to school and we receive her from the school bus. She is with us after EYP ends and on days off from school. (My husband gets home from work at two in the afternoon.) I was with my daughter in the delivery room and Isabella is as at home here as she is in her own home. Before she was born, we had lost our joy. She brought it back. Just a few days ago, Bells stepped on my bare toes, again, and I let out a very loud shriek. She couldn't get over how loud it was. We had a conversation something like this:Isabella: Booboo, why did you yell so loud?Me: Because you stepped on my toe and it hurt very badly. I keep asking you to be careful.I: Booboo, it was so loud! It hurt my ears.Me: I'm sorry it hurt your ears but I really need you to be more careful.I: It made my ears echo!Me: I'm sorry, Bells. I'll try to to scream like that again……..and so on, and so on,…that was close to a spanking moment!

  19. I do not have autistic or special needs children. However, the beautifully honest things that you post inspire me still to be a strong and resiliant woman and mother in my own life. I love this post, and I think you are amazing!

  20. You are not alone Lexi, and I'm so grateful that you are able to talk so honestly about it. I have so much guilt built up for things I've done or said when I was too frustrated to handle the situation the way I wanted to, and I get the "god wouldn't have given him to you if you couldn't handle it" comment a lot, which just makes me feel even more horrible. Because sometimes I just can't handle it and I need to keep reminding myself that it's OK that it is all too much sometimes. This is a brave and honest post, and you are incredible. Huge hugs to you.

  21. Lexi,As someone who mostly knew you as a kid, I am not surprised by your strength or your honesty. I read this as a parent with no special needs kids, just some sometimes challenging ones, and yet I still relate. I remember feeling completely at my whits end wanting to shake my baby boy when he kept me and my wife up for another night, when we knew he hadn't slept a whole night in a year. He was cranky, we were cranky, and everyone was in the full throws of sleep deprivation. I remember holding him up and yelling at him to stop crying, and giving a little shake. I immediately felt nothing but guilt and remorse. The reason that some of us with "normal" kids give all those kudos to you isn't always because we think that you are some super parents, but because we sometimes live at the end of our own frailties, and can't imagine taking on those extra responsibilities. Sometimes our congrats and kudos are to hide our insecurities that we have that we would be found wanting, and not understanding why there seems to be a disparity in the trials placed upon our and others shoulders. Keep at it and stay as a standard bearer for others with honesty and openness. Oh, and give your mom a hug for me, she is a special lady too.

  22. Love this post. I would even venture to say that the only folks that will cast stones at you for your honesty in this post are the folks that aren't honest themselves about their own parenting, or don't know what the hell they're talking about because they aren't parents. To answer your question about respite programs in my area, this right here is my respite. It's the best I have, and so far my bloggy community and my friends have been enough. I hope that is always true, but I could see how it might not be sometimes.

  23. I love your honesty here. i wish more moms were as open as you are! i have so much respect for you as a writer because you are a real person with whom i can relate on this extreme parenting gig!! thank you 🙂

  24. Just found your blog today and LOVE it! You sound a lot like me. This is a great post. And I saw your post about wellbutrin. I couldn't live without the stuff. Come check out my blog and FB page when you have a chance. I feel like we have a lot in common…www.autism-daddy.blogspot.com

  25. NO CONDEMNATION….but since I come from a bad parenting background…I am ever vigalant about NOT HITING…and I had some anger issues as teen…still do. ITs just better for me to WALK OFF…when I reach that place. I think putting her in a car seat is a great idea. I used to just wrap her up good in a blanket and then lock her in her room for a short time while I cool off. My dad bought me a punching bag as a teenager…I think we all need one for those times when we need to punch something. We learned early with Angel that if we popped her at all she would try to keep injuring herself and now that she is older she doesn't even like us to raise our voices to each other or she freaks out and does her best to talk to tell us to PLEASE STOP. When we see it is hurting her we stop. I think we need groups where we can VENT and share with others who understand because we can't do what we want to when we need to…and that just makes it harder…with a special child. I know mine was sent for a reason…I was told I was sterile but God promised her to me 4 years before conceiving her even. I have to believe their is a purpose for her and the affliction called Autism. Even if I don't know why…I think when ever you share TRUTH – its a good thing…the enemy likes to use GUILT AND SHAME to cover things….but none of us are perfect. Somes the ones that SEEM perfect are EVIL incarnate they just hide it better.

  26. We all break in one way or another at some point when parenting our "special" children. Most of us live in "survival mode" for years on end. Not one person walking this earth can judge or condemn you, I truly believe we have all been there. A big hug and thank you.

  27. Fatigue, worry, impossible relentless demands. A path that has no roadmap. A child that can't help it, and a mom at the very end of her frayed rope. It is a perfect storm. I have been there. If there are parents who have never been pushed to such limits they ought only be grateful, not condemning. Anyone who wants to judge should instead offer you compassion, an ear, a shoulder to cry on, a couple of hours of baby-sitting, or at least some encouragement for the arduous and sacred journey you are traveling. Thank you for your honesty. In sharing may you let go of your shame around this incident. I'm rooting for you and for all of us.

  28. I have been there. I tell my kids they need to leave mom alone for a bit because I am about to loose it. I am continually searching for that "place" where I can go to help me calm down I haven't quite found "the place" yet and I wonder if there really is a place where I can go all the time that will do that. It is always a work in progress. When my SN child was born I hear time and time again how we were a special family so God sent us her or when they say god sends these children to special families I just had a really hard time swallowing it. I knew they were just saying it because they didn't know what else to say but I would look at them and think "you have no idea, you haven't been through it" and I have come to resent comments like that. I never and still don't look at myself and think "You are one special, fantastic, amazing, can do anything person". I look at myself and thikg "I have so much to live up to" and as you said especially in the eyes of others. I like what you said about being put on some super hero pedestol. There is no way I will ever live up to where people have placed me and that is what makes it so much harder I know they do not mean to do it but they do. The one thing that helped me cope when my daughter was frist born were two wonderful women who had been where I was and they did know. They told me exactly how it would be the joy, the frustration, the pain, and I know that I cango to them and not be judged incorrectly. We all need a good support group filled with those who KNOW not those who can just sympathize. You are so honest and I love that even dispite your fear you chose to post such a personal experience. It is encouraging for us all. I do love you for your honesty and sincerity.

  29. I think that the fact that you know that what happened isn't an excuse for what you did is pretty important in making your post OK. (Hitting him still wasn't, but that is separate from being able to admit to it.) And yes, everyone needs help. For your child's sake and for yours.

  30. I totally feel your pain on this one. I've been broken before, too. It's hard. It really is. I love my children, but some days, when I don't get enough sleep, I'm depressed, I'm exhausted, and I've heard screaming for hours, I get fed up, too. Absolutely, we need respite. Everyone needs a break every now and then. And for us, because our children have special needs, that helps is harder to find. *hugs*

  31. Hi
    I just stumble to this post while reading the Facebook page of laughthroughtears. Honey please don’t feel bad. I had done too. I am not proud. But I have my moments and I am human and unfortunately I can lose it too. I did felt terrible. She is 14 now everyday continues to be a struggle. Just last two month ago it was complete chaos with screams and lack of sleep ( I mean non- existence sleep). But we get through it right? Thank you for your post and honesty.

  32. Oh, Lexi. You don’t know me, and my words may not mean much, but please know that I admire you for being able to stand up and admit that you’re fallible and ask for help. That requires a strength that most people do not possess.

    I have three kids who are now 21, 19 and 17. I broke once with my oldest. I will never forget that moment, and the way it made me feel. She, of course remembers nothing, as she was barely two at the time, but I can’t ever forget. The biggest thing, though, is to forgive yourself. You are a loving, dedicated mother to your kids, end of story. That doesn’t require perfect, and it doesn’t require sainthood. Do the best you can; it’s all anyone can expect.

    If you were in NC, I’d be happy to help; I wish I could offer more than support from a stranger, but it’s all I’ve got.

  33. My kids are 2 and 4 and have yet to be diagnosed with anything. Maybe they never will so in that regard, they are “normal.” But I have broken too. And I’ve only been doing this parting gig for 4 and a half years. And there’s only two of them. And I have a lot of help! UGH, no judgement from me for sure!
    (but just a bit more guilt and shame for myself)

  34. Lexi, this is such a great post. I don’t know you personally, but I am so very proud of you for sharing this. I have broke as well. More than one time I must admit. For all the reasons that you listed and others. No excuses, no justifying. It just is. It is so hard for me to ask for help, and I feel like I have to do everything right or Drew will somehow not succeed in life. Like I control his future. How wrong that is. I take on too much, and I don’t get respite like I need it. I feel like it is my job to take all of it and not complain one bit. I am a work in progress for sure. I have gotten better after intense therapy but I am in no way a finished product. I have a lot to learn still about patience, pride, and asking for help. Hugs to you!

  35. (((hugs)))
    Sadly, probably more people than not who hit their kids never feel a scrap of guilt for it. It says far more about your character that you don’t consider hitting acceptable than that you broke. (Says far more that’s good, that is.) I’ve heard so many parents say that their kids deserved it, even kids as young as two, and often for very minor infractions.
    This is probably unnecessary, but being familiar with autism, please excuse me for asking something possibly clueless and obvious and definitely not intended to make you feel worse. Did you apologize and reassure him that you still love him and don’t think he’s a bad person? If not, he really needs to hear that in plain English. He might not get it unless stated very clearly.

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