It starts from the minute you get a positive pregnancy test. Somehow those two blue lines seem to propel you into a world where everyone feels they have a right to judge you, watch you, give you advice and generally make you feel like you are doing everything wrong.
“You really shouldn’t be doing that in your condition”
“I’ve heard that isn’t something you should eat when pregnant”
“Oh, don’t forget to take such and such a vitamin. I took that when I was expecting wee Johnny and look how great he is doing now!”
And so on…
In fact you could even say before you finally fall pregnant that it starts. When we were trying for a baby (it took almost 10 years before I had the twins) everyone seemed to automatically think I was to blame! I wasn’t eating the right food, I just needed to take a holiday, I needed to stress a lot less, or just ‘forget about it and it will happen’ or even the comments about my personal medical life and private life at home. Although I know most people were only trying to help it felt like I was being judged and blamed for my inability to conceive.
Then there’s the pressure to breast feed, wean a certain way at a certain time, only use certain products for your baby, only let them watch a certain amount of TV, sing enough songs to them, take them swimming every week and so on.
So when my children struggled to reach milestones when professionals said they should it all started again. Was I encouraging them enough? Were they put in walkers for too long, or not enough? Did I have push along toys to help them walk? Was I reading to them, singing to them and spending enough time with them? Because it clearly had to be my fault that these milestones were not being reached when books clearly stated babies should be doing certain things at certain times. And so parents, doing everything they can to help and support their children, start feeling guilty very early on that somehow they are failing their children.
At what point do professionals start realising that the child needs help? Or start looking into the child’s development to see if there are any signs of a disability or something abnormal? Even when it seems obvious a child is showing signs of a developmental delay or autism or perhaps a genetic disorder the system still seems set on blaming the parents.
I have been in the system long enough to see now that the first thing all the professionals do is look to the parents. Speech therapists send parents on courses, early years workers come to the house to show and teach parents how to interact with their child, paediatricians suggest ways to help them sleep or tell you to try toilet training them. Psychologists tell you about the importance of boundaries and rewarding good behaviour. Sometimes it can be so patronising.
Now don’t get me wrong, I have learnt some important things from many of the courses I have been on and made friends with others in similar situations too. I am enjoying learning to sign songs to my son in makaton to help him understand them better and it is always good to be reminded of proven parenting strategies. But that does not mean that the difficulties my child has are down to my bad parenting. I get it wrong some days, what parent doesn’t, but does that mean I am to blame for my child not being able to talk? Or not being able to jump or climb?
While I do understand there are a small percentage of children with difficulties caused directly from harm inflicted whilst in the womb or parents not able to look after their children these are very much in the minority. The vast majority of parents I know whose children have any sort of developmental delay, or autism, or genetic conditions or additional needs in any way do a huge amount for their children, often devoting all their money and time to support and help them. Far from being blamed for their difficulties they can take credit for their achievements against all odds. I know parents who spent their days fighting for services to support their children and nights being up with a child who does not sleep. Parents who have established and run charities to support other parents and families to give children opportunities to succeed despite their challenges. Parents who spend hours making visual timetables, laminating and printing visuals for their child, attending workshops and training courses to learn more about their child’s condition to support them better. Many are still fighting against the constant guilt placed on them for giving their child inoculations, or working as well as being a parent, or for not having the money to pay for private services or the best school. Some are spending years trying to get their child diagnosed when all professionals want to see is poor parenting when the child is actually struggling with a condition that affects their behaviour, understanding or ability. These parents are far more of the norm.
So when my child is screaming in public and others are looking at me and judging me because I physically lifted and carried a five year old who ‘ought by now to know to behave in public’ or people stare at me because he is still in a buggy. Or they read yet another media article that says autism and other such conditions are just an excuse for bad parenting or a modern phenomen. Or my child has a bad day at school and the diary suggests ‘is there anything going on at home we should know about?’ It just adds to the guilt and the blame. And that isn’t helping me or my child.
So please media, professionals, schools, and society look at how amazing parents are, especially parents dealing with children and adults who have extra needs. Yes we may get it wrong some days, because we are only human like you. But we are trying, learning, supporting and doing the best we can for our children. We don’t need guilt added into our already difficult lives.
Please, stop blaming the parents!