First Person

My Name Is Mom: How much of me is tied up in being a parent?

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Once upon a time I was Samantha. At times I am Mrs. Pierce. However, most of the time I’m Mom. The day my husband and I left the hospital with our first child I thought, “Are they going to let us walk out of here with a whole human being, just like that?” Yes, they did. I didn’t know it then but understand now that I gave birth to an incredible autistic child. Not long ago that child, now a young man, registered to vote.

I’m looking forward to the day we walk into our polling place, and he receives his ballot rather than watching me fill out mine. It’s so easy for me to talk about my children. I could go on for pages about how incredible they are, how they each have unique strengths, how they each approach the challenges in their lives.

But talking about myself? That feels far more challenging. Mothering is an integral part of my life. It drives my work advocating for better access to educational support services, mental health services, and economic opportunity for people with autism and developmental disabilities.

Related: Mother Knows Best: Yes, of course your mom really does get it

I have chronic do-it-yourself syndrome as well as a save-the-world syndrome. My children often remind me that caring for myself is as important as caring for them and others.

“Mom, did you eat today?”

“Mom, coffee is not a vegetable.”

“Mom, drink water.”

“Mom, go take a nap.”

“Mom, I think you need a timeout.”

Rooted in their concern for me are the seeds of who I am, what I like about myself, and why I need to be myself. I own a copy of Laurence Steinberg’s The 10 Basic Principles of Good Parenting. One day, upon disagreeing with a parenting decision I made, one of my children read Steinberg’s book to me. It reminded me of the way I sorted out the world by reading books.

When I wrote my first book, Voice of the Unheard, my children read over my shoulder as I worked, suggested names for characters, wrote their own stories, and asked when I would finish mine. At times they happily participate in my interests with me, such as painting and sketching. At other times our interests diverge, and I explore on my own. I have yet to convince them to start a heavy metal cover band with me despite their musical inclinations.

I do feel pressure to get mothering “right.” Some of that pressure comes from society. I contend with several American parenting stereotypes regularly. There’s the helicopter parent, who over-engages in her children’s lives to the detriment of the children. Then there’s the lawnmower parent, who goes to great lengths to prevent his children from experiencing any challenges. Next is the autism parent, some odd combination of parenting stereotypes and focused on the presence of autism in her life.

The more traditional culture of my immigrant family of origin adds another layer of expectations. Mom works from the time she wakes until the time she sleeps, is never tired, never takes a break, is never wrong, and never fails.

Being Mom is one of the most important roles I will ever have. However, I would be a complete mess if I focused all my energy on mothering and left none to keep me going. I know this because I’ve had that experience more times than I care to admit. To be great at being Mom, I need to be comfortable with being Samantha first.

“To be great at being Mom, I need to be comfortable with being Samantha first.”

When my oldest child was 6 months old, I took my first class in Middle Eastern dance. I needed to get out of the house and talk to other grownups about something besides babies. It worked, and I made new friends who have been with me through many adventures over the years. My friends helped me discover the part of myself that liked to perform in front of crowds.

Mothering reminded me how to be Samantha. I practice extending the same grace and forgiveness to myself that I give my children. I don’t expect them to be perfect; why expect perfection from myself? When I make mistakes, I urge myself to learn from the experience and move on, same as I do for my children.

Failure is not an end but a new starting point, a lesson I teach my children and myself over and over. Keeping up with unrealistic expectations, be they my own or someone else’s, isn’t worth anyone’s physical or mental health and wellbeing.

Hi, my name is Samantha. My children call me Mom.

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