Dear Me 10 years ago,
I know you think you have this parenting thing sorted out pretty well, but I need to tell you some things, because a lot is about to change for you. You have three great children, and you have found them challenging at times, but you are soon going to experience a different side of parenting that you haven't known about before. It is going to challenge you in ways you can't imagine, and it is going to make you into a different person. You don't know it yet, but you are going to be the parent of children with a disability. Right now those words freak you out. But take a deep breath, and keep reading.
Firstly, listen carefully when I say- everything is going to be OK. You are going to be bewildered, exhausted, at a complete loss for the right way to go, lonely, frustrated and frightened. You will grieve, rage with anger and give up hope. You will meet Autism. You will find your feet again, pick yourself up and you will go on. And you will be OK. So will your children. The ones you know and the ones you are yet to meet. You will all be OK.
You will need to learn to look after yourself. You don't know it yet, but you have a tendency to take on a lot and do so much that you end up not coping with anything. The qualities in you that cause you to do this are in themselves not bad. You don't need to change them. You just need to learn to pace yourself, to say "no" sometimes, and to recognise that your needs are as important as other peoples needs. If you are going to have what you need to be there for your family, you need to look after yourself well too.
You will need to learn not to worry what others think of you. In the past you have gone to great lengths to keep others happy and to do what you think they expect of you. Firstly, you need to realise that you are sometimes wrong in your assumptions about what others expect. Spending a lot of time doing things based on assumptions is counterproductive and ultimately a waste of time! Secondly, it is just not healthy to run your life this way. At some point you will need to shift your focus from trying to keep everyone else happy to looking after your own needs and the needs of those in your household.
You will need to learn to trust your instincts and be prepared to stand up for your kids. As time goes on you are going to find that you will need to be a strong advocate for your children. There will be times when others do not understand what your kids need and you will have to stand up and tell them. Sometimes they will ignore you the first few times you try to tell them, and you will have to step out of your comfort zone and do and say things in ways you hadn't tried before. Sometimes people will think you are pushy, rude and an over-reatcor. As long as you are not disrespectful towards others, this is OK, and you can rest assured they will get over it. Trust your instincts- if your gut tells you your kids need you to stand up for them- do it.
Above all, don't have regrets. You are going to take time figuring all these things out. You will probably read this letter and disregard most of it, because, let's be honest.....no matter what people tell us we can't really understand it until we experience it ourselves. If you take nothing else away from reading this letter please remember, you will make mistakes, but you needn't regret them. You will take on too much and burn yourself out. You will have to swallow your pride and ask for help. You will need to take antidepressants for a while. Don't waste time regretting it when you don't get things right the first time- it is all part of the process you need to go through so you can own who you will become. You will get there, and you will make some great decisions as well as some you will have to fix up later. You will have lots to be proud of. Please remember when you are feeling low that you are also doing your best. No one can expect more from you than that. Not even you.
And rest assured, that in 10 years time, even though you have made mistakes and taken a long time to learn things the hard way, I will be there looking back on you and smiling, grateful for who we have become.
from You 10 years later.