A long time ago, when my views on life were less complex and everything fit into a box, I was horrified to hear that parents went away without their children. After all, why on earth have children if you are going to continue with your life pre-children and not involve them in absolutely everything?
That was before a divorce and before autism entered our lives. That was before I realised the struggles that people have in this generation; juggling work, relationships and parenting. That was when my narrow-minded views allowed me to judge other people’s lives without truly understanding much about mental health.
Being a divorcee with a child means that I’m afforded time without my son. Initially, it meant I could work a night shift without exploring other avenues for childcare, but I never really got any downtime. That period ran simultaneously alongside a diagnosis of autism, and I’m not going to flower it up–it was bloody hard. I spent days running on empty, managing night shifts and a child with a variety of needs. Seemingly, sleep wasn’t one of them. Social media forced me to believe that I needed to be everything to everyone and the child comes first. Without question, my son is at the forefront of my mind just about every waking and sleeping hour, but I neglected myself and my own well-being and that inevitably impacted my ability to parent Joseph effectively.
It was a hard lesson to learn, but I have tried to correct that. I have made time for myself and other people, and allowed myself not to feel guilty for unashamedly being me in my own right and not just Joseph’s Mum.
Over time, I have managed my and Joseph’s time together more effectively, and taken advantage of the time he has with his dad. There has to be some benefits of a divorce, right? I have nights where I do all the things I haven’t been able to when Joseph’s around. I have nights where I do very little and take myself off to bed early to catch up on some much-needed sleep.
But there are also times when Joseph is with his dad for a couple of nights together, or he takes him on holiday for a week, and that’s when I put my heart and soul into planning “me time” or time for my current relationship. I tie myself in knots deciding what I want to do. Do I want to do 32 things in two days or do I want to just relax in the sun and chill? I want it all, obviously.
So when I hear the words “you’re lucky to get time away,” it saddens me. I don’t consider myself particularly unlucky, but I know what it has taken to ensure this time happens and the planning involved to make it run smoothly for all of us. I know what I deal with every day as a parent of a child with additional needs and would consider the words a poor choice.
I’m well aware of parents–not just parents of children with additional needs–who do not get that respite and I know that may be for a variety of reasons: choice, nobody to assist or guilt. Society expects so much from us and we place too many expectations on ourselves.
It’s not easy to shut off when you are away, as you naturally worry for that child who you PA for, not just provide personal care and wonder whether anyone else can do it to the same standards. What I’ve found is, they actually can. How does Joseph cope? Marvellously, and he looks forward to his “holiday” time too, which removes some of the guilt and gives me assurance that he is not totally reliant on me. When I return, do I get a massive hug and him telling me that he has missed me? Absolutely not, he treats me like he saw me the day before in his usual offhand manner!
So whilst I have the opportunity, long may this continue. I don’t need to justify myself or feel that I’m lucky, but I would like people to read this and feel empowered to do the same.