First of all, I'm tired all the time. Being tired, without any other factors, makes me less effective as a parent, both to Janey and to my boys. I don't think anyone operates better when they are tired. I am too tired often to do the kind of things I want to do with my kids---to be creative in helping Janey learn, to work with the boys on projects or homework, to take them interesting places, to volunteer at their schools or to fix them wonderful lunches, or, on the worst days, even to just sit and listen to them. When I have a moment, I want to sleep, or to do something mindless to relax.
Then there is the time factor. So much of the time I have is taken up with the types of parenting tasks that are necessary, but not fun or nurturing---changing pull-ups, cleaning up spills, washing wet clothes, just plain watching Janey to make sure she doesn't run off or put something she shouldn't in her mouth or otherwise hurt herself or others. Every minute I spend doing that kind of thing takes away a minute I could be reading to her, or discussing ideas with the boys, or watching a movie with them, or just doing the kind of family activities we never do any more.
I'm also not a great mother in terms of even those menial tasks. I'm not a good housekeeper, because when I have time to be, I'm exhausted, or I choose to steal those moments for something else. I don't have the mental energy to think up great meals. I don't always keep up with the laundry like I should. More times than I would ever want, the boys are left rummaging in the dryer for socks or uniform shirts. I am in no way a model housewife.
The big issue, though, is that I don't think autism plays to my strengths. I always think of that inspirational fable about God handing out special needs kids, and picking a very special family to give kids with disabilities to. If that story was true, I would think there was a mistake made. I know I have a lot of parenting strengths. When the boys were little, I don't think there were many kids that were read to more, or talked to more. I have a huge store of patience for questions and long discussions. If they ever wanted to talk to me about something that was bothering them, or excited them, I was there for that. I delighted in their personalities. I loved watching them grow up, and I still do. But I wasn't a baby person. Those early years were tough for me. I was in a hurry for them to grow bigger, to engage with me mentally. With Janey, the early years are hugely extended. I am in some ways still raising a toddler. I'm stuck being the mother of a child in an early stage. I love Janey more than life itself. I have accepted who she is, and I will be the best mother I can to her always. But I can't lie to myself. I wish, I wish so very much, we were reading through the Little House books together, or talking for hours about dolls she might want or the social interactions of second grade or even that we were fighting about what clothes she could wear. I am good at those things. I love those things.
And so, autism has not made me a Supermother. Autism isn't magical. Life isn't like a kids' book, where if something tough happens, there is always a silver lining. You don't get automatic compensatory powers in life. Autism is just autism. I will always do the best I can, but I won't pretend that it's easy, or that I'm better for it.