Our guest blogger, Aniesa Blore, an experienced Occupational Therapist, a SEN parent and the author of Parenting the Conundrum Child talks about parental guilt, self-care and the importance of connection.
When I started writing my book, Parenting the Conundrum Child, I wanted to give parents
practical advice on how to connect with their children, help them to achieve – and, together, to
navigate an often tricky road ahead. I call this the CAN approach (Connect, Achieve and
Navigate), and it’s based on my twenty-something years of working as a paediatric occupational
After I qualified as an OT, I almost immediately started working with children. I have
been fortunate enough to work with children who have had difficulties ranging from eating
disorders, acquired brain injuries, profound learning difficulties, neuro-developmental disorders,
to those without any diagnosis but generally just struggling at home and school. Working with
the hundreds of children and their families, it became clear that every parent doubted
themselves and their skills and abilities. And I totally recognised myself in them.
My son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome when he was seven, but I was consumed by guilt even before the diagnosis. Guilt about moving from South Africa and him not having family to grow up with. Guilt that he couldn’t sleep. Guilt that my youngest son had severe reflux. I second
guessed myself all the time. I wanted to go to work, but that meant getting childcare. I wanted a
break, but again that meant childcare. I felt guilty about being annoyed at all the appointments.
About crying at night that I didn’t have a ‘normal’ child. About having to admit that I needed help
for my post-natal depression. And this guilt was stopping me from being content and happy, and
doing the best job I could with my kids.
As a therapist, I’ve seen throughout my career that once we can connect with our kids – with
their goals, their abilities, and who they are - they can achieve more than they ever imagined
possible. It’s through this connection that we can help our children navigate their way through
life, reaching whatever amount of independence they can. This is particularly important when it
comes to supporting children through their education, helping them to make friends, access
curricula and enjoy their time in a school environment.
But it soon became apparent, as I knew it would, that parents simply can’t start connecting with
their children until they practice some pretty serious self-care. And for me, central to doing this
is by ditching the guilt. It’s destructive and unhelpful - and most of the time, it’s not even valid.
Parental guilt affects us all, but it’s undoubtedly a particularly pressing issue for parents of
neurodiverse children as they navigate a world where their children’s issues aren’t always
properly understood, where they are learning as they go, and where it’s near impossible not to
compare their children’s achievements to that of their peers. Parenting SEN children is
exhausting, but time and again I’m amazed how resilient parents are.
The perfect parent does not exist – you are good enough. And a good enough parent is pretty
awesome. But you have to start by taking care of you. So, here are my four top ways of starting
the process of losing the guilt and getting ready to embark on the journey to connecting with
your child. These are particularly important given the global pandemic and the isolation that
lockdown and social distancing brings, but at the same time, they are hard.
Taking time out of your overbooked schedule to care for yourself may seem impossible, or
perhaps even counterintuitive. After all, if you feel guilty that you don’t spend enough time with
your child, why should you then take time out for yourself? Trying to fit in all those remote
school sessions, while perhaps working or juggling children at different schools, with different
needs, is exhausting. Physically, emotionally and mentally.
The truth is, the busier you are, the more important it is to care for yourself. And remember:
making time for yourself is a win for your family, too. If you’re stressed out and run down, you’ll
struggle to enjoy quality time with your child. Resist the temptation to engage in unhealthy
habits, like skimping on sleep or using alcohol to unwind, but do commit to caring for yourself so
you can make the most of the time that you have with your family.
Stop with the unrealistic expectations
Accepting your imperfections and forgiving yourself for your mistakes doesn’t mean that
you don’t want to improve. It means that you are gentle with yourself in the process of becoming
the parent that you want to be.
Every time you feel guilty, take a pause and make a list of five things that you do super well as a
parent. You can write them on a piece of paper or list them in your head. For me, it’s also
helpful to write a gratitude journal. Every day, write in your journal one thing that you are grateful
for and one nice moment that you and your child have enjoyed together.
Importantly remember the positives at school too. Ask your child’s nursery or school to relay
positives about their day via email or the home diary - we can too often get bogged down in the
worrying things, or the things our children are struggling to do - and forget all the great things
that are going on!
I have taken to telling the families I work with, (who can’t send their children in perhaps because
EHCPs aren’t finalised, or who won’t get an EHCP) to choose 2-3 subjects per day and only aim
to attend those. Why insist on your child attending a remote music lesson when they are sound
Don’t underestimate your child’s resilience
It’s natural, but not always helpful, to underestimate their children’s coping abilities. A mum who
misses a school concert may imagine her daughter crying and feeling abandoned. Or she may
think her absence from such events will scar her child for life.
Underestimating your child’s ability to cope with feelings like disappointment and frustration
could actually be harmful. Children need to learn to cope with discomfort and missing a few
events or not being home every minute of their waking hours gives them an opportunity to
practice dealing with the same emotions they’ll experience throughout the rest of their lives. As
long as the child is secure and loved, and able to tell you when they’re feeling unhappy, they’ll
Focus on quality time
Many working parents feel guilty when they’re working because they feel like they should be
spending time with their children. But then when they do try to spend time with their children,
they feel guilty that they’re not doing something more productive. Carve out time to be with your
child every day and practice being present with your child.
Focus on creating as much quality time together as you can. Read a story before bed, eat
dinner together, or play a game. Accept that you’re likely to have to give up some things in life –
like having a spotless house – in order to create room for quality time with your child. But doing
so, can help alleviate your guilt and help you keep your priorities straight.
So, while there’s plenty of work needed in order to achieve a valuable connection with our kids -
none of it is possible if we’re holding onto feelings of guilt. Success comes from a place of
understanding that we’re working in partnership with our children, to help them achieve all the
great things that they want to do. And so, it’s vital not to start from the point where one half of
the partnership feels that they’re not good enough.