The G Word - how to ditch the guilt to better connect with our kids

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

therapist.


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. 


You first


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.