One of the things that I noticed years ago, when my now nineteen year old autistic son was seven, was how normal it was for me to feel fear, sadness, anger, and guilt and how I was not at all comfortable with allowing myself to feel joy. As I got curious about why this was, I realized that it was part of myself, the warrior archetype, that had sweet intentions of trying to protect me from all of the unexpecteds that popped up as a parent, it was just doing so from a misguided place. How was it protecting me? If I only felt those other feelings, I was doing something, putting energy into preparing myself so I wouldn’t be caught off guard by whatever ball was going to drop next.
That part of myself had its’ intention but when I began to explore what my intention was as a parent, it was definitely not to have him see a mother who was always worried, sad, angry or mentally beating herself up. It is totally normal to feel those things but I also wanted him to see someone who felt joy. I wanted him to hear laughter. I wanted him to see an adult, who for the majority of the time, was happy and content with the life she was living. Once I realized that, I knew in that moment, moving forward, things had to change.
Since I had been disconnected from joy for all of those years, it was really uncomfortable, especially since my warrior did all it could to keep me safe from the dangers of joy - “No! Don’t do it!! It’s selfish! We are going to get hurt!” (So fascinating, isn’t it?!) I reassured that part of myself that we would be okay and set out to get to know what brought me joy anyways.
I started small by paying attention to each of my senses. (I love starting with senses because they are with us all of the time so it’s not like we are going to forget them at home - ha!)
What colors or patterns was I drawn to?
What were MY favorite meals and beverages?
What scents did I enjoy, even in small doses in my bathroom because of my sensory sensitive child?
What kinds of music and shows did I want to listen to or watch?
What clothing felt like me?
Like I said, it was awkward and at first there was a lot of toggling between thoughts of choosing things that I thought my son or my husband would like and override those to give myself permission to do something as basic as getting the plaid tissue box because it made me so happy to look at or listen to music that energized me while I cleaned the kitchen.
The more I allowed myself to experience joy in these small doses, the more I began to notice all around me, like how much I loved watching my son swing on a swing with his shoes kicked off and a huge smile on his face without a care in the world. I was allowing joy and it turned out that doing so not only helped me to feel happier, I was able to cycle through the challenging times faster with more curiosity.
My brain was changing for the better and not just tasked with being on the lookout for the next ball to drop. Balls were/are going to drop! That is part of life regardless of how much I perseverate on things so I might as well allow bits of joy or at least contentment in the meantime.
I also realized that my intention of wanting my child to see a happy mother was not only NOT selfish, it was incredibly important for me as his role model for what it means to be an adult, a woman, a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a person, etc. One morning I saw something that made me laugh out loud and my son stopped what he was doing, came over, put his hands on my cheeks and with a sweet smile, said, “Mama’s happy!” Yes. Yes she is.