I'm A Single, Working Mom With A Child On The Spectrum

I’m A Single, Working Mom With A Child On The Spectrum — And I’ve Seen Plenty Of ‘Miracles’ In This Impossible Situation

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Full-time job with a high level of responsibility? Check.

Single parent of two? Check.

Child on the spectrum? Check.

Cute, but very angst-ridden dog? Check.

Moving houses during a pandemic? Check.

Mastered at-home schooling for a freshman in high school during lockdown? Cue bottle of wine being opened…

If it wasn’t challenging enough trying your very hardest to be a patient and present parent before the world flung a faceless disease at you when your child is on the spectrum (with the extra added bonus ADHD), let’s try throwing in a few extra layers on top –– then you really start to question your sanity.

I’m no stranger to stress. I currently lead the marketing for an independent brand engagement agency. And I’ve been extremely fortunate over the years to have held a number of global senior positions working with and for some great brands, agencies, organizations and people. But no corporate role has prepared me for what it would take to be a CMO and a single parent amid a pandemic.

Given how many hours we’re all sitting in front of our screens Zooming, Teaming, Chiming, Housepartying and then some, this whole WFH scenario has definitely provided an extraordinary amount of positive and negative outcomes, in equal measure for moms at home.

Let’s start with the negatives.

I’m not a teacher, although being a mom surely gives me some claim to teaching, but not necessarily enough to help my 14-year-old, six-foot-four and growing son with his math homework. Honestly, I can’t make heads or tails of it and when he demands to know at which point in his life he’s ever going to use algebra, it takes everything in me not to scream, “NEVER!!!” But I digress.

Aside from the few hours of work the school sets for him daily, he has far more time to hunker down in front of one of several screens around the house and play video games, make endless TikTok videos, send a zillion Snapchat messages to people I’m not sure he’s ever met – the list goes on. The thing is, I know I’m not alone in this. His genuine delight at knowing there’s very little I can do – especially since I also have a somewhat demanding day job that I genuinely like and need to focus on – has turned into my own personal mantra of self-doubt: “I’m failing my child.” If you’re still reading this, please feel free to exhale now and bask in the comfort of knowing that a lot of us are feeling the same way. But guess what? You’re not. I’ll come back to this momentarily.

Other negatives? I’m sick of cooking and going on the hunt for flour so that my older daughter can keep her starter going for the endless loaves of sourdough she’s been baking, and doing the laundry, the shopping, the nagging, OMG the nagging. I want to sass myself after the number of times I repeat the same things over and over again. If only my kids really understood the expression “broken record.” But all of these are mild pain points in comparison to so many others who are genuinely struggling and suffering with the advent of this virus. On the flip side, I’ve noticed something quite miraculous recently.

There is a silver lining.

woman in white jeans and a yellow sweater sitting on the bed in a yoga pose in front of a laptop and a cup of coffee -
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I’m not going to lie – working from home was something I previously relished when I knew I had a lot of writing to do. Quiet, sweatpants, and endless cups of tea with no interruptions was the perfect recipe to allow me to enter into the work zone. Working from home now means I’m aware of the kids, the dog, the laundry piling up in the corner, the lunch and dinner I need to be thinking about…there I go again getting lost in my recipe reverie.

So what are the upsides to juggling so many things and very often feeling like a failure?

Miracle #1: I’m here from the moment the kids wake up until the moment they go to bed.

Once my son has gotten through the mornings, which are inevitably miserable for a variety of reasons that parents with and without kids on the spectrum can relate to, we kick into our rhythm and then the real magic occurs. At various times throughout the day, this man-child will literally dump his 160 pound body onto my lap and ask for a hug. I’m only allowed a few seconds because folks on the spectrum often don’t like being held, caressed, or touched unless they instigate it, but when he does, it’s an amazing feeling.

Miracle #2: His grades have gone up.

How the hell did that happen?! It happened simply because I’m here, able to review his schedule with him every morning and night, and help keep him on task. Ongoing, live encouragement in real-time, day in and day out has, I’m sure, added bucket loads to his low self-esteem. This is priceless.

Miracle #3: My kids are getting along.

Again, I repeat, how did that happen?! A seven-year age difference with the oldest normally living in the UK where she goes to university and a lifetime of arguing have somehow (nearly) disappeared. Did it really take a pandemic to bond these two? Regardless, for this I am incredibly thankful.

Miracle #4: It can’t all be about the kids, so this one is about work and my colleagues.

I have no idea how others feel, but hierarchy seems to have taken a bit of a back seat during this time, to be happily replaced by empathy and a “we’re all in this together” mentality. I know that in the past my seniority — or, dare I say it, my aloofness as some have suggested — can sometimes put a barrier between me and the people I work with. This isn’t intentional, but it happens. When we’re all at home in our hoodies, with kids, dogs, and lord knows what else coming in and out of the frame, you’re just a person. Not a boss or a colleague, but a regular person with worries, struggles, good moods and bad ones, happy days and sad days. For this I am grateful because I’m being invited into people’s homes through a forced situation that is ultimately enabling us to explore one another’s lives a little deeper, forge new bonds, and create compassion for each other.

I would never ever want to go through this again, and I worry constantly about the long-term impact on young people as a result of what they’re collectively missing out on, but to only see the glass half empty would be missing the point. Try to remember:

When your blood starts to boil and you feel like you’re going to lose it, remind yourself that you’ll probably NEVER have this kind of time together again in life with your kids. For those of you with children on the spectrum, I know it’s tough. I really do. But if you can, try to embrace this time as a one-off gift that will be etched into both of your memories forever. For my part, we’ve never laughed more together and that is irreplaceable.

You’re doing great – even when you think you’re really not. These aren’t normal times. There’s no manual for being a parent, and there most certainly isn’t one for surviving a pandemic as a working mother. It’s okay to give yourself a moment (but just a moment) to think you’re not pulling your weight at work, that everyone else is doing fine and that you’re the kink in the system. You’re not. Recognize all that you do every day and if your kids don’t say anything – because let’s be honest, most don’t tell it to yourself. Are they fed? Do they have clean clothes and a bed to sleep in? Are you still managing to deliver your work? Yes to all? Good. Now give yourself a hug.

Finally, recognize how you’re evolving. I don’t mean learning a new language or preparing flawless meals seven days a week – it’s more about patience and gratitude. In time we’ll forget how we’re feeling now because humans are resilient: we learn, adapt, and move on. But if you can, take some time to think about a few little things that you’re grateful for. Write them down. Keep them somewhere safe and look back at them in a year or two.

Who knows? Those few little words may be the very things that keep you grounded if, or rather when, life throws another curve ball at you.