When One Mom is Called Supermom, She Responds With This

I am delighted to introduce Patty O’Machel as a guest blogger today. Patty is a writer, special needs advocate and mom. Her blog Parenting Outside The Lines collects and shares the stories of parents all over the world who are raising children with special needs, and her guest post lets you in on what that’s like here in America.

by Patty O’Machel

A cartoon mom with superhero mask holding two kids on either arm.

Image courtesy of Dreamstime.com

Another day, another person putting me on the pedestal. Any reasonable semi-narcissistic person would find this kind of admiration comforting, and most likely well-deserved. I’m a special needs mom, though, and those compliments can feel hollow.

I feel guilty when I can’t live up to that image people seem to have of me. My real self, the one who breaks down, who yells at her kids, who gets crabby and tired, is the true representation of me as a mom. But it is an image I can’t show.

I try very hard as a mom to all of my kids. The two considered “typical” kids and also the one who uses a wheelchair and needs my love and time and strength a little bit more. But I am certainly not the flawless, perfect image that people seem to see. I feel haggard at morning drop off and exhausted at 8am. By the time I get the kids to school, I have lifted her body several times in and out of her chair, gotten her dressed, brushed her hair and teeth, put on her orthotics, and hauled the chair and child out into the car. In the drop-off line I look over my coffee mug at the moms dressed for yoga and looking rested and resent them a little under the surface.

I shuttle my kids to multiple sports like other moms do, but I also work several therapies a week into the schedule. That requires moving a wheelchair and heavy child in and out of the car and back again, and it gets exhausting some days. I don’t do all this while adjusting my superhero mom cape. I do it with a grunt and a groan, with some undignified jealousy on occasion, and with all the strength I come with on that particular day.

It is my job as mom in this family, and one I truly do love most of the time. But some days my daughter’s needs are endless and they always have my name at the end of them. Some days I truly just want to rest and refill my reserves of energy and patience. When people look at me and comment how amazing I am and how strong I am, it often makes me feel unworthy. I am not exceptionally strong, I am just a mom who was given a special needs child to love and to raise, and I am doing what is necessary. Some days with grace, and some days without.

A special needs mom is not strong because she is some extraordinary kind of person, she is just a mom. A mom who was given a job that is harder than average and requires some deep pools of strength some days, but at her base level just a mom. No cape and no superhero powers.

Have a special story of your own to share? Post it at the Parenting Outside the Lines blog or email Patty directly at patty.omachel@gmail.com.


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  1. Cheryl Canning Says:

    Hello Patti, I am your sister, with two “regular” kids, and one with challenges, who at 21 is still in pull-ups and is non verbal. I do feel you expressed sentiments of being no super mom, as I too get irritated at times. You are right, we do what we have to as moms, then at times break down and cry when alone. Then, pull ourselves up, put our smiles on and pick up the pace. You are right we get a bit impatient at other moms with small problems who immediately seem unable to cope. Yes if only we can fit in yoga or water walking, but I feel I can speak for you; we have so little time (and my son has less challenges than your daughter). I came to this site hoping to find a safe ride for my son as CCT has refused to transport him and I work full time. Understandably, as he was hitting the glass window. Mentally he does not know better, or he would not do it. Well enough of my griping! Please feel free to contact me if you want! Perhaps we can start the “Non Super Mom group” and work out at 3 am when our kids are all still asleep! Or perhaps that too crazy : ). Take good care of your self, be encouraged and keep on keeping on!

  2. Peggy Orloff Says:

    What shines in Patty for me after watching her with her 3 wonderful beautiful children and a loving husband is her sense of humor. I think it is what keeps her centered and capable and watching how her sense of humor rolls off of her children is so much fun. They are always on an adventure and Patty always is looking for the next thing to do as a family and will not let her daughters disability get in their way. She sees the barriers but they never stop her.
    She is a superwomen to me.

  3. Patty O'Machel Says:

    Thank you both for your comments. Some days are easier than others, for all moms, not just us special needs ones. But I agree with Johanna, having someone to talk to who understands your life and struggles is always special. I would be nowhere without my friends and supports, and my brothers and sisters who always have my back.

  4. Johanna Crawford Says:

    All parents of special needs kids are super in one way or another, including you. Nobody is perfect, but you are to be commended. My husband was disabled by Mrsa after double-hip replacements. We never determined what caused the infection, but we learned to live with the results. My husband’s parents both thanked me for staying with him, despite the burdens we both carried. They maybe read about the divorce rate in that situation.
    1. Something I learned was that support groups are helpful. Another is that some rehab facilities/care centers have day care available for the disabled person, so that the care-giver can have some time out. At first, I waited till I had something special to do, but soon, I took the opportunity to just experience the “freedom” of walking in and out of a store without the wheelchair routine. I would seriously suggest this for you.
    2. It would be VERY good for your other kids, to spend time with them, and could well be pro-active in heading off negative sniping or actions in the future, before they become teens with all the challenges that “pulling away” stage brings to family dynamics.
    3. Support groups are good, even if you feel you/they don’t need it. It’s just good to network with people who have similar concerns, and you see you aren’t the only one with the unique situation.
    4. If Easter Seals has this sort of support, take advantage of it. We all need variety, so do not feel guilty for taking a break from your day-to-day routine. When you can, spend special time with your other kids.

  5. Susan Trieschmann Says:

    I have seen Patty many times navigate her days. The lovely moments and the challenging moments when people she has never met ask her “whats wrong with her” when she is trying to get her daughter into a chair at a movie theater – always asking with a rude tone and right in front of her daughter and other kids. I have watched her smile and patiently explain her daughters condition while always keeping things respectful and empowering for all of her kids. The life of a special needs Mom is never easy but I have seen Patty make it beautiful and although she may not see it – I see that superhero cape all the time!

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