As mothers raising children with Autism, we are confronted with uncertainty all the time. Whether it’s about therapies, medications, or programming, we’re called upon to advocate for our kids with imperfect information and resources out there. Since there’s no roadmap for navigating Autism, it’s no surprise you might be in the habit of second guessing yourself.
How often do you question whether you’re doing enough or the right things for your child with Autism? Do you have the urge to ruminate on and review every decision, or wonder if there’s anything you could have or should be doing differently? Is opinion shopping and crowdsourcing your go-to move when facing a choice?
In part one of this series, we’re exploring what second guessing is, why we do it, and how the habit of second guessing yourself might be showing up in your life. You’ll hear how we’re socialized to believe we can’t be trusted, and next week, I’ll give you specific steps to begin unwinding this habit.
You are listening to episode 61 of The Autism Mom Coach, How to Stop Second Guessing Yourself, Part One.
How often do you question whether you are doing enough or the right things for your child with Autism? How much time do you spend in analysis paralysis ruminating over a past or present decision about your child’s care? How often do you tell yourself that you should not think or feel a certain way about your child’s diagnosis? These are all examples of second guessing yourself and it is kneecapping us.
That is why I am devoting the next two episodes of the podcast to this topic. In part one we will talk about what second guessing is and why we do it. And in part two I am going to give you some specific steps to unwind this habit because yes, it is a habit, and stop second guessing yourself. So if you can relate and I am betting you can, stay tuned.
Welcome to The Autism Mom Coach podcast, I am your host, Lisa Candera. I am a lawyer, a life coach, and most importantly, I am the full-time single mother of a teenager with Autism and other comorbid diagnoses. I know what it is like to wonder if you are doing enough or the right things for your child and to live in fear of their future.
I also know that constantly fueling yourself with fear and anxiety is not sustainable for you or of any benefit to your child. That is why in this podcast I will share practical strategies and tools you can use to shift from a chronic state of fight, flight to some calm and ease. You are your child’s greatest resource, let’s take care of you.
Hello everyone and welcome to the podcast. I hope you are doing well. I will say that I’m doing a bit better than I have been. The last several weeks have been extremely difficult for myself and my son. And there have been countless moments where I have felt the urge to travel back in time in my mind and review every decision, question every move and wonder if there was anything I missed or anything I could have done differently or anything that I should be doing now that I have not already considered.
So this is all to say that these two episodes are inspired by real life events, my life, and also examples from my clients. Examples that I am sure you can relate to even if the situations are not exactly the same as what you are experiencing.
So before I go into the lesson, I want to start with a story. When I was in college, I read the short story by Tilly Olsen called As I Stand Here Ironing. It begins with a mother receiving a phone call from a school social worker who wants to ask her some questions about her 19 year old daughter.
The story begins, “I stand here ironing and what you asked me moves tormented back and forth with the iron. ‘I wish you would just manage the time to come in and talk with me about your daughter. I’m sure you can help me understand her. She is a youngster who needs help and whom I am deeply interested in helping.’ Who needs help? Even if I came, what good would it do? You think because I am her mother, I have a key, or that in some way you could use me as a key.
She has lived for 19 years. There is all of that life that has happened outside of me, beyond me. When is there time to remember, to sift, to weigh, to estimate to total? I will start and there will be an interruption and I will have to gather it all together again, or I will become engulfed with all I did or did not do, with what should have been and what cannot be helped.”
The mother then goes on to detail her daughter’s life beginning at birth. All in an effort to make someone else understand and to try to explain away years of decisions. I will tell you that reading that story at the age of 19, it was burned in my memory.
It reminded me of my experience growing up with a sister diagnosed with PDD-NOS and seizures and my mother’s constant struggles to get her help and to explain her perplexing behaviors to other people. And now even to this day, still second guessing her decisions. And then fast forward to the present day for me, my son is 15 years old. And in the last few weeks I have done multiple intakes for schools, residential programs and hospitals. And they all take me back to the very beginning, literally.
The first question on all of the intake forms, was he premature? To which I say “No, he was born on his due date.” Complications? No. Medical issues? No. Tell us about him. Well, where to start and just like that, the opportunity to review 15 years of life of decisions and wonder, did I do it right? Did I make the right decisions? Was I in denial? Was I overshooting? Was I pushing him too hard? What did I miss? And what am I missing now? If this is you, you are not alone.
So let’s talk about exactly what second guessing is. Second guessing is the act of questioning yourself and your decision in an unhelpful way. So to be clear, second guessing is not the same as self-inquiry, reflection or due diligence. Second guessing does not come from a place of curiosity and open mindedness. It is laced with self-doubt, self-judgment and a flavor of you fucked this up somehow. It is both subtle and pervasive in how it shows up. Here are some examples.
Questions like, is this my fault? Are other people judging me? Do other people think this is my fault? Does my partner agree with me? Do the doctors agree with me or do they think I’m being overdramatic? Do the teachers like me? Do they think I’m too pushy? It can also look like thoughts like, I should not be thinking that I wish my child was normal or did not have Autism. I should not feel resentful of people with neurotypical children. I should not want to switch schools, this school has been nice to my child. I should not raise concerns, people will think I’m not grateful.
I should definitely not hire an advocate, the school will think I am pushy. I should not have copied the principal on that email. And then of course, the endless decision doubt. Am I doing enough? Am I doing the right things? Ruminating over past and present decisions, analysis paralysis, opinion shopping, crowdsourcing and seeking external validation wherever you can get it. These are just some of the things that we do when we are second guessing ourselves.
First let’s talk about why we do this. First, women are socialized to second guess themselves. That we can’t be trusted as the authority. That we need the blessing of other people in our life or the world to know whether our decision is the right one, what we eat, wear, drink, marry, date, whether to have kids, how to parent, whether to work, whether to work full-time. The list goes on and on. We are socialized to believe that women are emotional and irrational.
I remember the jokes growing up about a woman being president and not wanting someone with PMS having access to the nuclear button. Yet we let men in early or late stage dementia take the wheel no problem. Women can’t be trusted. You can’t be sure your decision is the right one unless and until everyone else agrees, and even then if you make the decision and it doesn’t go the way you like, you take all the blame.
Then at the very same time, we are socialized to believe that our primary role, our purpose is motherhood and that good mothers are somehow whimsically endowed with an inner knowing that is supposed to guide us through the complexities of parenting a child. We should just know, but we can’t trust ourselves until everyone else agrees. Talk about a mind fuck and an impossible situation.
So that’s the backdrop, socialization, whether or not you walk around aware of it does not mean it is not working deep in the background. And showing up in your ever present need to question your own decisions, your own thoughts and feelings and to gather as much consensus as possible about your decisions before you make them or decide how you feel about them.
The second reason I think that we as mothers raising kids with Autism, second guess ourselves is the Autism diagnosis itself is really the definition of uncertainty. If this is the first time you are hearing this, listen up. There is no road map for Autism. I don’t care what level your child is, there is no one size fits all. As a result we are all confronted with this uncertainty all of the time about the therapies, about the medications, about the programming. And we are called upon to advocate for our children and make decisions with imperfect information and resources.
And I think that this naturally lends to the question of is the right one? And the answer is, let’s give it a try because there is really, there are no clear lines here.
Number three, the illusion of control. Second guessing ourselves gives us the illusion of control and the idea that there are right or wrong answers. This is especially so when we are second guessing past decisions. We are giving our brains some comfort in the idea that we have more control than we think. There is a small feeling that, well, if I screwed it up then I can fix it or at least I know where to assign the blame. The reality is your brain would prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty. It’s perverse, but true.
I love this quote from Virginia Satir because I really do think it rings true so much. We would prefer to know something and be miserable than to not know it at all. That is just our brains wanting to protect us, it’s primal.
So those are just three reasons that I think that we second guess ourselves. Now, let’s talk about the consequences. The consequence of constantly second guessing yourself and ruminating over decisions is that it makes it harder to make decisions, even the minor ones. That is because the more you second guess yourself, the more you erode your own confidence in your ability to trust yourself and this is no good for you or your child.
In the next episode I am going to give you some specific suggestions on the things that you can do to stop second guessing yourself but for now let’s just start with awareness. Get curious with yourself about how second guessing yourself is showing up in your life. I am betting that it is so automatic that you don’t notice it most of the time or you don’t even know that you are second guessing yourself by what you’re doing. So pay attention and see what you find. Alright, I will talk to you next week. Thanks for listening.
Thanks for listening to The Autism Mom Coach. If you want more information or the show notes and resources from the podcast, visit theautismmomcoach.com. See you next week.