Over the years, I can’t tell you how many times I have had mothers tell me they were blamed for their child’s disability, anxiety, or behavior problems.
Doctors take license to have the audacity to tell mothers they are too wrapped up in their child’s anxiety and make their child worse. Doctors actually will say it’s the mother’s fault that their child has a disability.
These apathetic judgments can also come from close friends and family as well as educators. Most people don’t understand mental health issues such as ADHD, autism, anxiety, or behavior problems, and will speak from ignorance.
These kinds of experiences can be one of the worst moments of a mother’s life. Many parents already battle with feelings of shame and guilt. But these kinds of statements can confirm a mother’s worst fears. Many mothers actually believe that they are the problem, and they are failing their child.
There is an old mentality called “The refrigerator mother.” The term “refrigerator mother” was coined by Austrian psychiatrist Leo Kanner in the 1940s to describe a mother whose cold, uncaring style so traumatized her child that they retreated into autism. The concept caused enormous pain for many families for decades before it was debunked.
Although it was supposedly “debunked” there are still many uninformed professionals, educators, and societal belief systems that hold onto this ridiculous mindset today.
It is common for teachers to blame mothers for their child’s inability to learn or behave in school. I have had just as many mothers tell me that a teacher blamed her for her child’s school problems. Teachers and administrators have been known to tell a mother that her child doesn’t have a disability! They actually tell the mother the problem is her lack of parenting skills and inability to control her child.
Many students experience school refusal and increasing panic each morning, and parents are desperately seeking help from a professional. Once again, it is not uncommon for doctors, therapists, and educators to wrongly assess a mom’s parenting ability and the child’s “manipulative behaviors.”
“Your child knows they can get away with it with you. You just need to draw the line and make them go to school.”
School refusal has been carefully researched and is a very real, very complicated issue that goes far beyond a parent who is lenient in their parenting skills. But for many doctors, therapists, counselors, and educators, that doesn’t matter. Like so many of us, we have endured the abusive assumption that mom is not only enabling, but causing her child’s increasing anxiety.
There are times a mom may not know how best to handle her child’s increasing anxiety or behavior problems. There are many times when we, as parents, have given in and allowed our child to avoid whatever it was that was making them so panicked, rather than encouraging them to face their fears. A mother’s first reaction is to stop our child’s pain. We mothers are human beings, just doing the very best we can for our kids. We have our own fears and anxiety, and of course that can contribute to the dynamic of our parenting.
But blaming the parent never helps. Blame resolves nothing. Blame adds a barrier between the child and the mother, who is the person who makes the biggest difference when a child is dealing with significant issues.
Responsive caregiving, or interactions in which caregivers give appropriate responses to a child’s signals, is linked to improved psychosocial, cognitive, and physical outcomes in children. – NCBI Study, 2019
Parents and caregivers offer their children love, acceptance, appreciation, encouragement, and guidance. They provide the most intimate context for the nurturing and protection of children as they develop their personalities and identities and as they mature physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially. – American Psychological Association
Reducing a child’s mental health issues or diagnosis to a shortcoming on the part of the primary caregiver is simply shortsighted, ignorant, and frankly, cruel.
Yes, moms need support and education in understanding how best to help a child with a disability. We need to stop blaming moms for their children’s anxiety and behavior problems.
Parents trust doctors and educators and take to heart the opinions of close friends and family. The implications of these types of egregious statements can be life-threatening for the mother and/or the child. It can cause mothers to feel tremendous guilt and shame and question themselves for years later.
Mothers can be the only person on the planet the child trusts and communicates with appropriately. Our children are not manipulating us in some sort of horrible, emotionally unhealthy relationship dynamic.
It’s important to find a doctor or mental health professional who can truly help you if your child is displaying these types of problems.
As an advocate, I want to add that it is your local school district’s obligation and duty to help children with these types of issues. IDEA requires the school to conduct specific types of assessments when students experience anxiety, behavior problems, or school refusal.
The burden should never be placed upon the mother to carry this weight alone. If your child is experiencing these types of issues, please reach out for more information about how your local school district should be addressing these serious mental health concerns.
If you haven’t joined our Private Special Education Parent Empowerment Facebook Group yet, you should check it out here.
Here’s what parents are saying about the group:
“Please keep blowing the whistle, Valerie! So many children are being deprived of an education because of all the corruption and lies being told to parents. We pay our taxes like everyone else, which can be interpreted as our children have the same rights as any other child.” ~ Maria