It’s all my fault? It seems to be all about blame

A caring, loving mother  who wants her child to have the best life possible is the definition of the ultimate good mother. Parents have a primal urge to protect their progeny in any way possible.  There is however what I call the “parent trap” of the disability community. There are some parents who either seek to eliminate the feeling that they are (or perhaps are being portrayed as) an inadequate parent (typical “mother blame” for having an “abnormal” child) or they seek to eliminate that which is abnormal in their child.  This can be seen as polemical for every activist parent involved in the autistic and disability community.

Image of a newspaper clipping: “Dialogue with mothers ‘am I ruining my child for life?’

Image of a newspaper clipping: “Dialogue with mothers ‘am I ruining my child for life?’

Beyond the stigma of mother blame, there are the predominant autism motherhood archetypes and these two primary types that have emerged over time are dramatically different. First we had refrigerator mothers, the theory of autism caused by having detached, cold distant mothers causing autism developed by Bruno Bettelheim, debunked by Bernard Rimland in 1964; as a result of his work, the first round of activist parents resulted in the formation of the Autism Society of America.

Now we have warrior mothers (based on the warrior-hero archetype):

…mothers are presented as ‘warrior-heroes’ waging battle against social and political forces to gain medical and educational interventions for their children despite the high personal and financial costs to themselves and their families (Sousa, 2011, p. 220).

Even if you do not consider yourself an activist parent, women especially are pressured to “conform to ‘good’ mothering standards within the context of raising [their] children with intellectual disabilities” (Sousa, 2011).  “The rhetorical work that they do to defend their goodness as mothers rests on an assumption that outsiders neither understand nor approve of their ways of being a mother” (Birmingham, 2012, p. 235).  So we have moved from refrigerator mothers to warrior mothers and even what others want us to conform to in order to be “good” mothers…why can’t someone just be just a mother?  There are even claims that if you are not a good mother, you are not a good woman (Chrisler, 2013).

The comparison of these primary archetypes from different eras is quite fascinating—the self-revelatory nature of moms in the 1970s forward, the advent of women’s lib, etc., vs. era of silences and repression (refrigerator mothers) primarily overshadowed by a heavily patriarchal American culture, and now the era of shouting off the rooftops era and the “ME” decade; everyone shares everyone’s business—”don’t mess with the autism mom”; the supermom and so forth, , but now I want to create my own archetype, if that is possible.

the hindu goddess kali

Mother Goddess Kali

To do this, I have begun to examine my inner landscape–back to that imagery of an octopus.  And the symbolism surrounding octopi is complex and amazing.  But beyond the octopus imagery, I also thought of the Hindu goddess with many arms, KALI (I had to look her up and distinguish her from the MALE many armed gods). I found a link (Das, n.d.) that describes her using terms like “Fearful goddess with a heart of a mother”; the “dark mother”; among one of the fiercest deities throughout the world.  The fierce mother!  But this is the identity I am resisting, trying to break!  If this ain’t the ultimate warrior mother, I don’t know what is!  Further still, Kali is also known as a destroyer, not just a “creator.”  She is one tough bitch… I have much more to learn about her.

I realize that I have a lot of other “ingredients” to consider as the crux of my character, of who I am, of what kind of mother I might want to consider myself, even if I want to say I’m Just a Mom. At first I thought about reworking (and resisting) the warrior mother archetype and thus, as my first thought, what about being a Civilian Mother?  Initially, I thought of this since the idea of a Civilian Mother denotes to me a separation of those who fight and those who do not.  But then I realized that I didn’t want to be the Switzerland of the Autism Wars, and there is the crux of my burning question.  Perhaps I have been over thinking this, but then I realized that Switzerland wasn’t as neutral as everyone realized during World War II, but this wasn’t discovered, or did not emerge, until long after the war was over.  I feel a connection with both sides (parents vs. Autistic self-advocates), so I have to be careful not to favor one exclusively. It would also be dangerous to push my allegiances one way or another, depending on the issues.

Then, I realized I’d rather be a Citizen Mother.  A Citizen Mother denotes to me a sense of “everyone can be and is a citizen”—more equality, but also a Citizen Mother can voice her opinion, but also choose (or not choose) what she may (or may not) want to become involved with her community, really, a person, a mother with more status.  But before I can finish with my thoughts, I almost fall into my own trap by starting to use words like “war,” “battle,” “fight”…

The thinking and logic around all of this is far from over.  So, I stew and simmer, and think and ponder.  And when I am not in class, I am work. When I am not a work, I am at home. But throughout it all, I am always checking my email. This imagery of war (or warlike imagery) and disability will not escape me:

Sitting on the Sidelines: Disability in Malory, K Hildebrand – 2013… This shows the importance of warlike endeavour to the knightly classes, considering the ingenuity expended on allowing the disabled man to participate in physical activities and, when in armour, present an able-bodied image. … (a result from my Google Scholar alert)


  • Das, S. (n.d.).  Kali: The Dark Mother. [Website].  Retrieved May 16, 2013 from
  • Birmingham, C. (2010).  Romance and irony, personal and academic: How mothers of children with autism defend goodness and express hope.  Narrative Inquiry, 20(2), 225-245.
  • Chrisler, J. C. (2013, April). Womanhood is not as easy as it seems: Femininity requires both achievement and restraint.  Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 14(2), 117-120.
  • Sousa, A. C. (2011). From refrigerator mothers to warrior-heroes: The cultural identity transformation of mothers raising children with intellectual disabilities. Symbolic Interaction, 34(2), 220-243.

One thought on “It’s all my fault? It seems to be all about blame

  1. I love this post. I have been having very similar thoughts lately. I am not the activist mom, or the warrior mom. I call myself an Autism Mom. I feel we are in our own category because we have a different set of skills that develop as we parent our special kiddos, but I don’t feel like I have to educate the world or feel like I am a victim because of our unique circumstances. Thank you for giving me some more thoughts on this topic. 🙂

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