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A letter to parents: Your worth is not determined by your neurodivergent children

May 09, 20238 min read
you are worthy of having your needs met

Dear parents,

I want to remind you of something that’s very important.

Your worth is not defined by your children or your parenting abilities or other people's perception of your parenting abilities.

These last few weeks I’ve been asking myself questions about my sense of worthiness and what defines my self-worth. And I notice that this topic comes up with many of my clients as well.

So often our sense of worth is determined by external sources, like children, partners, comments from social media, etc. because that’s what we’ve been conditioned to believe.

You might find yourself having thoughts like the ones below:

  • I feel less worthy when my family can’t do things that other families can do.

  • When my child doesn’t accomplish the same things as other kids their age, it makes me question my parenting and my sense of worth.

  • When I don’t know how to best support my kids, I feel less worthy of their love.

  • When I experience feelings of guilt or shame, I feel like I’m disappointing my kids.

I thought you might connect with some of the reflections I’ve had lately and so I’d like to share them with you.

For me personally, the beliefs I hold onto about my worth are deeply rooted. They are reinforced by society in many different ways, some more subtly than others. For you as parents, you might feel as though your worth is defined by your children or by your parenting abilities.

If that resonates with you, I want to both normalize those feelings and also challenge them a bit.

But before we dive in, let’s define self-worth and worthiness so we’re all on the same page.

The American Psychological Association defines self-worth as “an individual’s evaluation of himself or herself as a valuable, capable human being deserving of respect and consideration.”

So if worthiness is the quality of deserving consideration and respect, let’s talk about the statement I made at top of the page:

Your worth is not determined by your children or your parenting abilities.

You may be thinking, “Why not? My kids are my world. Of course my sense of worth comes from being their parent. Why wouldn’t I attach my worth to them?”

The reason why your worth is not determined by your children or your parenting abilities is because you are inherently worthy of respect and consideration.You deserve to have your needs met simply because you’re human. Period. Being a parent with a neurodivergent child does not change that.

You are not less worthy on the days your child has a meltdown in the grocery store.

You are not less worthy because your child struggles in school.

You are not less worthy when you don’t understand what your child is trying to communicate.

You are not less worthy when you break down and cry hysterically on the floor.

You are not less worthy because you experience feelings of guilt or shame or because sometimes you wish things were different.

No matter what is happening with your child, you deserve to be respected by yourself and by others around you.

No matter how hard of a day you had parenting, it does not diminish your worthiness.

Before reading on, take a moment to sit with the statements above. Notice what came up for you.

Which ones did you connect with? Which statements did you feel resistance to?

When I think about my own sense of worth, I can acknowledge that my worthiness shouldn’t be defined by my neurodivergence or whether I have children or partnership or the success of my business. But it’s a whole other thing for me to actually accept and believe it. Especially in the really hard moments.

I imagine that those feelings are similar for you.

You might believe you’re worthy but then your child gets kicked out of school for their behavior. You tell yourself your needs deserve to be met until you left the kids alone for an hour and all hell broke loose.

You feel you’re worthy of going to social events just like everyone else until your child makes a scene in public and you leave feeling mortified, guilty, and discouraged.

There are constant reminders throughout your day that can lead you to question your sense of worth. Our society reinforces these messages over and over again, even if you don’t subscribe to them.

So in case you nobody told you today, no one ever gets to determine how worthy you are of respect and consideration.

And if you find yourself struggling with feelings of worthiness, keep in mind that we live in a society that causes you to doubt yourself simply because your child is not neurotypical.

It’s not all in your head.

It’s not a matter of “getting over it” or “accepting it.”

It’s not your fault.

And you're not alone for feeling that way.

So what can you do about it?

How can you move closer to truly, actually, sincerely believing deep down in your core that you are not any less worthy because you’re the parent of a neurodivergent child? These beliefs are so ingrained in our society and in ourselves that they can’t be unraveled overnight. But, there are some things you can do. Let’s look at four ways you can move towards self-acceptance and improve your sense of worthiness.

Let’s look at four ways you can move towards self-acceptance and improve your sense of worthiness.

1. Be compassionate

One of the best things you can do is to be compassionate with yourself. In those moments when your thoughts start to spiral and you feel sorry for yourself and wonder why it’s all happening to you, give yourself permission to be where you are.

It’s okay to feel sad or mad or scared or lonely or any other feeling that you feel. You don’t need to add any more shame or guilt onto your plate by thinking that you shouldn’t be feeling what you’re feeling.

Talk to yourself the way you’d talk to a friend and say something like, “I know you’re going through a hard time right now, and it’s natural for you to feel the way you feel. I’m here for you.”

2. Regulate your nervous system

Second, do something that helps you regulate your nervous system. Move your body by stretching or dancing or going for a walk. Give yourself a hug and wrap your arms around your body. Hold something that you find soothing like a stuffed animal, a crystal or stone, or a fidget toy. Put your hands on your belly and feel it rise and fall with your breath. Get some fresh air or go out in nature if that’s accessible to you. Let an ice cube melt in your hand to shift your focus to the present moment.

3. Use affirmations

One way to rewire your brain and challenge limiting thoughts about your sense of worth is through positive affirmations.

When we repeat encouraging and affirming words and phrases to ourselves, it builds resilience and helps us to change the thoughts and beliefs that hold us back. I like to say mine out loud in the mornings but I also write them down on sticky notes and place them around my home to help remind me of my worthiness.

Use the affirmations below or create your own, but make sure you only use ones that you actually believe to be true.

  • Today I will find peace in being good enough because perfection is impossible.

  • I give myself permission to do something that nurtures me.

  • I exude strength, grace, and flexibility.

4. Question your own beliefs and societal standards

Do you actually agree with the value that society places on your parenting abilities? Or are they so embedded that you never even thought to question them? A lot of people never consider whether or not they agree to the norms and expectations placed upon us in our society. Have you thought about why you feel shame when your child skips around restaurants humming their favorite song while wearing their pajamas and carrying a fidget toy? Or have you blindly bought into the beliefs that children should sit quiet and still in loud places and they’re not supposed to wear pajamas outside and that it’s rude and inconsiderate to hum in public?

In actuality, those rules were decided for us in oppressive, racist, ableist, and patriarchal systems.

Get curious with your own beliefs and the societal standards placed upon you and your children. The next time you experience feelings of guilt or shame or judgment, take some time to explore why you might be feeling that way.

As you move throughout your day, keep in mind the following three points:

  1. You are worthy and deserving of respect and having your needs met simply because you are a human.

  2. Your feelings are valid.

  3. You’re not alone.

Remember that these beliefs are deeply ingrained and it takes time and dedication to work through. You are up against generations of long held standards and beliefs put in place by oppressive societies. And no one ever gets to determine your worth.

Christine Binko is a Neurodivergent Empowered Parenting Coach and founder of The Modern Spectrum.

Christine Binko

Christine Binko is a Neurodivergent Empowered Parenting Coach and founder of The Modern Spectrum.

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