(Q&A with single mom of a beautiful daughter with Autism, Lilly Jinkins)
I wake up shivering. My forehead is piping hot and I’m aching throughout every inch of my body. I can barely speak but I hear myself saying “honey, can you please tend to Luke this morning, I think I have the flu”. Oh wait, I’m alone. Luke has been crying for almost 10 minutes now. I drag myself out of bed and go to him. I look at the clock. It’s too early to call anyone for help. And the day begins.
I knew being a single mom wouldn’t be easy. And I wanted this more than anything in the world so really I just need deal with it and stop complaining. And I try not to but it’s tough not to vent at times as this is harder than I ever imagined it would be.
Most of my married friends with kids are actually really good about giving me some praise and letting me know they can’t imagine how I do it alone. My sisters are certainly supportive and tell me all the time that I’m doing a great job. This really helps, getting encouragement from friends and family, but many times, you just feel like no one truly understands what you’re going through. And how could they unless they are a single mom. Even then, single moms have different support systems, tolerance levels, and financial circumstances.
Of course there are many challenges to being a single mom – lack of help, financial burdens, sole decision making, etc and just not having that other person to ask a simple question is frustrating. Of course there are support groups and friends you can ask. But when your child wakes up at 3:00 a.m., screaming and nothing is calming him down, it would be great to have another person to assess the situation. Or help keep you in check when you’re about to lose it. Or yes, give you a little break when you’re not feeling well.
Well, I was having one of my “poor me” days when I came across an article about a single mom raising a child with Autism. And it stopped me dead in my tracks. Just like my married friends can’t imagine raising a child on my own, I can’t imagine being a single mom raising an autistic child.
So I contacted Lilly Jinkins to ask her about what her motherhood experience is like. I was thrilled she decided to answer some questions. Shedding light on Autism is certainly important but interviewing Lilly helped me get a very clear perspective. I was amazed at how positive and uplifting Lilly is when it comes to raising her Autistic daughter Laila Rose, who is 4. Lilly also has a son Jay, 15 who doesn’t have Autism. Major kudos for being a single mom raising not just one child, but two.
If you struggle with being a single mom or just being a parent, it’s important to share stories on how we manage, how we stay focused and positive. It’s important to support each other and reach out to each other as much as we can. No matter what your parental situation is, we are all in it together, the joys, the challenges and the lessons.
Here’s what Lilly had to say.
Q. How did you become a single mom?
I became a single mom three years ago. I was married for thirteen years to my ex. We were married very young and towards the end of our relationship our differences became too much to handle. Though there was much pain through the separation, today we maintain a healthy relationship for our two beautiful children.
Q. I’m a single mom with a long list of challenges and I don’t have a special needs child, what are some of the challenges you have in raising a child with Autism?
My daughter’s Autism diagnosis and my divorce came at the same time in my life. I had very tough days. Raising my child with Autism has taught me how much we need to teach society about acceptance and understanding of people with differences. I have endured many stares at stores and restaurants if my daughter was feeling overwhelmed and having a sensory meltdown. Going through the public-school system to see where my daughter will be placed and how she will be included in the general classroom has also become a challenge. As a special-needs parent I have an undying need to protect her at all costs, though I understand that the biggest present I can give my daughter is to teach her how to survive and become an active member of society.
Q. In reading your stories, your outlook is so positive, how do you maintain that?
Wow! That’s a tough one. You know, I have allowed myself to feel every single emotion possible. I communicate my thoughts all the time, to my friends and family, writing stories for online publications, or just jotting them down to myself. If I am having a tough day, I allow myself to cry! (Often in the shower alone where my kids can’t hear me) Being able to process my thoughts and emotions has given me the opportunity to feel strong and ready to face anything. When my son (who is now taller than me) hugs me, I know that I have found true love in his arms. When my little girl tells me that she loves me (it took years of therapy to get there) I know that there is so much hope in the world. I know I only have this one chance to give my children all the love and support possible to lead a happy life. Waking up every day being grateful for all life has given me and maintaining hope at all costs have helped me maintain a positive outlook.
Q. What are some of the important lessons you have learned in doing this on your own?
I have learned that I am stronger than I ever thought I could be. As a single mother, you really must be “Momma Bear” and make sure your children will be ok and protected no matter what. I learned that my children are the driving force in my life to better myself and never give up. I have also learned to trust my own instinct when it comes to my children and what is best for them.
Q. What advice would you give to any single mom raising a child with any kind of disability or behavioral challenges?
I want to tell all the single mom’s out there that are raising a child with any kind of disability that you are your child’s biggest advocate in life! Speak up when it comes to doctors, teachers, school bus drivers, friends, family, significant others, etc. Never stop learning about your child’s situation so that you know how to take care of them best. Find online support groups with other parents going through what you are. Trust me, it helps so much to know that you are not alone. Most importantly (something I am trying to work on now) take care of yourself as much as possible. Eat right, go for walks, take some time to meditate, read a book. Your child needs you, and as a special needs parent perhaps it will be for longer than expected. Love will carry you through it all.