Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Out of Mother’s Morning Out

While watching the morning snow piling up on the driveway and sidewalk I cleaned yesterday while Joaquin napped, I get a wonderful phone call to brighten my day even more. It’s the director of the Mother’s Morning Out program where Joaquin has been going weekly since September.

Although in the last month Joaquin had two great days that made me think he was finally adjusting to the teachers and being away from us, he had to miss two weeks recently, and yesterday cried the entire time he was there. The director, who’s heard Joaquin screaming through the door, and probably has had conversations with the teachers, calls me to talk about how Joaquin is not adjusting to the program, and maybe it would be best for all involved, specially him, to take him off the program and come back on the fall, but she asks about my thoughts…

A lot of what she talks about is how Joaquin’s behavior is so emotionally exhausting for the teachers. How it’s not good for the other children either. She wonders if this is the best thing for Joaquin. She asks me if there are any caregivers different than mommy and daddy in Joaquin’s life. She suggests that maybe I can do things at home to encourage him to spend more time entertaining himself. She suggests that I do some “mommy and me” activities (like the Little Gym). She mentions that the teachers have told me that maybe we should try a more progressive transition into the program (do 1.5 hours instead of 3). She tells me about one of her children… How the baby cried all the time unless she held her… How her mother saw her doing this and told her to stop.

This comes as a surprise to me. Of course I know that Joaquin has had more bad than good days at the program. Several times I have asked the teachers if they wanted me to leave him there for just an hour. If they wanted me to stay for a while (since earlier they suggested that this worked for another child). Every time they’ve told me no. Other than his first day, I’ve never gotten a call from them to ask me to pick him up because he’s cried for over an hour. When I get there and realize that Joaquin’s been crying and ask the teachers how his day went, they just brush it off saying that he cried on and off, but they don’t engage me on any conversation about possible solutions. They haven’t indicated in any way that this is a problem for them.

This upsets me in so many levels…

First of all, I’m so tired of the hidden suggestion (or maybe just my impression) that somehow I have created Joaquin’s separation anxiety. No, the MMO director didn’t say this to me. In fact, I’m sure that she doesn’t even think that. However, the example from her life, and all her suggestions for me, make me feel somehow responsible. The irony is that I thought by enrolling him on a MMO program I was doing the right thing for the development of his independence. Many times I’ve read that the older babies get, the harder it is to get them used to changes in their routine. So, if Joaquin doesn’t want to be separated from me, is the solution really that I abide this?… The MMO director thinks he’s not ready for a program like this. My concern is, will he ever be, if I stay with him the whole time?

As I’m writing this, Joaquin has been pacing up and down around me, carrying random objects in his hand and exploring the whole first floor. He is the happiest little kid at home. He rarely cries, and when he does, it is so easy to know what he wants (food, sleep, attention), and as soon as you help him, he’s happy again. Why can’t he do this when I’m away? I thought he was getting there, but now I’m getting a call telling me he’s not.

I am not the mother that holds him constantly, or that never leaves him alone to entertain himself. I engage on activities of my own to encourage him to play independently. He’ll do this for a while, and then demand my attention. I don’t really know what’s the balance to strike for here. I try to give him both things: Some times I’ll stop my thing and give him the attention he wants. Some times I let him suffer the frustration of not getting what he wants.

With the MMO director we agreed that after the Holidays I’ll take him for only 1.5 hours, never missing a week, and see how he does for a month. If he doesn’t do well, it sounds like they’ll want me to take him off the program. I’ll do that. I’ll do whatever they think will work. I’m just not sure that this will be that different to him. How’s spending less time there going to make him better adjust to something he’s apparently hated for three months straight?… I don’t know. Again, I’ll do what they suggest, but this conversation leaves me so hopeless, and so upset.

I have great respect and appreciation for his teachers. Every time I pick him up from there and find the smell of a woman’s perfume on him, it makes me happy to think that obviously somebody held him and loved on him. Whenever I get a craft he’s worked on, I picture these ladies struggling to get a hand or foot print on a piece of paper or a Christmas ornament, and I thank them for that effort. I so appreciate the time they spend with him; the time they give me every week so I can take a break and do something for myself. I do. I really am thankful to his teachers… And yet, this morning’s conversation leaves me upset because I realize that they haven’t communicated honestly with me. I wish they had told me earlier. I wish we had had this conversation and looked for solutions instead of getting the director of the program telling me to pull Joaquin out. It makes me wonder if the teachers will really be ok with Joaquin coming for half time. It just sounded to me like they’ve had it. And I don’t want that for them, and much less for my baby.

One time they had a substitute for one of the teachers. Joaquin was doing his typical “don’t leave me” scene when I was trying to drop him off, and the substitute person suggested that maybe his separation anxiety was due to the fact that I only speak Spanish to him, and of course, the teachers don’t. I simply think that this theory is crazy. As far as I know, babies don’t rely on language to communicate. They get tone, mood, and when old enough, some simple words. But to suggest that Joaquin hated it there because the teachers didn’t speak Spanish to him (hence, my fault) sounded a little ignorant to me. In this morning’s conversation, I relate the story to the MMO director and she acts like maybe the theory is right. So again, I’m told once more, in a subliminal way, that maybe this is all my fault. That maybe raising a bilingual child may come at the expense of his independence… Believe me, I’ll be asking this to our pediatrician, or to a children’s psychologist, because, heck! if the true experts think that I better speak broken English to my half American baby, I really want to know.

The pride in me wants to pull my baby out and never again hear from them. Just because in a way I feel judgment on me, and rejection on my baby. They probably don’t mean it, but I can’t help it.

Joaquin already goes to the Little Gym, and I can start going to other parent and child programs. And I can suck it up and get a babysitter or a nanny to come home. I just want to know what’s really best for him… I’m close to somebody who — according to the therapist — didn’t make a smooth transition when as a baby started separating from mom, and now supposedly, this person has a huge psychological void that reflects all over his/her life. So I know that this is a key moment for Joaquin and I don’t want to screw it up. I thought I was doing the right thing for him. It never comes easy to me when somebody suggests that maybe I’m not…

Welcome to my parent mentoring service

Hello, you Super mom of an Awesome autistic child.

If my experience and words speak to you, I invite you to learn about my mentoring service for autism parents.

Intentional parenting, development, and education for our children is my passion. My purpose is to empower you with the emotional and practical support you need to thrive as you reach for every outcome you dream of for you and your child’s life.

Learn More


  1. On , Pete Stultz wrote:

    Maria, just want you to know how impressed i was of you as a Mom.

  2. On , Maria wrote:

    Thank you Pete. That means a lot coming from such a great dad like you.

  3. On , Lulu wrote:


    estoy segura de que lo del español es una buena excusa pero no suena nada lógico desde ningún punto de vista. Acá en Miami muchas mamás les hablan a sus niños en español (no tienen otra opción) y los niños crecen bilingues sin trastorno de ansiedad de separación o traumatismo alguno. Así que por ese lado yo creo que estás haciendo lo correcto, síguele hablando a Joaquin en español.

    También te recomiendo que no te des tanto látigo. Nada es culpa tuya. Tu eres la mejor mamá para Joaquín y tu sabes decidir lo mejor para él, mejor que las profesoras que lo ven tres horas a la semana. Yo estoy segura de que lo estás haciendo bien, muy bien.

    Yo entiendo lo que tu piensas que si lo sacas del programa como que en lugar de ayudar con la supuesta ansiedad de separación solo lo hace peor o lo post pone. Acuerdate de que los niños van madurando en la motricidad, en el lenguaje, mentalmente, en su comportamiento, en todo. De pronto si es cuestión de tiempo… Me parece que haces bien en hacer el intento de mantenerlo en el programa pero si no funciona, fresca ya habrá otras oportunidades en la vida.

    Si los comentarios que he dicho suenan fuera de lugar fresca Mafe, puedes ignorarlos completamente, pues acuérdate de que yo no tengo hijos y por lo tanto no tengo autoridad alguna sobre la crianza de los niños.

    Feliz Navidad,


  4. On , Maria wrote:

    Para nada estas fuera de lugar, Lulu. De hecho, te doy mil gracias por tus comentarios. Le dan validez a algunas de las cosas que he pensado…

    Despues de escribir esto me puse a leer online acerca del tema y me senti mejor al ver que aparentemente esto no es cuestion de entrenamiento, lo cual era mi mayor preocupacion. En teoria, en unos meses Joaquin va a estar mas abierto a las personas desconocidas, ya sea que ahora tenga esas experiencias o no. No hay necesidad de empujarlo ahora.

    Mi pequena investigacion me hizo llegar a la decision de no latigar mas al pobre Joaquin. No lo voy a volver a llevar a MMO por ahora. Lo que mi lectura sugirio es que si en tres meses mi bebe no se ha acostumbrado a este programa, es porque tal vez no es el adecuado para el. Hoy, el pediatra comento que tal vez Joaquin estaria mas conforme con una babysitter que le de mas atencion dedicada. En este otro sitio, las profesoras tienen que cuidar a varios ninos, y es posible que sea eso lo que Joaquin rechaza. El es asi en la casa… Esta jugando bien, y de repente pega un chillido, y si no es hambre, yo se perfectamente que lo que quiere es que yo juegue con el.

    El pediatra tambien esta de acuerdo con nosotras: Es muy poco probable que el asunto del lenguaje sea la razon por la cual Joaquin odia MMO. Pero ahora por fin me puedo sentir totalmente segura cuando digo que esa teoria CULA de aquellas personas, no tiene ninguna validez. :)

    Que rico que paraste por aca, y me dejaste unas palabritas. Gracias, amiga… Feliz Navidad a ti tambien…

  5. On , Vivienne wrote:

    Hola Mafe! I am quite behind on correspondence, etc., but I am glad I decided to catch up on your blog today! First up – *loved* your holiday slideshow, it is so much richer and entertaining than a mere card (and having said that, we are still working on sending our paper one out, ha!).

    And second – though your post on MMO is from a little while ago, I had to comment because we went through that with A. (I imagine by now you have figured out what works!) I took her to a daycare twice a week – and then later, just once a week – when she was a baby, and we struggled for a long time because she took a long time to settle in. In retrospect I think she would have done better (and it would have been more expensive) had I left her more frequently but for shorter periods – so, a couple of hours three times a week, instead of all day just twice a week. I think for her the gaps between when she was at the center were just too long (too far apart) for her to build up any kind of routine.

    Over time of course she got used to it and I didn’t have to come in 2-3 times a day to feed her or calm her down. (She was at the center till she was three). As far as I can tell she is happy, well-adjusted, and more social than many of her peers.

    That said, we of course did not end up doing the same thing with L, who at nine months does not go to any kind of childcare, rarely has sitters who are not his grandma, and only goes to one class a week! If I end up going to work outside the house this poor child will be extremely traumatized for a while. :D All this to say – I think kids are resilient, and given the attentive, smart, loving mama that Joaquin has, he will be fantastic at whatever he chooses to do in life.



  6. On , Maria wrote:

    Vivienne! Hi!… Thank your for stopping by.
    I so appreciate your input. It makes perfect sense… Joaquin had two great days in November, and then he skipped it a couple of times, so of course going back was traumatic for him. Every time he skipped it, it was like going back to zero. Routine definitely is the key with babies.

    I guess for now, we’ve decided not to take him to MMO any more. But your experience helps me, because that’s exactly what I’ll think about if next time we attempt this, he still has trouble. Although I offered to leave him for shorter periods, the teachers didn’t let me do it when we first started, but the next time, I’ll be more convincing.

    I can’t believe L is already 9 months old. I want to see photos! : )

  7. On , Devra wrote:

    New reader, and part-time SAHM. My daughter is only 17 months and it took her awhile to get used to the idea that we were leaving her somewhere (we’re blessed with tons of family around us so that’s who she stays with one day a week/some nights due to work) but establishing a routine certainly helped. Yes, kids are resilient but they also thrive on a “normal” and to him, staying at home with mom is the norm.

    But from another perspective: YOU’RE his mom. YOU know him best. Stick to your instincts and you won’t go far wrong.

  8. On , Maria wrote:

    Thank you for your comment, Devra.
    You are definitely blessed to live close to family. The permanence of caregivers is something that I’m now concerned about when thinking about getting a babysitter or a nanny. I have to plan for this person not to change too often. It’s going to take a while for my baby to get adjusted to somebody out of his preferred “circle of two”, so I can’t be bringing new people all the time. I wish I had the option of grandparents or aunts…