My firstborn is about to turn sixteen – a cause for much celebration and reflection! Sixteen years of navigating motherhood, career and much more.

As my son’s birthday approaches, in my mind I have been writing a lot of ‘letters to my younger self’ about our family’s experiences: how they have shaped us all, and the lessons we have learnt along the way. There are a lot of themes about identity, resilience, grit, love, loss, hope, and the growth that comes from negotiating situations that didn’t quite turn out as planned.


Sixteen years on, I am the proud mother of a son with autism – our ‘gamer extraordinaire’ – and a 14-year old daughter who is an accomplished dancer. My husband and I have lived and worked in New Zealand, Australia, and now the UK.


My son’s autism looms large in all my ‘letters’: He was diagnosed six months after we moved from New Zealand to Australia (just before he turned three), so rather than returning to work as an organisational psychologist – work I adored – we commenced a period of intense early intervention and my role as a carer began in earnest.


Since the diagnosis I have not returned to work full-time as originally intended, rather have forged a varied portfolio career – undertaking project and part-time work in leadership development and assessment, coaching and organisational development, as well as mentoring parents who are balancing careers with raising children on the autism spectrum.


Life hasn’t quite worked out as planned, but it is rich, complex and rewarding.


Like so many parents of children with additional needs, my son’s diagnosis provided a catalyst to examine who I was as a person, what I wanted out of life (and what was possible, given the parameters), and how our family functioned to ensure that each member fulfilled their potential.


A career highlight has been completing my PhD, which I most likely wouldn’t have undertaken had I returned to work at the intensity I expected to!

Resilience is a key theme for this period of motherhood, for both myself and other mothers I hold dear – not the ‘constantly robust and mentally tough’ kind, but the resilience that comes from picking oneself up after setbacks, considering a range of options for moving forward, cultivating and cherishing support networks and friends who ‘get it’, and choosing to continually evolve and grow.


And knowing that as a family, there will be phases where there will only be enough energy to survive, whereas in others we will joyously thrive.

As I ‘write’ to my younger self, I encourage her to trust that life will work out absolutely fine, to be gentle with herself (and to take up yoga and meditation much earlier!), and to know that she is ‘enough’ for whatever life throws her way.

Dr Kim Aitken

Kim specialises in leadership development and assessment, coaching (executive, career and transition) and organisational development.