A long, long time ago, in a galaxy far away, when I “only” had two children, I did things called “play dates.”
My first two children were (and are) sweet and quiet and compliant children, while my young mama friend’s play date son was a firecracker of a little boy… (a wonderful temperament I would soon discover with my third. Wink, wink.) He had the energy of a category 5 hurricane contained within a soda bottle, with the cap slightly open… bursting out unpredictably. I was then, as I am now, the kind of parent who’s not likely to meddle in another parent’s child raising techniques. I don’t parent other people’s kids, I don’t give condescending looks, I don’t give unsolicited advice… mainly because I HATE it when others have done it with me. Sidenote: if you have one or two kids, it’s “adorable” when you give me unsolicited parenting advice with my 9. I might smile, I might be silent, but inside I have a bit of advice of my own that most likely involves several swear words and is certainly not charitable. But I digress…
So back to this new mama… There I was, not saying anything, being cordial, being supportive, loving on my own little ones, and she breaks out with this gem: “Oh, um, my son has ODD. So that explains his behavior.” My response was, “Huh? What’s ODD?” “Oh, it’s Oppositional Defiance Disorder. He simply doesn’t follow rules or listen to me. Oh well. It’s tough being a mother of someone with this kind of disability.”
I was stunned. The child was around three years old, he simply was high-spirited and strong-willed, and his parents were new at this (so they hadn’t figured out time-outs or any kind of leadership or discipline yet.). And she felt she needed to make an excuse for him… Even when I hadn’t said something like, “Why is your son’s head spinning around like a possessed child?” Nope, he was her child, so I felt he was her business. Unless a parent’s child is hurting mine, I believe it is their prerogative if they’re OK with their child punching them in the face or biting them in the arm. I might not invite them over to play with my kids anymore, as I don’t enjoy watching kids beat up their parents, or anybody, but in the end, they are the ones who have to live with their parenting, as I have to live with mine.
Fast forward to myself, several years later, when we discovered that our son had Aspergers Syndrome. I found MYSELF saying things like, “Oh, he has Asperger’s, so that’s why we have to not let him watch this intense movie, or that’s why he’s crying at the age of 10 over spilled legos, or that’s why he just stomped off and slammed the door.” Sure, I’ve seen the condescending “wow” looks from other parents who either don’t have this particular challenge, or perhaps have different ones that are even worse, but overlook them for their own children. I always felt I needed to “explain” his behavior, as if his personality and unique challenges were something to make an excuse for.
Turns out, I was embarrassed. And not just with him. I’ve also “explained” that so-and-so is in her “terrible threes”, or so-and-so is strong-willed, or so-and-so is hormonal, or so-and-so is shy, or so-and-so was a preemie so that explains why she looks teeny for her age… and the list goes on….
And why would I be embarrassed by my own beloved children?
The answer is simple: pride.
MY pride. Which is ridiculous. Because if I were to define myself by all my disabilities and flaws and shortcomings, I would be leaving out who I actually am: a Princess Daughter of the King, worthy of Love, infused with far more gifts than flaws, a person loved by God and given a unique mission that only I, out of the entire universe, can accomplish…. the same as each of my children.
When my Loving Father looks at me, as well as my loved ones, I doubt they see, “Oh, that’s a person with OCD, ADHD, prone to anxiety and depression at times, foot-in-mouth syndrome (FIMS? ;) ), earthy, legally blind, etc etc etc….. No, I think they see me by my name. Which is how we should all see each other.
I have been blessed to know parents whose child has an obvious condition or disability, where I have never heard one “excuse” or “explanation” from them unless asked, or unless relevant, or unless they are sharing a true struggle with a close friend. This is an inspiration to me.
And, excuses don’t stop with parents diagnosing their children with every “condition” on the planet. Our society is ashamed of many classes of people. People tend to be defined by their disability (and some people even define THEMSELVES by their disability.) Why is a person called “a Down’s Syndrome person”? Why aren’t they simply called by their name?
Why do people define themselves by Bipolar, or depression, or their addiction, or their insecurities? You know, I’ve stopped letting people off the hook. I’m not going to grant you special permission to beat up your wife, or your kids, or neglect yourself or your family, or not seek healing/treatment, or not seek work (if you CAN work), or be a jerk, or wallow in despair… you know why? Because I’m most likely just as disabled as you are, if not more. And I’m not letting MYSELF off the hook anymore either.
Yes, support groups and specified treatments are effective realities. Denying any struggle carries its own set of consequences (as I’ve addressed in previous blogs.) I absolutely love and welcome when people share their burdens with me. It opens a door and builds a bridge and allows us to walk together on this tough journey called life.
But excuses? No. Not for ourselves, and certainly not for our children. Excuses imply “throwing in the towel”, defeat, shame…
We each have a name. And we are loved. Whether people understand our unique challenges or not.
Wishing you a Blessed Advent Season,
P.S. The picture at the top is my wonderful… high-spirited, with many gifts… son, my number three. :)