They say to understand how a person really feels, you have to walk around in his shoes awhile. But what if those shoes are ill-fitting and deeply uncomfortable?
You know how every now and then you read something that resonates with where you happen to be on your journey at that precise moment? Well, that's how I felt reading this story about a mom whose son was bitten by a classmate. The injured party's mom relays how she flew off the handle, naturally making all kinds of assumptions about the parents of the biter...
And then something unexpected happened. The biter's parents handled the altercation beautifully, confounding the mom's assumption that the parents of the badly behaved kid must be doing something badly themselves. It was refreshing to read about this mom's eureka moment.
For some reason as parents we're always keen to make rash judgments about the caliber of other people's parenting abilities. Are we that insecure about the job we're doing ourselves that we feel the need to slam others?
As a special needs parent, I often dance around in uncomfortable shoes, trying not to fall and make an ass out myself. Trying to look as normal as possible, so as to make up for my son's not-so-normal behaviour. In public, I get it. People don't know my son or 'see' his disability. So they deduce. I'm obviously a slacker mom. The kid's spoiled or in need of discipline or [fill in the blank of your choice].
But at school, where his autism is common knowledge, I would expect the parents to show more if not compassion, then at least polite indifference. Some are fabulous. But from others I get cold shoulders and stink eyes. A couple of moms fail to return a passing 'hello' or a smile. I don't need friends; I have some, thanks. But some empathy would be nice.
My son can be aggressive at times. Not out of malice, but out of frustration. Maybe a puzzle piece went missing or someone got too close. We are trying to teach him more appropriate ways to manage his emotions, but Rome wasn't built overnight. It's a collaborative project, an intensive labour of love which teachers and parents take very seriously.
If my child was hit or bitten, I would no doubt react the same way that mom did. My mama bear instinct would come out roaring. Of course I would want to protect my child at all costs.
But how much better would it be if I could pause for a split second and consider how that other mama feels? Chances are, she feels bad enough that her kid hit someone. Chances are, she doesn't condone aggression and is doing her damnedest to help her child. For just a second give her the benefit of the doubt. Chances are, she could use a bit of support instead of yet more criticism and judgment. Chances are, her job is harder than you can imagine.
As is the case with most kids on the spectrum, my son isn't 'bad' or 'mean.' There's nothing 'wrong' with his brain. It's just wired differently. And while he can probably do things your kid can't do—and may not be able to do for years to come—other things are so much harder to come by.
If you can, please pause for that split second. In the time it takes to slip on a different pair of shoes, you may come to appreciate just how comfortable yours are.