As a special needs mom, I often hear the same cliches over and over again. I have I have a big confession to make. I am sick of them.
However, every time I hear these cliches, my teeth clench a little too tight, my shoulders go up a little bit higher, and I can instantly feel my neck stiffen. I know that these cliches are well-intentioned, but I can assure you they are not helpful. As a special needs mom, I would encourage you to refrain from saying the following cliches to your friends with special needs children (or at least don’t say them to me) and instead, if you could offer a different statement, that would provide far more value to us. Also, fair warning: if you continue to read this post, please note that I am standing on my giant soapbox, and I will remain here for the remainder of this post.
The first cliche that well-meaning friends, family, and strangers need to stop saying to special needs parents is,
God only gave special needs children to special people.
Let’s break this down a bit. I am not special. To be honest, I’m not even that great of a mom. I would define myself as a good enough mom. I lose my temper, I forget to make sure my kids have a share item for school, I don’t bake cupcakes for birthdays, and once (just once!) I forgot to pick my son up from school. So, yea, I would say I’m mediocre at best. There is nothing special about me or what I do for my children.
I have a vulnerable child. A child whose understanding of the world, education, and safety is in my care. Because of these reasons, not because I am special, I continually advocate for his needs. This is what you see, and I know that you are trying to say something positive and supportive to me, however, the statement isn’t true. Instead, how about you try saying, “I see how hard you are advocating for your son.” This is true, and yes, I am continually advocating on his behalf, and thank you for noticing. See the difference?
The second special needs cliche I hear is, “Your child is my hero.”
I often hear this cliche from well-meaning service providers, and my first instinct is to ask why? According to Webster’s Dictionary, a hero is a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities. A hero is someone who does something outstandingly brave such as calling 911 in an emergency, becoming an ally to a child who is being bullied or saving someone from drowning. While it is true that my son works harder than his developing peers to learn, this isn’t heroic. Instead, it reflects a neurological difference in his brain. A difference that doesn’t make him better or less than his neurotypically developing peers. Instead of being looked at as a hero, my son should always be viewed as a child. A child who is just like every other child, a child who doesn’t like to do his homework or his chores. A child who loves to eat unhealthy food and sneak in extra screen time. A child who gets in fights with his sister and loves potty humor. Are any of those qualities heroic? I didn’t think so either.
Instead, tell me when you see my son working hard at a task. I love when I hear back from his providers how hard he worked on his writing task, or in a physical education class.
While Welcome to Holland is an essay written by Emily Peri Kingsley and not a true special needs cliche, I still think it is important to address the private or public sharing of this poem with special needs moms.
Welcome to Holland is a poem that typically gets direct messaged to special needs parents right after they make a public Facebook status that their child has special needs. If you haven’t read this poem, it is an analogy that describes special needs parenting as getting on a plane thinking that you are going on your dream trip to Italy, however, you accidentally arrive in Holland. The poem explains that there are a lot of positives to Holland, and if you remain disappointed by the fact that you aren’t in Italy, you will miss all the beauty that Holland has to offer. The analogy itself is true. I did play the genetic card game and ended up with some cards I didn’t see coming. With these cards, I do have two options. I could stay upset that I didn’t get the cards I thought I was going to get, or I can play the crap out of the cards that I have. I choose the latter, every single day.
However, here is my problem with the Welcome to Holland poem. My life isn’t Holland. Not even close. It isn’t peaceful, full of rolling green hills, windmills or cute wooden shoes. If I were to describe my life in a metaphorical poem, I would get on a plane thinking I was going to Italy and instead wind up smack dab under the big top of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. I am the Ringleader standing in the center of the circus tent. I stand in the middle of the main event with a smile on my face. I put on an illusion that things are better than they appear. I have an audience that is judging my performance and watching to see how I react to the clowns when they misbehave. I walk a tightrope, hoping I don’t fall. I tame wild beasts and cringe when people stare at the bearded lady. Sure, there is beauty in the circus, when the trapeze artists gracefully fly across the circus ring and somehow against all odds catch themselves on that thin bar. Oh, and there’s also cotton candy and popcorn. It isn’t a bad place to be, but it sure isn’t Holland or Italy. So, let’s just stop sharing that poem.
There are many other special needs cliches that I hear as well, including everything happens for a reason or it could always be worse. I won’t get into why I find these cliches equally unhelpful, instead, I hope my piece (or giant soapbox rant) explains which interactions truly are helpful. Not saying a cliche is genuine. Yes, it is simple as that. Instead of a cliche, try a simple how’s it going, hello, or, have you heard of this resource? Be authentically you and let’s leave these unhelpful special needs cliches in the past.
What mom cliche do you find unhelpful? I would love to hear in the comments below.