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Sorry to disappoint, but this is not about legalization of marijuana; rather ‘everybody must get stoned,’ refers to the criticism, judgement and insensitivity that special needs parents face at every angle.
Bob Dylan hits the nail on the head –you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Everyone will find something to criticize, hence the lines ‘But I would not feel so all alone; Everybody must get stoned.’
Perhaps, I could just Shake it Off, like Taylor Swift, but it can be tough at times, particularly when the insinuation is that my child is somehow lacking or not measuring up. That the behavior seen during a fleeting moment in time is not due to disability, but because of my parenting.
As a special needs parent I’ve had to develop a thick skin, simply to maintain my mental health. Whether I’m looking to my tribe out there on the interweb or sitting in a restaurant, there is no lack of criticism, shaming, insensitive comments and judgement. The stones just keep on coming.
The parenting shame game
Oftentimes that criticism is based on a single interaction, perhaps lasting 15 minutes or less. Let that sink in. Rather than consider the other 23 hours and 45 minutes per day, 365 days per year, makes a snap judgement about my parenting skills in those short moments. Parenthood is not a contest, folks. In 15 minutes you can’t see the countless hours that led up to a moment in time.Whether I’m looking to my tribe out there on the interweb or sitting in a restaurant, there is no lack of criticism, shaming and judgement for special needs parents. The stones just keep on coming. Click To Tweet
In fact, a 2013 study about overcoming judgement among parents of children with special needs, showed that parents felt most judged by family members, strangers in a public setting, friends and colleagues, closely followed by teachers, coaches, doctors, nurses and social service workers. Yes, the struggle is real.
Personally, I use humor and sarcasm as an outlet for my frustration. Humor is an important social outlet because it is both a coping strategy, as well as a way to make deeply emotional content more socially palatable. Or, like the old adage says, “many a true word is said in jest.”
That being said, I’ve compiled a truth-in-jest list of the types of people I’ve encountered over the years that I’ll refer to as typical ‘stone-throwers’. Those who judge your parenting skills, shame you, or are just plain insensitive.
Cast of Characters
Brazen and ballsy as the day is long, the Brazenista will walk up and say something directly to your child under the guise of being helpful. Might say things like, “Be thankful you’re not MY son/daughter, I’d have…,” or “A big girl/boy like you shouldn’t be acting like this,” in an attempt to demonstrate just how inferior your parenting skills are.
The Camouflager is most commonly a medical professional who refuses to see that your child could possibly have any other medical condition than their primary diagnosis. This person makes you feel stupid for even suggesting otherwise, or for asking questions. An example of camouflager practice would be the doctor who insists the stomach pain your child is experiencing is because of “Autism,” and it’s something you’ll just need to accept. It’s as though they are simply blind to any symptom separate from the most obvious diagnosis.
This is the person who refuses to believe that ADHD is a real condition. They criticize you for not spanking or disciplining your child. Insists that spending time running around outside will “fix” it, and that medication is just the result of lazy parenting. Will often say things like, “Just let ME have your child for a week and I’ll straighten him/her out.”
Similar to the Brazenista, in that they have something to say about your parenting skills, but won’t say it directly. The Direct-Avoider is passive-aggressive and will instead direct a comment for you to the person they are with, but loud enough for your benefit. For example, the Direct-Avoider at the local amusement park who said to her friend that she would never put her child on a leash. This was in direct response to the safety harness we were using at the time, said loud enough so I could hear.
Cousin to the One-Upper, the Dismisser takes every concern you voice and deems it unworthy of consideration by saying things like “Well, that’s normal,” or “Every child does that.” Also known to say the phrase “Oh, don’t worry, (s)he’ll grow out of it.”
Glaring at you to the point where you can almost feel it, the Glarer is most commonly found at the grocery store, but can be found in any public place. Believes that staring will somehow magically make a meltdown disappear, most often because THEY feel uncomfortable. Sometimes combined with head shaking and “tsk-tsk-tsking,” audible enough to confirm any suspicion that you are, indeed, being publicly shamed.
7. Internet Warrior
Keyboard cowboys who try to shut down parents who ask questions they don’t agree with, use the wrong terminology, talk about their own experiences, or voice an opinion that doesn’t match their own. Rather than being supportive, or attempt to understand a parent’s point of view, the Internet Warrior will relentlessly shame and demean you via social media as a martyr who uses their child to gain sympathy. Ironically, the Internet Warrior pounds fists on the table while boldly declaring that they are entitled to “speak their truth,” while shaming parents for speaking theirs.
8. One Upper
Makes you feel bad for voicing a problem by immediately telling a similar story about themselves with an even larger problem or adversity faced. The One Upper will start a sentence with, “I know what you mean…” and end with something ten times more horrible than what you’re describing. The One Upper’s story shames you into feeling as though you’re a horrible human being for thinking your problem was real, let alone voicing it.
9. Tactless Wonder
At first appears to empathize with you, until you realize the Tactless Wonder’s words are really just a pile of syrup-coated insensitivity. Insinuating your child is less-than, this person will say things like, “I’m so sorry,” and “(S)he looks so normal!” Or my personal favorite, “Your child suffers from [Autism, ADHD, Down syndrome, etc.].” The only thing we are suffering from is YOU, Tactless Wonder.
Usually an education professional at the IEP meeting, the Under-estimator typically underestimates one or more of the following:
(1) YOU and your understanding of your rights, or willingness to employ an attorney,
(2) YOUR THRESHOLD for bullshit,
(3) YOUR CHILD’s abilities
This is the person with a laundry list of what your child cannot do, rather than highlight any accomplishment or growth. They also may be unable to articulate strategies previously tried to address any item on the laundry list. Lastly, uses said laundry list to justify why new strategies can’t possibly be attempted. Ever. Wears you down by making you jump through hoops, also known as bureaucratic paperwork hell. Makes you feel like a self-entitled brat for even suggesting that your child deserves to get an education. Needs to be reminded frequently to follow the IEP.
11. Uneducated Spit-Baller
This person talks ad nauseam about every half-baked miracle cure on the internet as though your child needs to be fixed. Hurling a list at you in an attempt to see what sticks, the Uneducated Spit-Baller will ask whether you’ve considered stem cell therapy in Mexico, along with a gazillion non-evidence based interventions.
12. Woke AF
The Woke AF person will attempt to demonstrate that they understand your life and its challenges by proclaiming solidarity with you. After all, their best friend’s aunt’s second cousin twice-removed has [Autism, ADHD, Down Syndrome, etc.], so they get it. Also known as an armchair activist, changes their Facebook status color to match the cause du jour.
Hang in there
If you’re a parent of a child who has special needs, chances are you’ve met your fair share of these folks. I hope I’ve brought a little humor to your day, while letting the Karens of the world know that words do matter. I know in some cases these folks are very well-intentioned, but perhaps don’t know what to say. That’s OK — in fact, just say precisely that — “I want to support you, but I don’t know what to say.” Just like most people, we want to be heard.
My heart goes out to every parent who has ever felt shame or judgement for doing their best.
Do you have a personal experience with this cast of characters? Let me know about it in the comments, or perhaps there’s a few I’ve left off the list — I’d love to hear from you!
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