When she was younger, you thought it was cute. The way she jumped up and down excitedly and repeated everything I said. Her big green eyes and sweet, round angel face were the first things you’d notice when she entered the room. Her meltdowns were, in your mind, toddler tantrums and you gave me that “I’ve been there, too” smile to relieve the tension you could tell I was feeling. We were the same back then. You and I were just parents, and we understood each other without having to say a word.
Then she got older.
My little girl isn’t so little anymore and, suddenly, there’s a great divide. You still give me that polite parent-to-parent smile when we enter the room, but when she gets excited or upset…we’re no longer the same, you and me. Now you’re staring. As she flaps her hands and talks loudly when she’s feeling joy, or paces back and forth with her hands over her ears when she’s upset…her differences are becoming more and more obvious to you. You look from her to me, sizing me up. When you realize I’ve noticed it, you look away and avoid me. We no longer have an understanding, and it hurts.
We are strangers to one another. I know that you have no way of knowing that my child has Autism. Not all disabilities are visible. Just as I have no way of knowing anything about your child or your life. So, let’s take a step back for a moment, beyond just us. Beyond this situation we’re finding ourselves in…
Our children are here, at this birthday party or playground, together. They are taking it all in and, despite what so many articles may say, bullying is not just something that naturally develops as a part of childhood. Bullying starts with us. You and I. Moms and Dads. Staring at one another in the presence of our children who, though they are busy eating cake or playing catch, are also busy watching. Those little sponges are absorbing every moment of uncomfortable silence between us. They haven’t treated each other differently yet. Our children haven’t begun to place each other on a scale of differing values…but they will. Unless we change this judgmental way of interacting. Unless you look at my situation, unless I look at yours, and try to see the positive; try to embrace the differences as special and not strange. Unless we can be more like our children, our children will all-too-soon be more like us…the us that stands divided. The us that doesn’t take the time to try and understand. The us that we’d rather not acknowledge.
The window of time is closing in which we still stand a chance to raise a generation of compassionate, open-minded people. So, from one parent to another, this is my plea:
My child is different. So is yours. They all are, and that’s what makes them breathtakingly beautiful. Please, let’s not take that truth from them and twist it into the lie that they all need to fit into the same mold. If you see my child doing something that you don’t understand, ask me about it! I’d love to explain what makes her unique and I’d love to hear about what makes your child special, too.
As a parent, I’m different. I have to be, because my children are not your children. Each of these little people have different personalities and need different things from us as Moms and Dads. Can we please leave the judgmental stares and awkward silence at the door and just support each other? We may be on very different parenting journeys, but we have one thing in common: We love our children. There’s nothing we wouldn’t do for them. When we’re faced with differences that feel too great and we don’t know how to relate to one another, let’s just start there. Chances are, we have more in common than you think.