Let’s talk about parenting. Often, when parents hear us criticize the sharing of intimate details and venting, they feel like we are implying that they have no right to feel stressed or access support. We aren’t saying that. What we are asking is this: Is there a way to talk about the day-to-day struggles of parenting without making those struggles solely about disability? When parents talk about the exhaustion, joy, fear and intense that are intrinsic to parenting a child with a disability, most of the time, they are actually talking about universal experiences of parenting. All parents worry for the future, all parents get tired, all parents want their children to have the best possible life. I think when we separate out parenting disabled children as some sort of exalted category, it does four things:
- Talking about disabled kids as somehow different, special types of children alientates that child from the community of “children.” This is an act of othering or separating those kids from the general group of children. It makes their needs “special” and not just “needs” and actually creates a lot of the alienation that parents complain about. Segregated events and spaces further this division and further mark these kids as other and causes other parents to second-guess invites to parties, play-dates, etc. When we mark our own parenting as different, we mark our children as well.
- Talking about parenting disabled children as somehow remarkably different than other types of parenting, we also alienate ourselves and close off communities of support. All parents have capacity to connect and bond over experiences of raising small people, and marking our experiences as fundamentally different limits the support networks we have access to. We create our islands and then wonder why we are so lonely.
- It creates an expectation about the way we should parent. Unfortunately, with the othering, it also creates the expectation of trying to fix our children. Inevitably, this turns into parents trying methods and therapies that often don’t work with our child’s disability. This makes parenting even harder because we are actively working against our child’s needs.
- It creates new group norms that are different than most parenting group norms. I wonder why “autism moms” feel comfortable sharing things about their children that other parents would not. Why these spaces of “no judgement” actually damage our kids the most. I think it’s because when segregated spaces are created, it marks that space as having different rules than other parenting spaces, when that idea is actually deeply problematic. When we socialize with other parents, unspoken rules about privacy, intimacy and dignity that are routinely afforded to neurotypical children remain visible and we remain accountable to them.
This month, I want to challenge us to remember that ALL PARENTING IS HARD. Say it again, reassure yourself, and connect with a support network. We are all in this together. You can have support, just not at the expense of your child. We are here to offer alternatives and to support you.