A Dad’s Advice on Dealing with Comments from Strangers
I go out in public to restaurants and other places with my kids and often hear people making rude comments like, “Why can’t that kid keep quiet?” or “Why can’t that guy keep his kid quiet?” Our daughter Ellah has a number of complicated medical issues, including Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum and Coffin Sirus Syndrome. I’ve been keeping in my back pocket the reply,
“My daughter’s missing a piece of her brain, what’s your excuse?”
I Haven’t gotten the chance to say that, but one day that zinger will come out.
I think that most people say silly things for one of two reasons: either they’re uncomfortable and don’t know what to say and so they make comments, or they don’t realize that my daughter has special needs. So my thoughts of a “Hey, let’s go kick that guy in the head for saying something stupid” response may be the testosterone talking, but it’s not really appropriate or my MO.
I think many common ways to respond in this situation are wrong:
• Ignore the comment.
• Tell the person to shut up.
• A physical altercation.
• Make the person look stupid or embarrass him or her for the comment made.
Those are all ways not to respond. I’d much rather take the opportunity to defuse the situation and go with education, especially if I’m talking to people who have children with them.
A better response is something along the lines of, “Is this what you want to teach your children? I’ve got a daughter with special needs, you’ve got your kid with you, and you’re going to make a comment like that? You’ve now taught your child that it’s okay to say stuff like that. Congratulations. Your child is going to be an adult tomorrow, and they will think this is acceptable.”
If the person doesn’t have kids, a good version is to say, “Hey, my daughter has special needs, and it’s okay that she makes you uncomfortable. If you don’t like that, this is a public space, so you can move along.” But if they’ve got kids, education would win out.
I’ve been told, “I’m praying for you and your daughter,” or “My thoughts are with you,” or “I hope everything turns out okay.” And in my head, I’m like, “Okay, well, thanks, that was helpful. Why don’t you give me cash, that’d be more helpful.”
Sometimes it’s not what people say, it’s the face they make — the “pity look.” You can just see that they’re thinking, “Oh, bless your heart,” or something patronizing like that.
These are actually, in my view, people who mean well and don’t know what to say. For that scenario, I’ve said, “Ella has a very hard life in front of her. She’s got a lot of challenges both physically and emotionally. That said, you and I could both learn a lot from her, because every single day she smiles more than you and I do in a week combined. She’s a happy kid. She’s a happy person, and her outlook on life is strength and determination.
When you get the sniffles, you’re depressed because your muscles ache. When she’s in the hospital for a week, she’s still laughing and smiling and making jokes and doing what she loves. It’s okay to feel bad for her, but just know that you have a lot more to learn from her than you realize.”
People are generally shocked by that response and have never heard something like that before. It’s oddly satisfying.
I think its important as a parent with a special needs child to know that we will come by a lot of people who don’t know how to react to our children. My style is to respond with a mix of education, humor, and a little shock. You find your own comfortable responses, but remember the quote from Ian Mclaren: “Be kind, for everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” We should know this better than anyone out there. While we protect our children, leave some leeway for others.