I confess that I often feel like nothing I say has any significant impact on my kids. I can’t stop them from fighting and rough housing turns into shoving matches. I am always breaking them up and shouting a line from the movie, Rush Hour, “do you hear the words that are coming out of my mouth?!” I feel like I say the same things over and and over again. I am always lecturing my kids on how they need to grow up to be respectful, appreciative humans. I worry if they will ever get along and if they’ll ever learn to be kind.
On one particularly difficult morning of too much chaos I commanded the girls to get in the car. “Every body in, we’re going to the store!”
My daughter asks me, “Will Michael be there mama?”
“I don’t know we’ll have to look around when we get inside.”
“Oh I hope he’s here! He is SO funny!”
Michael is the man that we see every time we shop at our local club store. He is one of the employees that hands out food samples. Both of my daughters love to visit him during our shopping trips to get their free snacks and a good laugh. Michael has a quick wit and ease when talking to little kids. I think they enjoy how he talks directly to them and not just about them to me. I told my kids that Michael is my friend and someone I used to work with. I was also the maid of honor at his wedding and I even introduced him to his wife. Which is all true.
But what my daughters don’t know about Michael is that he is categorized as “Intellectually Impaired.” I met him during my last career as a case manager. I worked for the agency that provides him with services like job coaching and residential assistance. I was part of the staff that came to his home to help him pay his bills, balance his check book and made sure his needs were being taken care of. Michael and his wife are capable of living on their own with support, and together they are like any typical couple managing their apartment and caring for their small dog.
I have never shared with my girls Michael’s diagnosis because I don’t want that to be the first thing they think of when they see him. Right now they enjoy sharing jokes with him and asking him for samples. To them Michael is a funny guy and a good friend. Too often folks living in the “disabled” community are made to feel less than and struggle to fit in seamlessly with their peers. Society often sees people with disabilities as incapable of advocating for themselves, or having little power to sustain a productive life. I don’t believe those are true. Michael and his wife have certainly proven those ideas wrong. If I describe Micheal as disabled (I prefer the term differently-abled because everyone has abilities) I basically hand my children a distorted lens in which to view people. I want them to look at people through a singular lens that shows everyone as a human being.
We arrive at the store and my girls are delighted to find Michael at his station. (And I am delighted they finally stop bickering).
“Hi Michael!” They both shout in unison.
“Hey girls!!” he replied. “It’s so nice to see you here!”
Today’s samples are snack bars. He hands them the little cups and asks how they like school, and they share with him the newest set of knock-knock jokes they just memorized. He laughs a very genuine laugh and reminds them to listen to their parents. Nothing about this interaction is “special.” We talk to Michael the same way we do any of our friends. In a world where people receive praise for showing kindness to persons with a disability, my children get no recognition. I ask them if the are happy to see Michael today and thank them for remembering their manners. As they say goodbye to their friend I realize my children will grow up to be OK. My kids are kind and they are genuine.
My girls still knock each other down and argue over petty things. At age six they are not good listeners, or follow directions. But they are doers, and one day they will grow up to do ordinary things. Like treat (other) people equally and with respect.
The Whatever Mom is a twin mom learning to let go of perfection. She shares her real life struggles with parenting through her blog and contributes her time and talents as a writer toHudson Valley Parent and Masshole Mommy. When she isn’t writing you can find her chugging coffee, folding laundry and not judging other parents. Don’t forget to subscribe via email so you never miss a blog post again! You can also find her work featured on Mamapedia
Such a really special relationship your girls have with Michael. And why mention his disability? If its not information they need to enjoy his company, then carry on. Right? Its just a regular interaction…and that’s so special.
Exactly! They all really enjoy their visits!
I sometimes feel that way too. But to be honest, I don’t think our kids will group up to a terrible people. I guess as long as we continue to be present and guide them, they’re going to be fine.
Belle | One Awesome Momma
I think all parents think that at some point. As long as you teach them value and manners. xx
Of course… we all do our best I think.
I don’t have children. But I feel like with everything leading by example is the best way to go. But also honestly answering any questions children do have. If they notice one day and ask questions then it’s a great time to share with them your perspective and from there they can make up their own minds.
It’s difficult to trust that we have brought our children up right, sounds like you’ve done a great job with your girls. My son can be awful at home but I am confident he is polite and well behaved when he is at school or out with friends (phew!)
As annoying as it is we really want them to be better every where else. 😉
I’m not a mama yet, but I think about this often. As a teacher, I already feel a sense of responsibility. That is probably just a fraction of what a parent may feel with their own kiddo!
I was a teacher for a short time and I can tell you the only difference is the “mom guilt.”
I think it’s natural to have worries.I think it motivates us to continue to stay focused on their development and continue to be there for them as they work through their processes, it’s all part of their growth.
This was an excellent story. I have the same concerns with my children. At what point (if any?) will they see a difference in someone and judge it? I hope not. I hope they share and understand my guidance.
Oh man did this hit home. Great article. So glad you shared. Sometimes I feel a little alone and then I read something like this and realize lots of people are going through the same parenting concerns etc. Thanks for sharing.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought I’m the only one….then I hear from other parents and find out I am not!
This is such a great post! I don’t think they will be terrible people I think at a certain age everything will make sense for them and they will understand especially with a great parent like you.
I love the innocence of children before society puts things into their heads. They love Michael and he is kind to them and that’s all that should ever matter. I think you are on the road to having the opposite to terrible people, they sound pretty great to me!
I worry more about all the terrible people that my kids will eventually encounter and have I prepared them to handle them the best way.
This post was just what I needed to hear. My kids all have such different personalities. At the end of the day I just want them to be good people, but it’s been hard to teach them all and have it click for them all.
Thank you for sharing this lovely story. My sister and I use to bicker all the time as kids and grew up in a very dysfunctional environment but we (somehow) grew up just fine. Your kids sound genuine and kind and have a wonderful mother – they’re going to grow up just fine as well <3
Awe thanks…I think I’ll keep them around. 😉
I appreciate your honesty in this post. I think that we often worry but that our children will surprise us when they use the life skills that we teach them and become productive members of society.
Such an honest and great post. I dont ever worry about this. Kids are kids and as long as we do our best and raise them to be well mannered, honesty, and kind people they’ll be fine!
Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts with us, that isn’t always so easy to do! As a mom, I have the same thoughts. But, we just do the best we can and hope that is enough!
Kids fight because they know how to push eachother’s buttons lol and they are so blunt and honest. I think one thing that is so great about children though is that they rarely judge others and are genuinely kind. All we can do as parents is teach them good values and love them and then they will be fine.
Moments like this one really give me a tiny glimpse of that!
Honestly kids don’t notice things like color, mental issues, etc. They are taught it. I wouldn’t worry about your girls because it sounds like you are doing an awesome job as a mom!
I honestly loved reading this. It is so true that once you find out someone has a disibility they get treated differently which is not okay. Your daughters seem like such sweet and fun little girls!
That’s so great that you teach your kids that way! It’s so important that they see the person and not this person’s physical differences. I wish more parents taught their kids how to be non judgmental and respectful!
This is a wonderful post. It sounds like you are doing a great job teaching your girls to be kind and respectful. And it’s nice to hear that other mommas think their kids completely tune them out. I’m pretty sure mine only hears ten percent of what I say. Hoping that will get better when he’s a little older.
I feel like 10% is a high guesstimate for my kids. 😉 But seriously, they pick up on more than we realize.
Wow, love that you’re teaching your girls to live normally and treat everyone with respect. Love that you are not loading them with the bias that comes from seeing disability differently – that’s an awesome parenting lesson!