God gives special children to special parents.
I could never do what you do.
When my daughter was born with Down syndrome, we didn’t get the same cheery congratulations we received when my oldest was born — a typical child. Instead, we got “I am sorry” and even those who did not say it offered sad smiles, they sighed, they wore pity in their eyes.
Many reassured me I was “special,” and that was the reason God gave me a child with a disability. Yet it didn’t sound special, positive, or uplifting. I know it was supposed to be encouraging, being told I’m so “special,” but the delivery was not one that suggested I was fortunate or favored. It was not a, “Wow, you must be so special because, look, your kid has Down syndrome and I wish I was as special as you!” Instead if felt like, “Sure honey, you are the special one. I am so glad I’m not special like you and my kids are ‘normal,’ so we will just be over here feeling very ‘lucky’ about our lack of specialness.”
Most of all, I knew I was not special.
I did not possess more insight into the mysteries of life. I was not more patient than other moms. I could not even keep my piles of laundry — clean and dirty — out of the living room couches. I didn’t do dishes. I couldn’t even tell you what I wanted to be when I grew up even though I was already an adult. And having a baby with Down syndrome did not fix any of that.
I was not smarter than others or more savvy. I was not more creative. I was not a lot of things.
And also, before my baby was born with Down syndrome nobody called me “special.” So if I was so “special,” shouldn’t someone have pointed it out or noticed it before?
It didn’t take me long to realize that being called “special” was often followed by a, “I could never do it.” I believe it is because this was never about me — this was about my child.
These comments reflected negative disability attitudes. More specifically, they communicated that because my child had a disability, only certain people would be able to love her and parent her. These comments didn’t praise me, instead they perpetuated a harmful stereotype that a child like mine would make someone’s life hard and terrible and tragic.
These sentiments are rampant and cause harm to the disability community. For example, we see it when we read or watch news stories praising able-bodied and neurotypical individuals as being so “special” and so “gracious” for treating individuals with disabilities as friends — because who would care about the kids with disabilities? Apparently not enough people, so those who love someone like my kid are deemed “special.”
As if my kids were unlovable. (They are so very lovable and magnificent!)
It breaks my heart to imagine my two girls with disabilities having to constantly hear people praising their friends for being their friends. I mean, what message are we delivering when being a decent human being to someone with a disability is deemed as extraordinary?
Can you imagine if I approached a mom of a typical child, pointed to her son and said, “God gives special kids to special parents. I could never do what you do.” I imagine that mom would be extremely offended, because that comment would say a lot about what I thought about her child. Yet for some reason, we think it is okay to say it to a parent if a child has a disability.
No. It is no different. It is just as jarring.
Those of us who parent children with disabilities are not special. We are pretty average, actually. Some of us are nice and some of us are not very pleasant. We are as diverse as any random group of people gathered together.
As a matter of fact, we are the parent you would be if you had a child with a disability. Just as flawed and needy and clueless and determined to open the world up for our kids.
Because we do the same thing you do: we love our kids.
We love them!
We are not special for loving them. Just as you are not special for loving your kid.
And maybe you will get to know my kids with disabilities, and you will discover they are pretty spectacular and witty and accepting of all people. Maybe you will realize there is nothing special about liking and loving my kids at all. I won’t be surprised if you discover you love them, too. Then you can be “special,” just like me and the many others who love someone with a disability.