How nice it would be if some of the questions people have asked those of us with children with special needs were from people we didn’t know or simply people who “didn’t know better.” But, some of the most hurtful, unkind, even nasty questions have come from people I knew at church that are believers. And, I’m sure I’ve asked a stupid question (or more) over the years or made a dumb comment I later regretted. We probably all have. The purpose of this blog is to get us all into the mindset that we must think first before we speak—both in asking a question or making a comment.
One of the top hurtful questions came to me early in my parenting of Joey (now 37). It came from a Christian who was visiting me in our new home (our 3rd residence), which happened to be larger than both what we rented when we were first married and our first tiny ranch home. After our visit (and of course little tour), this person inquired, “Well, did you buy this with the settlement you got from Joey’s birth problems?” (I’ll let you catch your breath!)
While I can’t remember my answer, I do remember my shock. It was pretty much like sticking my finger in a light socket. REALLY!? Who would ask such a question? This person didn’t even know the full details of the birth let alone the fact I still had the same doctor for the birth of our second and third children. And of what value would the answer have been to ask that question except to gossip the answer later? Since we hadn’t had any settlements or any lawful dealings regarding Joey’s birth, my answer was at least a swift “No, we didn’t sue.” I know I set the person straight but I wish I could go back and see my facial expression and listen to my response. I hope it was gracious, but today, I’m not so sure if I’d muster up gracious! That question, in case you happen to be wondering is off the table, not to be asked, and none of anyone’s business. (Feel free to consider this advice for those who’ve divorced, had settlements due to accidents, etc. because often, if someone does get a settlement, they needed it.) You’re welcome.
Another question many of us get as we care for children with special needs is, “So how do you discipline this child?” (Or the more common comment version of this question is “Why don’t you discipline this child?”)
We were speakers at a special needs event. Seated at a table of mostly young parents (all who knew we were the speakers) we had a wonderful opportunity to connect with them. One young gal at the table was sharing the horrendous day she had with her son who was quite misbehaved by worldly standards, but acting very normally for his special need, and the parents were exhausted, frustrated, and wishing for answers. All eight guests had their eyes upon us, the speakers, as I looked her squarely in the eyes, and with total seriousness of nature but obvious sarcasm said, “Well, if you just disciplined him properly you wouldn’t have those issues!” A moment of shocked silence and then a burst of laughter from the entire table resulted! I’m sure for that moment everyone in the hall wanted “in” on what was happening at our table. We all got it. It’s not as easy as that. In fact, it’s extremely difficult. I have a ready answer today for all the times I’ve been asked or told that, “I think it would be great if you took him/her for a week or two to get them in line. What week would you like?” You’re welcome.
And while there are many other questions and comments, this is the one we all get and probably hate more than any other. It will be asked in one of these forms:
- How do you do it?
- I could never do what you do!
- It must be so hard.
- You must be “special” to have a child with special needs.
- God must have……(there are so many variables on this ending of this start!)
Generally, we do try to be gracious in our answers. Some people are just learning and those who don’t know better need to be informed and taught in a more loving answer than in their rude question or comment. It’s nice when a vague, one sentence comment ends this dreaded stream of conversation.
Let’s all remember that just because we’re in church as Christians doesn’t mean we think first. We all need to consider our thoughts and words and show sensitivity to others in their hard places:
- Show kindness and be an encouragement.
- Ask thoughtful and kind questions.
- Share kind and thoughtful comments that encourage.
And if we catch ourselves doing or saying the wrong thing, let’s make sure we apologize, and ask for forgiveness. We would venture to guess that it would build a bridge rather than a wall.
And, you’re welcome!
Dr. Joe and Cindi Ferrini are authors, speakers, and bloggers for several sites on family and special needs. They speak nationally for FamilyLife Weekend To Remember Marriage Get-a-Ways, authored Unexpected Journey – When Special Needs Change our Course, and have been interviewed on Focus on the Family, FamilyLife, and various other radio and television venues. Connect with them at www.cindiferrini.com and social media at: www.facebook.com/cindi.ferrini, www.facebook.com/UnexpectedJourney/, www.facebook.com/MyMarriageMatters/