Children or people with disabilities don’t have something equivalent to the “man up” phrase that boys and men encounter. It is more subtle and the message is “Don’t be different”. Parents never intend to make “different” seem wrong, but, isn’t that what we are battling when we go to therapy, buy equipment, encourage our child to sit up, stop drooling, sit still, fix your foot. We want our kids to have a typical childhood. How do parents find the accepting, loving, message to send to their child at the same time they are trying to help their child with special needs? How does society say “we value you the way you are” or not? Why is being accepted the way they are so important for our children?
Boys becoming men. The pressure is huge to be something that fits an “image” instead of being who you are. Here are two videos a friend just pointed me to about being told to “man up”. They have such a clear message. We can learn from their power. Substitute an image of your child with special needs receiving the message they are NOT ok, every time they say “man up” and imagine what that does, how they would feel.
There you go. Not so long ago “man up” was perfectly acceptable. What are the messages your child is receiving about not being typical? How does it feel to not have access? to be told to do things to be socially acceptable when they aren’t possible?
My son’s 3rd grade teacher partnered him with a boy who was on his way to becoming a bully. His parents were in jail. He had been kept back so he was one of the bigger kids in the class. He tended towards anger. I think he was part of the “man up” experience. Don’t fall apart, be stoic, don’t show vulnerability. During that time that he was my son’s class buddy he transformed. He transformed to the point that he was even willing to join my son in a silly bear costume for a talent show in front of the school. How vulnerable did that make him? I think knowing my son changed the course of his life. My theory? My son was totally non threatening. He had nothing to prove to my son. This boy was able to be compassionate and make a difference for someone else. He was able to get away from “man up” and have another experience.
What experience do you want for your child? I think this is the highest priority a parent can have. We are not perfect. Our anxiety for our child’s wellbeing can interfere with this goal. Realize you slipped. You made fitting in, or being closer to typical, more important than being “ok the way you are” – and recommit. Insist that others be as committed. It is the foundation of what we want for ourselves, our children, and everyone else – to be accepted for who we are.
Andrea L Bowers