My Blind Daughter Was Called The 'Weird Girl' By Another Kid
Parenting is a chaotic and stressful undertaking. It already has so many different jobs attached to it, and we’re supposed to keep up with them all. The kids need to be bathed, fed, clothed and kept relatively clean. There is endless laundry, dishes and meals to tackle, and the house should at least be kept clean enough to keep bugs from being interested in residing there.
But in the midst of all this, we still can’t neglect to teach our kids how to be civil people when they grow up. We don’t have to go out of our way to manufacture lessons in civility. Real-life provides plenty of teaching material. Allow me to demonstrate.
I recently took my daughter to a play place. When I heard her talking to another child, I was very happy, as she usually plays alone. However, my happiness ended when I later heard the child talk to her mother about that weird girl who said she was blind and had to use a cane! My daughter is, in fact, blind, as blindness is a very real thing, and so are canes. I should know, as I am also blind and make use of a cane quite frequently.
Now let me be clear: I wasn’t angry at the child. Kids don’t just automatically know about blindness (or any other disability for that matter.) They need to be taught. Other adults in their life like teachers contribute to this, but the ultimate responsibility falls on us, their parents. I figured this was an excellent chance for a mom to teach her child about something very important. However, that’s not what happened, and this made me sad and a bit upset.
So what exactly did happen? The very minimum of parental instruction. It honestly felt like she said the least amount of words that she could get away with. As the child expounded on the weirdness of blindness, the directions given were simply to “be nice.” While I don’t disagree at all with this often-repeated parental maxim, there really was more that could have and should have been said. As a side note, those two words of advice by themselves don’t deny the child’s assessment that the blind kid is weird. You haven’t told the child that what they said isn’t true; all you did was indicate that it’s mean to actually say it. So, implicitly, your message is that you shouldn’t say such things out loud but are free to think them as much as you want. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for and I don’t think it would take long for this to become a regular pattern.
Now let me be clear: I wasn’t angry at the child. I figured this was an excellent chance for a mom to teach her child about something very important. However, that’s not what happened.
While “be nice” is a good start, it is by no means the end. Why stop at such a bland directive? Why not take this opportunity, so conveniently handed to you, to actually teach a bit more? I can think of many simple responses. How about something as profound as first defining what blindness is? Then a simple statement, such as “Being blind isn’t weird, it’s just different,” or “She uses that cane because her eyes don’t work and it keeps her from running into things,” or “Being blind means you can’t see. What do you think it would be like to not be able to see?” And that’s just off the top of my head.
All or any of these statements would only have taken a few extra seconds, and would have gone a long way toward raising a kinder, more courteous, more civil adult. And let’s face it, the world needs more of those.
I get it. Parenting is nuts, and sometimes it’s all you can do to get the minimum done. But in a situation like this, with such broad implications, why not use this moment well, even if it is slightly more inconvenient? You would be doing your child (and let’s face it, the rest of us) such a huge favor. Through this simple moment, you could have taught them about themselves (how to think about what they say), others (the many different people and circumstances of the world), and how knowing about these differences can help them relate to and understand the people around them. Kids need to learn how to interact with people who aren’t just like them. That is how real life works.
So I decided to be the teacher and said (more to the mother than to the child) that being blind wasn’t weird, just different. The reply was a hurried “well, she’s still learning,” to which I had to bite my tongue. I wanted to say something along the lines of “and shouldn’t you be the one facilitating that?” but instead I just said, “Well, I’m blind, but you don’t think I’m weird, do you?” I’ll admit, this may have caused the mother some embarrassment, but I have no regrets. Sometimes, being made a little uncomfortable in life is a good thing.
Now maybe on their way home, they had a more in-depth conversation. I certainly hope that’s what happened and, in spite of the overall tone of these words, I really do want to give her the benefit of the doubt. I do hope that the next time that child meets someone who isn’t exactly like them, they won’t call them weird. But even more, I hope they will learn in time not to even think of such people as weird. I think this would go far in making a better world for all of us, wouldn’t you agree? Let’s step up as parents and make that happen. It’s going to take a team effort.
While “be nice” is a good start, it is by no means the end. Why stop at such a bland directive?
I’m not claiming that I make the most out of every opportunity given to me. I know I fall short, and often just do the minimum. But I try my best to make the most of these teaching moments because I know I only have a limited time. My children will only be in my home for so long, and that is a sobering thought. I believe it’s one of my most important jobs as a parent to teach them about themselves, others and living in a complicated world.
In spite of all the different parenting philosophies, we all want to raise kind, thoughtful, decent people. So let’s work toward that goal, to the best of our ability. Who’s with me?
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