The other day, I was talking about judgment on Twitter. It became a discussion with numerous parents because it’s something that’s still a problem, even in 2019. I’ve written about that here and talked about it on my podcast. I was touched because everyone shared their personal and often ongoing experiences of being judged by people. While there’s comfort in knowing that I’m not alone, it’s heartbreaking to see others dealing with the same thing. This ultimately inspired me to write Broken Plates.
Every time I talk about this, someone chimes in that I put myself out there, so what do I expect? Let’s just head that off at the pass. Yes, I’m in a slightly different situation because I’m a public figure of sorts. I understand that putting myself out there, opens me up to judgment, ridicule, and a host of other unpleasantness. At the same time, just because I’m putting myself out there, doesn’t give anyone the right to cast judgment. While I have developed thicker skin over the years, it still sucks.
Unfortunately, this also happens to almost every single autism or special needs parent at one point in time and often without provocation.
One of the things that are really important to understand about human nature is that we are hardwired to judge. In some situations, I think judgment is crucial to our survival.
Judgment can become a problem, however, when we judge what we don’t understand. Limited information and very little, if any, first-hand knowledge leads to inaccurate assumptions.
Autism parents frequently find themselves on the receiving end of judgment. Oftentimes, people aren’t shy about pointing out what they think, even when they haven’t been asked. We hear things about our kids all the time. Among the most common situations is when we’re out in public and our child with Autism has a meltdown. People make comments about how we’re terrible parents or our child is a spoiled brat.
We hear things like that child needs a butt whooping or I’d never let my child act like that in public. My personal favorite is when I’m told by someone that I shouldn’t bring a child like that out in public. It’s honestly pretty awful at times.
Never mind that neither bad parenting nor a spoiled child is at fault and in fact, the child in question is in distress.
I’ve had that happen in one form or another, countless times over the years and it sucks every single time.
Another common situation is when parents are judged based on how well they keep up with the house, yard, bills, and anything else along those lines.
An Autism parent is many things, including sleep-deprived, emotionally and physically exhausted, but not lazy or irresponsible.
A Peak Inside
It’s easy to peek in the front window and see piles of dirty laundry, and toys all over the floor. You might see stacks of unpaid bills on the table, or a sink full of dirty dishes. There may even see a kid running around with little if any clothing on. You might see these things and assume the worst.
Oftentimes, however, the reality is much different than it appears on the surface.
Over the years, I’ve been very open, honest, and transparent about the struggles my family faces. I know full well that I open myself up to the judgemental eyes of the public. I do this because I know I’m not alone. Other parents find comfort in knowing they aren’t the only ones struggling. I know this helps because I hear from parents all the time. They tell me they’re so grateful for all the – you’re not alone reminders.
At the same time, it also helps others to better understand that things aren’t always as they appear. I would hope that these very personal insights would open hearts and minds. Often times they do and people learn something.
Unfortunately, sometimes people still focus on my failures and seem to ignore all the things that I’ve managed to accomplish despite all the challenges or obstacles.
In the Twitter discussion from the other day, I used an example of juggling to help put this into perspective.
All parents have to be able to juggle things and for the sake of argument, let’s just refer to those things as plates.
We all have to keep as many of those plates in the air as we can and try to limit the number of broken plates that end up on the floor.
Having to juggle everything in general, isn’t easy for any parent. When you’re an autism and/or special needs parent, however, the number of plates we have to keep in the air dramatically increases. Not only that but there’s an endless stream of new plates flying at us from all directions, all hours of the day and night. We have to try and keep all those plates from hitting the floor as well.
I don’t like using the word impossible very often but I’ve no qualms about saying that it’s impossible to keep every single plate in the air for any length of time. We have to constantly triage and re-triage each plate, in real-time, as we’re juggling them.
We have to quickly decide if each new plate, hurled in our direction is important enough to keep in the air, and if necessary, which of the plates already in the air can be sacrificed to make room for a more important one.
It’s not easy and sometimes we drop plates that, ideally wouldn’t or shouldn’t be dropped. Plates will be missed and they will shatter on the floor, not because we’re terrible or irresponsible parents but because we’re human. Broken plates are going to happen.
When someone peeks in your window, only to judge you for all the plates they see shattered on the floor, they’re failing to see the hundreds or thousands of plates that haven’t.
We feel guilty for every single broken plate because we’re harder on ourselves than anyone else ever could be. Judgment can be demoralizing and it only adds to the guilt we already feel. Frankly, we don’t need anyone’s help to feel guilty because we do just fine on our own.