Supporting our kids has to be a theme which dominates my blog. Whilst I have a total autonomy for what I chose to write about here and total freedom to express it, there is no opening and closing time on my being a mother of two. Inevitably, I can’t help but compare my experience with that of my children’s – it’s formed part of my habitual thinking and that in itself got me thinking.
As parents we’re bound by a pattern of thought where we compare out children to others, and it’s pretty toxic – and it’s a capitulation to this idea of ‘normality’ as it’s supposed to exist and one capitulation that schools still make now, as they consistently did when I was still in one.
It levies a degree of competition at our children which I think is unfair for three reasons. Firstly, it means that children come from spending at least six hours a day in the academic confines of school, perhaps the most persistent meritocracy still accepted by our society, and arrive home to a similar level of judgment from their parents – their protectors and affection givers. Secondly, I relate all achievements and progress to that of others, minimalizing their individuality in a way that once again they can expect to deal with in the classroom and at home in the form of sibling rivalry. Finally, it levels this amount of trouble, without compassion, concern or second, though, at disabled kids. And though I wasn’t to know it at the time, I was one. In the era of advanced epidemiology giving us as many diagnoses as there are people with them, this is an increasingly familiar experience for parent and child alike.
The disabilities we can’t cure and we largely can’t change or even treat in some cases but we can make life easier for these kids and we often don’t. In my case and kind of specific support or nurturing as it related to me as an individual or as it related to ADHD and Bipolar were essentially absent. My parents adopted the attitude that any difference I might have with my siblings or peers was a defect, a negative, a disadvantage. I watched this attitude circulate around the adults in my life, waiting for them to accept that disadvantages might also mean that I required additional nurturing and support but for the longest time no such realization came.
I don’t want this for the generation that’s coming up. I want them to be free to wear these afflictions like armor. What is to be gained from denigrating them in this manner? And when did we arrive at the point where we decided that trials and tribulations and humiliations of school weren’t enough of a denigration? Worse still is this trend we have and are now still experiencing where parental authority is used to move these children who infringe upon normality out of the way of convenience and out of public view. There is a form of cruelty in taking these diagnoses and using it to brand children – to use it as the sole defining aspect of their character. In my case, my brand was disguised under traditional nuclear family notions and pressure mounted for me to marry and marry ‘well’.
Ultimately I made the best of the situation but if we want our children to do the same we need to do the very opposite of discouraging them. We need to limit the length and level of punishment which we choose to inflict on our children for their most early and basic mistakes to be sure they don’t further punish themselves. If we must insist that their limitations and their content of character are so inseparable, then let us please allow both to flourish. This is something that is its very own reward but if nothing else, it’s a chance to succeed where the previous generation failed.
By Lamia Islam