Tuesday, July 11, 2017
When parents show intolerance like this, it sucks for everyone
This weekend, my blood pressure spiked as I read a post called No, Your Kid Can't Have My Subway Seat. Writer Stephanie Fairyington and a friend were riding a train in New York when a family got on; she said the mom gave them the stink eye for not giving up a seat for her son. At some point, Fairyington reported, the mother told her child, "Don't worry, sweetheart, someone will get off soon and you can have a seat." As soon as a seat was free, the mom hustled her child into it.
The writer, a mother herself, went on to rail against coddling children and not giving them space to grow or learn to hold their own. "I think giving up one's seat to a kid old enough to stand on his or her own is a bad message and a symptom of a culture of parenting in America that enfeebles kids," she noted. Some commenters pointed out that while they wouldn't expect an adult who's been working on their feet all day to let a six-year-old snag their seat, children do tend to lose their balance easily on the train and get poked in the face by handbags.
That writer acknowledged the existence of disabilities and that the need for a seat might not be apparent for those with the invisible kind, but that right there should have been reason enough to not write the post. Perhaps that child did need a seat for a medical reason that wasn't visible. You never do know—which is why taking the stance that adults shouldn't give up their seats to a child preaches intolerance.
As I've learned from raising Max, intolerance can be much of a handicap to people with disabilities as their disabilities.
It's rampant. There was another irksome post a few weeks ago on Mom.me in which a mother took a stand against parents who let their children look at iPads during dinner, taking them to task for ignoring them, failing to teach them how to converse and setting a bad example.
I've been that "bad" parent. Max used to have major sensory issues, and for years having him watch a movie or videos on an iPad or iPhone in restaurants was the only way our family could go out for dinner. We used headphones, so we wouldn't disturb anyone. But people looking at us might well have judged us as being self-centered, crappy parents. (Writer Pauline Campos wrote a great rebuke pointing out that children with autism like her daughter use devices to self-regulate.)
Strangers might think I suck as a parent for any number of reasons related to Max's disabilities: His meltdowns in public places when his sense of order is disrupted could say that I don't know how to control him. His food-splotched clothing (he's not the neatest eater) might say that I don't care about his appearance. The very way he downs food—he tends to shovel it in rather quickly, because he's trying hard to hold it on the spoon and not drop it—means I haven't taught him manners.
Meanwhile, as people judge us they are also making assumptions about our children: they are spoiled, they are bratty, they are messy, they lack manners.
It's a lose-lose-lose, all this intolerance and judging and assuming. For us as parents, for our children and for these people's children. I feel sorry for kids being raised by parents who see the world through a pinhole view of what's good and right: No ipads at restaurant dinner tables, ever! No giving up seats on trains to kids! How can their children grow up to be open-minded adults who are aware and accepting of differences? How will their children learn that good old human decency comes in many forms?
Perhaps this seems like small-potato stuff compared to teaching children acceptance biggies like race and religion. But then, enlightening children about diversity should include children and adults with disabilities. It's been said that people with disability are the last minority considered acceptable to marginalize and disrespect in society. Parents have the power to change that. They could even use narrow-minded posts like these as conversation starters with children: Do you think people should give up their seats on the bus to other people? Why? How can you tell if someone needs a seat? Do you know why you can't always tell?
Raising children who treat people of all abilities right means encouraging consideration and empathy. It means explaining to them that people have different needs, but everyone wants to feel accepted and respected. It means helping them understand that one size does not fit all—on the bus, at the restaurant or anywhere.
30 ways to respect kids and adults with disabilities