To the Mom or Dad Who Told Their Child Not to Stare at Mine – by Beth Hersom

To the Mom or Dad Who Told Their Child Not to Stare at Mine - by Beth Hersom Dear Moms and Dads,

I want to talk about something uncomfortable. It’s come to my attention that many of the best among you are making a big mistake. I understand. I was too, two years ago.

My daughter has a rare genetic syndrome called Apert syndrome. When she was a baby, the plates in her skull fused together. That meant there was no room for her brain to grow, and she needed surgery right away to relieve pressure. Her head is larger than average. When she was born, her fingers and toes were fused together. She’s had the first surgery to separate her fingers, so now her thumb and pinkie are released.  She has a tracheotomy, so she cannot talk yet. Because of various complications, she’s spent a significant portion of her young life in the hospital. She’s developing muscles she needs to sit up on her own and to walk. She will do these things, but for now she’s in an adaptive chair. My beautiful girl stands out.

To the Mom or Dad Who Told Their Child Not to Stare at Mine - by Beth Hersom I already have to teach my girls that some people are just mean and you cannot let it bother you. I already have to teach my girls that loving people who are mean is part of what it means to be Christian. I am trying to teach them that most people are good, and that is where you come in.

When I take my little girl out, we see all kinds of reactions, but the most natural, the most genuine, the most common, is the reaction we see from most kids. They look.  Some are puzzled. Some worried. The most adventurous of them ask questions. Almost all are curious.

Staring is rude. Pointing is rude. You know this. You’re embarrassed by your child because they’re pointing or staring. You shush your child and pull them away quickly, and I know you’re doing it to save my feelings, but my feelings are not so fragile and your action is doing real damage. You’re teaching your child to be afraid of what they don’t understand. I bet that most of you have a short conversation about diversity and not staring later; you’re good parents, after all. I would like to challenge you to have the conversation right there. Put a smile on. Say hello. Introduce yourself and your child. I will introduce myself and my children. Your child will ask questions. Likely the same questions you would want to ask, but you feel rude highlighting the differences, even when they’re obvious.

Here’s the thing: kids categorize. They need your help — and maybe mine — to make sure Sarah gets into the right category. They ask questions to figure out how things fit in their world. When you don’t let them ask their “rude” questions, you confirm my daughter as “other.” Believe it or not, every kid I’ve met who was allowed to ask as many “rude” questions as they liked, learned in just minutes to see my daughter as I see her. She is just a kid.

She loves lollipops. She laughs at her granddad. She has favorite music. She’s going to school this year. Her favorite color changes all the time. Today it was green. She has a younger sister and an older sister. Her favorite TV show is “Veggie Tales.” She’s Daddy’s punkin and Mommy’s sweet pea. She will absolutely charm you with her wide, blue eyes.

Imagine what my daughter sees. A sweet little face unable to look away from her. Pointing. Then an adult pulls the child away, consciously avoiding looking at her. Now imagine this happening over and over again. She’s a bright little girl, and this is hurtful.

At the very least you can model the behavior you wish your child had shown. Make eye contact with my daughter and smile. Anything less and it won’t matter what you say about diversity later. Anything less and your kid and my kid both get the same message from your embarrassment: My daughter is “other.” She’s something, not someone. The initial fear was confirmed. I will take rude questions over that hurt any day.

I’m not accusing. I know it’s hard.

There are nasty bullies in the world. We’ll get over that. We’ll get over the stares and the pointing from people who should know better. We’ll get over the nasty comments.  We’ll get over the name-calling. We’ll get over it all because, as I told my older daughter, no matter how many people cannot see past her differences, Sarah is surrounded by people who love her. People who see her. And she’s amazing.

Kids are not mini adults. They’re astounding little people. They’re curious and open and full of wonder. You can teach them to see a child like them when they see my precious girl, who looks different and rides in a wheelchair. You can teach them to see her as a potential friend. Or, you can teach them to be afraid. It’s your choice. I won’t judge. Like I said, I was you and I didn’t know how to act either. You don’t have to be one of the people who love her — though honestly, you absolutely will if you give yourself half a chance — but please, be one of the people who see her.

Teach your kids to see her. Please.

To the Mom or Dad Who Told Their Child Not to Stare at Mine - by Beth Hersom


Read more of Beth’s writing here. Follow her on Google+ here.


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31 thoughts on “To the Mom or Dad Who Told Their Child Not to Stare at Mine – by Beth Hersom

  1. Thank you for teaching us. Most of us want to do the right thing, but we don’t always know what that is! I’m glad you wrote this. Your daughter is beautiful–I love how her face exudes contentment and joy in the photos–thanks for introducing us. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As the mom of a little girl who has had a lot of health problems, but whose problems are relatively invisible (scars that really don’t show with clothing), I feel for those who not only have to deal with the health issues, but also the “spectacle” that others make it out to be. Great suggestions for dealing with the situation though. Thanks to this mom for taking the time to make these suggestions.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You have a beautiful family! The majority of people just want to be kind and do not want their child to make an innocent comment that might hurt feelings. The more people like you, take the time, to education the better the world will be because we are all connected…..Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. wonderful piece. in our family, with our son, we are an open book. we don’t shy away from the looks and stares-we answer questions and are open about our autismchampion and the high’s and lows that can come with it…all the way to the challenges it can present in a marriage. what a wonderful and loving family this mom & dad are raising.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What a brave, courageous and wonderful mummy you are. This is so clear and true that I hope the whole world gets to read and understand… I will personally never stare again and smile inviting new friends into my life. Thank you for this wonderful gift. Barbara

    Liked by 1 person

  6. That was an exceptionally loving and instructive post.

    You have helped to guide me out of blindness, strengthened me in spite of my weakness and pointed me in a do-able direction.

    You are loving and kind…and your faith is made plain, because it’s real.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is so beautiful and true. I have three kids, and sometimes they say things and behave in a way that they don’t realize is hurtful. I try to tell my kids not to stare, not to point, not to whisper. When they do these things to me about another child, I tell them to go up to the child and say something. To talk to the kid and just BE NORMAL and make a friend because inside, we are all the same. I remember once, when my now 10 year old daughter was 3, she saw a man with an eyepatch. She screamed– Look mom! A PIRATE! I giggled and told her to go say hi. She did, and the guy was nice enough, but it taught her that other people have feelings. Now, at 10, she is much more open to talking to people who don’t look like her. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope that more moms with read it and that your precious girl will know a nicer, more gentle world.
    Julie
    http://www.itsabeautifultree.com

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Reblogged this on Kentucky Mountain Girl News and commented:

    KMGN: This post caught my heart and simply wouldn’t let go. I went through the staring and the worried faces of other children when I was younger because I was in a wheelchair. Being an adult with disabilities is somewhat easier than being a child with a disability. I understand where this mother is coming from because my Mom went through this, too. Read. Enjoy. Share.

    Like

  9. Thank you for this wonderful story. I was a child with a disability and in a wheelchair a good portion of the time and suffered a lot of staring and finger-pointing. Now I am an adult with a disability. Even though I am in a wheelchair, it is a lot easier than when I was a child. It gets better. Let your girls know – it gets better for their sister (my sisters used to get livid at the finger-pointing and hushed voices aimed in my direction).

    Like

  10. Wonderful post. Thank for allowing us to understand which we can’t possibly without walking in your shoes. I think many of us are unsure what might be the right thing to do when in the situation you described. I wonder as I read this, if you believe others who may be in a similar situation feel the same way. Thank you again for sharing your experiences and feelings with us and God Bless Sarah….she does have a beautiful smile.

    Like

  11. Such a great message. It’s hard as most of us have been raised not to stare and not to point. If we took the time as kids to be able to ask questions then we might have learnt so much more and less would have been unknown. This may have stopped a lot of our fears. Your girls are lovely.

    Like

  12. I remember when my boys were young and the exact scenario would present itself to me and my children. My first instinct was to always be kind but I did tell my children not to stare. So many times I wanted to just walk up and introduce myelf and children as you suggested but I just never knew how the parent of the child would respond. Were we intruding? Did they already feel so isolated that our gesture may be misunderstood as intrusive? I am so happy you posted this and my only suggestion, which I am quite sure you already do, is if you catch a parent or a child’s eye, smile an inviting smile and let mom or dad know, yes, please, it’s ok to come over, my child would love to meet yours.

    You make such a wonderful point and it truly enlightened me because I never thought of it from the point of view of the actual child and how isolating it must be. Children are born with love in their hearts and have no judgement. We as adults teach them that. By keeping them from an introduction or a chance to just say what they would ask so innocently, we not only teach them that your child is “different” we teach your child that they are “different”.

    Beautiful baby, beautiful family, beautiful post!! ❤

    Like

  13. Sarah sounds like a bright bubbly little girl. I hope she is able to meet and exceed any goal that is set for her or that she sets for herself. People that point or stare should be ashamed of themselves for missing out on meeting a wonderful person.

    Like

  14. Reblogged this on The Forever Years and commented:

    An important post about role modeling acceptance, inclusion and respect for our children. Written by Beth from the USA. “The Forever Years” likes this!

    Like

  15. We are so blessed to have the Internet as an aid to share stories and thoughts like this. My daughter is 25 now and was born with mild cerebral palsy. She wore patches on her eyes and glasses and braces on her legs. I felt exactly like this mother! Stop jerking your kids away and let them she she is just a kid like them. I encouraged my daughter to be willing to answer the questions too, I told her we have to educate people. Since the Internet was not a good option back then I did what I thought was the next best thing. I went straight to the kids. I took my daughter to her big sisters school and did question and answer time with the kids. Of course I set this up with the school and teacher before hand. It was awesome. One thing kids worry about that wasn’t mentioned in the original post is can they get what the other child has. I remember we had a bit of conversation about my daughters special needs not being contagious.
    Thanks for sharing and educating us.

    Like

  16. I also have a child who gets stared at — he is 17 and has severe autism — but my experience is not the same as yours. I find that children will just stare at my son while their parent is so preoccupied with their phone or whatever that they don’t even notice. If we are captive, like on a train or in a restaurant, and it goes on unabated, I will gently and kindly say to the child: ‘My son has autism; that’s why he behaves a little differently. And it’s not polite to stare.’ Because really, it’s not.

    Like

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