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What kind of title is that?! No-one says things like ‘substandard children’– well, not out loud anyway – even though the truth is we think it quietly and live in fear of it.
“Of course some children have ‘problems’, it happens. I just hope it isn’t ever my child!”
I recently heard from yet another parent whose child is being declared ‘not up to par’ by the system. She is emotionally less mature than her classmates – just slightly mind you – and the teacher (very good and kind according to everyone else’s stories) is mildly impatient to have to deal with a child like this in her class. Theirs is a mild experience and their daughter will be just fine in her own sweet time, but still these parents have felt judged, not good enough, they have a ‘faulty’ child, fear rejection by the school and their community…
The way our society treats ‘different’ children pisses me off quite frankly, REALLY pisses me off (which is funny considering last week’s post). There is NO such thing as a ‘faulty’ or ‘substandard’ child. Inconvenient and challenging for the caretakers, oh hell yes, but ‘faulty’ or ‘substandard’? No.
But why does it stir me up like this? Why do I want to shout it out at everyone and then hide myself away? Where is it hooking into my own shadow? (See? I’m listening to last week’s post) I have to share with you that writing this post really got to me! There were rants and tears involved. I thought about not doing it. It became a deep, DEEP journey across my inner geography – my highs and my lows – to figure out what I actually want to say about this and why I wanted to say it. And still it’s not ‘perfect’. During the writing process I had to face my own mess, my own fears, my own inadequacies and my own excellence. Each of these brought fear and judgement with them. All this just from pondering the idea of ‘substandard children’ for heaven’s sake! You see, I think that’s part of what ‘different’ children do to us. This is part of why we get scared about having or working with children ‘with problems’.
When we see or engage with a child who is struggling to express himself, or can’t understand us or concentrate, or doesn’t sit still, or cannot control himself, it’s a real challenge for the parts of us that like to be in control and feel competent and good enough. I, for example, like helping people, it makes me feel good. But when I try all my clever tricks to help the child and none of them work, I’m left feeling powerless and useless. Then I imagine how his parents must feel every day and I’m filled with respect for them.
We humans tend to be afraid of ‘different’. When we meet it we want to kill it, control it or avoid it – we feel less vulnerable that way. We don’t mean to be mean but… This is the dynamic at play when your child has learning difficulties and the nice teacher implies it’s your fault somehow. Or when your child struggles to sit still and pay attention so people judge your parenting. Or when your child has intellectual disability and people move away from you. Or when your child has physical disabilities and kind people look away or talk to her as though she is deaf or ‘retarded’. None of us is totally immune from this. I catch myself at it sometimes too.
When we judge those who are different to our perception of the ‘norm’ it’s usually because they make us re-examine our values and ways of being. Being faced with an example of something different throws into question our own arrangement of our world. Who wants to see they don’t know everything, that they might be wrong or lacking in some way? (Those very same outliers, by the way, sometimes later turn out to be geniuses who improve the world – see Albert Jack’s funny book They Laughed At Galileo).
So here it is. This is the crux, the key to what’s going on with us when we judge and avoid. (And this is why I was getting all riled up about this ‘substandard’ crap.) In the VERY same way as we judge and want to avoid these outliers, we also severely judge and reject the parts of ourselves that do not conform to what we deem to be ‘normal’ or ‘ok’. This is what was going on in me, you see, hence the histrionics. I’m angry that society judges and fears ‘outlying’ children this way – all the while I’m rejecting the ‘outlying’ parts of my own self just as harshly. My anger is actually about my own pain of being judged and rejected – by myself. Writing this post was making me see those parts of myself as well as my treatment of them. Very uncomfortable! (The irony is that these outlying parts of ourselves may also well be the geniuses that hold the secrets for our happiness. They are often our inner revolutionaries. Embracing the full spectrum of who we are – both shadow and light – is what brings us our ultimate healing and joy. I suppose in essence that’s what this post is all about – that’s the process it has taken me through.)
So this is it – the key. The fear and pain about ourselves is where all that judgement about those children comes from.
When we avoid children with ADHD, or dyslexia or intellectual disability or Aspergers or tics or anxiety or ODD or anything else that is ‘not comfortable’ to be around, it’s because these blessings of children are forcing us to engage with our own inadequacies. They sure are!
It’s for our own good.
Why do I say that?
Most of us ‘normal folk’ walk around with secret fears of not being good enough, not fitting in, fears of being rejected for who we are, or that something about us is not ok…? Brene Brown has written whole books on the shame and fear we feel about this. We ‘normal’ ones can hide those secret fears and keep them deep inside ourselves but children with ‘challenges’ are just hanging out there on display as ‘different’ and ‘not good enough’. It’s like my obese friend once told me, “Everyone has issues but they can hide them. I can’t hide my issue and so everyone can see it and they judge me for it.”
When we see these children, we see our own hidden fears come to life. They face us with our shadow, so we judge, fear or reject them – but we are actually judging, fearing and rejecting ourselves.
Oh these children are beings of great light. I mean you have to be to take on society’s crap like that, right? They have so much to show us in terms of new ways to do and see things – but if we are caught up in being afraid of our own inadequacy then we miss it. We miss the show. We miss the lesson. And we hurt, oh how we hurt everyone involved.
But let’s get real. It’s very uncomfortable to see your own inadequacies and powerlessness. I mean it’s really in your face that you are not getting it ‘right’ when that child is bouncing around, breaking things, hitting at you and not listening to your limit setting. Or when you don’t understand your child because they can’t express in words. Or when your ADD highly sensitive child is falling apart because she hadn’t realised her big project is due tomorrow and there’s nothing you can really do to help her. Or when your child doesn’t get it, or others don’t get him. We’d rather avoid all that discomfort if we can, right?
Well maybe not.
As I always write, everything our children bring us is a reminder of our own light. Therefore ‘abnormal’ children actually offer something abnormally powerful to