On ‘Substandard’ Children
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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 their parents – and society. (Powerful – isn’t that a funny word to use when parents feel so intensely powerless in the face of their children’s conditions.)
You see, it’s easy to love and accept someone as long as they don’t challenge your way of being. It is easy to say you love yourself when who you are is not put into question. But to love and accept all the parts of yourself and others in the face of judgement or opinions to the contrary… well that’s enlightened! That is true power – to choose your OWN standards. To love and accept yourself and others regardless of ‘norms’. How many of us can say we do that?
If you can love and accept a child who is outside of society’s norm, then you have already learned how to do it – you are more than halfway there! It’s only a small step from there to loving yourself with all your differences. Then it’s an even smaller step to world peace. Peace inside, peace outside.
During the processing of this post I’ve asked myself repeatedly, “Why am I writing this?” It’s obviously stirring me up deeply and I don’t even need to. I mean, I choose what I write and neither of my children seems particularly ‘challenged’ in any way. Why would I do this to myself? More than that, why do I want to expose myself in this way? Won’t I just come across like a neurotic woman with ‘issues’? Doesn’t this kind of self-exposure go against the grain of my profession and won’t it lower my esteem in the eyes of my colleagues? This is scary stuff – anyone who has tried this kind of self-exposure knows it. If I don’t write about my journey I could keep some veneer of having it all together.
But, I couldn’t not do this. Not I. I write for me, for my own expansion. I write precisely about the things that stir me and this stirred me enormously for the same reasons I was afraid to do it. I was afraid to show myself in this way. Afraid to have my messy parts exposed, for others to see a piece from me that is long and ungainly rather than my usual concise, pithy stuff. Afraid to be ‘substandard’.
What a crock!
If I keep those things hidden I perpetuate and enable the pattern of shame. If I stay quiet I validate to myself that these parts are unacceptable and embarrassing in some way – and they are NOT people! They are not. This is the core of what made me so angry when I thought of how society treats those of us who don’t fall ‘into line’. I too feel the pressure of that need to conform, to hide the parts of myself others might judge or reject me for – both ‘good’ and ‘bad’. It can be just as exposing and threatening to be way ahead of others as way behind. But hey, news flash! Those parts of me are always there. I do not need to apologise for my mess and I do not need to apologise for my excellence. None of us do.
If – while being a moral, principled person just going about my life – I am a little different than others, if how I am challenges people’s ways and raises their fears and insecurities, that is not my responsibility. They can judge me all they want but I do not have to take it on. It doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with me. I need to know that. I don’t have to hide myself or be ashamed or frightened of who I am just because they are challenged. I do not need to apologise for who I am. Neither do you and neither do our children.
In a delicious moment of love-overwhelm, when my son was three, I asked him, “How did you get so cute?!” and he, The All-Wise One, answered me matter-of-factly, “I asked The Love and The Love made me cute.”
If I follow the line of his magnificent logic then I can say, ALL of us are made by The Love. We are each cute in our own way and each of us is just right for who we are. None of us have anything ‘wrong’ with us. Not me, not you, not the kid in the wheelchair, not the genius, not the one hanging on the curtains and not the one who looks different. These kids do not need to hide or apologise for their challenges nor for shining their unique light. They are here doing their work with us – apparently teaching us to overcome shame and judgement and showing us that ALL OF US ARE PART OF THE LOVE.
These children who challenge our norms are the opposite of ‘flawed’ – they are teachers, bringing consciousness and light to our world. They are usually far more compassionate to, and accepting of, us than we are of them. As much as we try to control and ‘fix’ their difference – they cannot be other than who they are. And it wouldn’t serve any of us if they were because in their challenge to us, they offer us a new perspective – of love and wholeness for each of us, no matter what. That we are each perfect, just as we are.
But it’s not easy to accept the differences we judge. I take my hat off to you, parents of these teachers. I faced this stuff just in writing this post and look how deeply it affected me – you have to engage with this stuff daily. In my opinion – no matter what you think of yourself – you are doing exceptionally well.
None of us needs to apologise for who we are. None of us.
Stop doing it.
Post this, share this, pass it on to anyone you know who has, or works with, one of these shining teachers with ADD, ODD, CP, ADHD, ID, LD… or whatever other label. Tell them you know it’s ok for all of us to just be who we are.
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