I recently found myself consoling and counselling a dear friend, after his (second) wife told him she sometimes feels embarrassed when she is out with his 10 year old daughter who has autism spectrum disorder combined with a cognitive delay. She went on to say that sometimes she wished that his daughter was a “normal” 10 year old.
At first I was outraged at the comment, as was my friend. It made me wonder how many people would feel embarrassed to be out in public with my son – to me, this comment was highly offensive. However, not wanting to fuel an argument between my friend and his wife, and knowing that she is a lovely lady who would never say anything like that that in malice, I tried to be objective.
While the statement was without doubt very thoughtless, and regardless of personal experiences most people would know better than to say that to the parent of a special needs child – or to the parent of any child for that matter. However, that aside, I started to think how “embarrassing” children are, and the difficulties of becoming a stepmother, especially to a child with special needs.
There are number of experiences involved in being a parent and in particular a mother. Firstly, there is the birth. The birth of your baby leaves you with no shame and very little dignity. These days, if my bosom escaped from my shirt while walking down the street, I would barely bat an eyelid. As your child grows, the general population will witness you struggling to mitigate tantrums in shopping centres, or watch as you crawl on hands and knees trying to find a dummy (pacifier) or favourite toy that has been thrown under the shelves in the supermarket isle, they will vomit in public places, have accidents where they don’t make it to the toilet in time… the list goes on.
However, while enduring these acts of “toddlerism”, we are also getting to know our child. As our little monkeys grow and develop, so does our bond with them. We become resilient and immune to the embarrassment that our children can sometimes cause, and to an extent, to the stares and “looks of horror” that come our way. This is the same for most parents, and is not limited to parents of special needs children.
However, if you remember how you felt the first time your child had a real tantrum in a public place, it is perhaps easy to see how a “non-parent” may in fact feel embarrassed when out with a child who is misbehaving, or behaving in a way that attracts attention – bearing in mind that they have not had the “training” that is thrust upon new parents and caregivers, nor have they had the opportunity to develop such a momentous bond with the child – although, that is not to say they can’t, or wont, if given the opportunity.