Some days, just getting through the day as a disabled mother can feel like climbing a series of hills. The people around us can help us navigate these hills or they can create obstacles in our paths.
Mums Like Us member Beth was doing her supermarket shopping this month with her young son in tow. Beth is a hugely proud and adoring mother. She has multiple disabilities and is in a wheelchair. A stranger said this to her, “OMG! How do you cope? You poor thing!” Beth calmly told the stranger that she was coping perfectly well thank you and continued singing to her son, “you are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when skies are grey.” Was this person helping Beth up the hill, or was she placing an obstacle in her path?
My initial reaction when I read Beth’s post about this comment was anger. I was angry that she might have felt patronised and singled out whilst doing a basic task.
But many Mums Like Us commented in a wholly positive way, suggesting that we should hail kindness and helpfulness. It is the rude, critical and offensive comments we should concern ourselves with and vow to fight against every day. My anger subsided but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the stranger’s comment was somewhat patronising, even if it was well meant.
So how should you speak to a disabled mum with her kids? Do you need to speak to her at all? Here are my thoughts…
- Please don’t show pity, even if you feel it! The mum you are talking to may be doing things differently to you but she is doing it! She is a woman to be admired. She is showing some serious ability right there!
- Ask if you can help, don’t just wade in and help. Your motivations might be perfect and kind but she could well have a very carefully balanced system going on. You don’t want to throw her off balance!
- You don’t need to pretend she’s not disabled. But please don’t ask her how she’s coping! If you wouldn't say it to another mum, don’t say it to her! We all have days when we feel like we are not coping. Motherhood is hard. For everyone.
- Finally, if you are the kind to say it anyway, smile and tell her her kids are gorgeous. You can’t go wrong.
The Mums Like Us community frequently discusses comments that are made about us, our lives and our disabilities. We talk about the occasions we have been ignored, talked about in earshot, patronised or insulted. It is not ok that we have almost all experienced this to some extent. However, we are just as likely, if not more so, to talk about the wonderful people who make our lives easier and happier. We talk about the kindness of strangers who make our days by acting with compassion and respect. But above all, we talk about our family and our friends. These are the people who give us the strength to remain polite and firm when we are put down. These are the people who know our ability. These are the people who help push us up the hills, sometimes literally but always metaphorically.
Thank you to Beth for giving me permission to discuss her post in this blog.