Lately I have been thinking about the labels that we all have, but no one sees. What if I told you about a woman, in her late thirties who rarely goes outside when it is hot....what would you think? She is too lazy to watch her children swim in the pool? Or that she must be on Facebook all day? What if I added to this that this same woman feels sick in the heat? Would that lesson the impact of your immediate judgement? Or what if I told you that there were times this woman is very very tired. When she looks in the mirror she sees the fatigue etched around her eyes and wishes she could turn back the hands of time to when she felt energetic all the time. Would you think she was just going to bed too late? Would you tell her to sleep more, eat more green veggies and take a multi-vitamin? She already does all these things. Now what if I told you this woman has Grave’s Disease, an autoimmune disease that causes all these things and she takes medication every single day of her life, she gets her blood drawn every six months and despite all her TSH and T4 levels being normal, and having a doctor who truly cares about her well-being, she still feels the way she does? Would you feel guilty for passing judgement? That woman, as I am sure you know, is me.
I think we all do this to some extent as part of our human nature. We look at a man holding a sign at side of the road and think “get a job”. Do we know that he is not trying? We drive by a house in the neighborhood that is looking a little worse for the wear and we wonder why the owners don’t care enough to cut the grass and weed the garden. Do we know that they don’t? Do we know that they can even do these things? We don’t.
Lately I have been thinking about the labels that children carry. Some labels are clearly identifiable. We know simply by looking at a child with Down’s Syndrome that he or she may require extra support in certain areas and we adjust our expectations accordingly. We accommodate the child in a wheelchair through the IDEA. But what happens to the children whose labels are on the inside and not so clearly seen. How do the snap judgements of others impact them?
When you see a child throwing a temper tantrum in Target do you assume they are “a spoiled brat” and the tantrum is the result of not getting a toy? Or could it be that the child has sensory processing disorder and the red color of Target’s logo, the harsh fluorescent lighting, the piped in music, the crowded aisles, the scents and the frenetic energy simply overload their system and they crash. This child does not wear a sign that says DON’T JUDGE ME, I HAVE SPD.
When you see a child fearful of something simple to most of us, like going in the ocean or using an elevator, do you quip that they should “get over it” or “it’s just an elevator for goodness sakes”..... Perhaps their invisible label is anxiety. Perhaps, they have been battling their anxiety all their life and if it were so easy to just “get over it” they would have already. What works best for you -- the gentle guiding hand of unconditional support, or tough love? I know what works best for me. This child can’t go through life wearing a sign that says I HAVE ANXIETY, I AM NOT BEING DIFFICULT.
What about the child you encounter that can’t sit still. They fidget in church, at the dining room table, in class, in the car. Despite their need to move all the time, they remember everything you tell them and have a remarkable ability to learn (if you accommodate their need to move). This same child also has no filter when it comes to conversation. They will tell you that you look beautiful or you look horrid - and usually they are right! They will not understand innuendo, or sarcasm. They seem to be one step behind everyone else at times, causing frustration on the part of others who can’t understand why the child just said that, or why they can’t keep up in a conversation, or when they do why they can’t sit still while talking. Do you shake your head in dismay?.....Do you assume their parents never taught them proper etiquette? Do you correct their use of language? Do you get offended by the truth they speak? This child has it tough. He does not know where the frustration that is sent his way comes from. He does not have a sign I HAVE ADHD, YES IT IS REAL.
As I have matured into the kind of parent I want to be, I have had to rethink everything about parenting. I know that children have needs that must be met in order for them to learn social graces and we have no idea what that entails. I know how hard it can be for our family to deal with the invisible labels. From that I can empathize how hard it must be for others.
Not everything is what it seems.