A Texas mom of three is spreading a simple but important message about inclusion.
Jill Robbins, who blogs at Ripped Jeans and Bifocals, posted a photo of one of her children on Facebook.
“People, please teach your kids not to be jerks. Please,” she wrote in the caption.
Robbins introduced her 7-year-old adopted son Zack, who is about to start second grade. Zack has a limb difference ― his right hand is not completely formed.
“We adopted Zack when he was 2, and we honestly thought his limb difference was no big deal,” she wrote. “We’ve spent most of the last five years telling him to ‘put that down’ and ‘stop climbing that.’ He plays soccer and flag football. He does martial arts. He colors. He helps me in the kitchen. He carries his own laundry basket from his bedroom down to the laundry room.”
On Zack’s “meet your teacher” night, however, she realized others don’t see him the way she does. Robbins wrote:
He’d been telling me for weeks that he was afraid to go back to school. I brushed him off and it wasn’t until about thirty minutes before it was time to leave that I actually focused on his concerns. Because I’m busy. Because I’m being pulled in a gazillion different directions.
Because my limb difference child is normally confident and gregarious and I really don’t think of him as being different.
“People who are new to my school might stare at me and ask me questions about my little hand.”
“They might,” I answered. “That’s pretty normal, don’t you think? Your little hand is pretty different than what most people are used to seeing. It’s okay if they ask questions, right?”
He paused. “Yes. It’s okay if they ask questions but I get tired of saying “this is the way I was born.” Is it okay if I’m tired of answering questions?”
“It’s okay that you feel like that,” I answered. “But people who don’t know you are still going to be curious.”
“Please don’t let them be mean to me, Mommy.”
This is the part of the story where my heart sinks to the pit of my stomach.
Zack revealed to his mom that some kids had taunted him at camp over the summer. “He’s a sensitive kid, so it’s hard for me to determine whether or not it was taunting or just curiosity, based on second hand information,” she wrote.
Regardless, Robbins shared a takeaway from this discussion: “Ask questions and be curious about people who look different [than] you look. But before you stop to ask questions, consider that there is a living, feeling person on the other end.”
She also urged other parents who have a child that’s a little different to pay attention to their kids’ experiences and feelings. “Their perception of being taunted or ostracized MATTERS,” she wrote. “Listen.”
Robbins concluded by reiterating her initial message to all parents. “And please ... don’t let your kids be jerks,” she wrote. “Talk to them about differences and inclusion.”
Robbins told HuffPost she’s been happy to see positive comments on her Facebook post. She’s also received some direct messages from other moms of children with limb differences, and one adult woman wrote a note to her son about her life and experiences with limb differences.
“I think moms of kids with physical differences have that anxiety about whether their kid will be accepted or picked on,” she explained. “We’re all different but when you’ve got something obvious like a limb difference, you are constantly managing your reactions or other people’s reactions straight away ... It might not be the first thing people notice about him when he goes into a new setting but people normally notice pretty quickly.”
Although it’s perfectly normal to be curious about differences, Robbins said it’s hard with young kids, who don’t have filters. “We get that people are curious about him but the curiosity and the fishbowl effect bother him sometimes,” she explained.
While her post resonated with special needs and adoptive parents, Robbins believes her message of inclusion is important for all parents trying to raise good children.
Said the mom, “I guess I meant it quite literally ― teach your kids not to be jerks and that there’s a person on the other end of your questions. I think we forget that sometimes.”