A few days ago, one of my best friends sent me a meme. Though the person who wrote it (and many others) obviously thought it was pretty witty, to the two of us, it wasn’t a “Funny! HAHA!” kind of share. After reading only a few lines of the message, I was seething. Before I go any further, here it is for you to digest:
The friend who sent it to me has a young daughter with a neuromuscular disorder. My own daughter has autism. She shared the post with me, because she needed a safe place to vent, and she knew I understood how damaging messages like this are to the psyche of parents like us ― parents whose very existence is often fighting an uphill battle to create a world where our children aren’t viewed as different (or God forbid, a nuisance!).
Between friends, we began to exchange choice words about the person who, like many, chose to share this message in jest. The following comments were my knee-jerk reaction to what I’d just read:
“I’m about to post a screenshot of this on my own page and tell all of my friends to send her a ‘kind’ message!” (For the record, I did not.)
Then, “People need to know that this is not OK, and that if they have children whose problems can be solved by these ‘simple’ suggestions, they should consider themselves very blessed. Actually, no. I consider myself very blessed. They should reflect, and realize that the reason they weren’t given children like ours is because they are ignorant and don’t deserve them.”
It took less than 30 seconds before my own words made me cringe. I was ashamed of myself for my own reaction, because the spiteful nature of my message was just as inconsiderate as the message delivered in the meme itself. Regardless of whether you have a child with special needs, or whether you are even a parent at all, if you’re reading this, you are human. All humans have experiences similar to what I shared above, where the feelings in our wounded hearts reach our tongues faster than our brains are able formulate a rational, empathetic response. As a result, we often speak defensively. When my own defensive statements made me feel ashamed, I chose to turn it into an opportunity to learn.
I knew I would write about this experience, but I waited a few days until I allowed myself to do so. The thing about words is, once you say them, they’re out there for good. Now that I’ve collected my thoughts, there are a few things I would like to ask you to consider. First, if you stumble across something online that you find to be humorous, pause and reflect before you share it on social media. Is there anyone in your circle whose personal circumstances might cause them to be hurt by this message? Additionally, remember that once you share something publicly, anyone with access to what you share can instantly share it further. The ripple effect of social media is enormous. What you share as “friends only” still has the potential to spread like wildfire.
Second, if you find yourself on the receiving end of such a message and you do find it hurtful, take the same moment to reflect before you post a defensive message that passes judgement on someone you may not even know. Being bitter doesn’t make you any better. Moving past social media, let this same idea carry over to your everyday life. If you are a parent, the carpool line is a perfect example of where this lesson can be applied.
There is no way to sugarcoat it ― carpool drop-off at school is the pits. We all have somewhere to be afterwards. It’s okay to be frustrated when the line seems to take ten times longer than it should. It is not okay to call someone’s young child names (especially “Snowflake” ― the connotation is disgusting). It is not okay to accuse a parent of coddling their child when you see them wait a few extra seconds to get closer to the doors of the school. You might see the same car holding up the process each day, but the truth is, you have no idea why. A child in that car might have autism, or a neuromuscular disorder, in which case dropping her off closer might be the more responsible, safe choice! That child might have anxiety, and the tone of his entire day might depend on that extra hug. On the other hand, maybe the reason you’re waiting longer IS, in fact, because someone’s mom errantly placed a lunch bag or project in the trunk while she was rounding up the crew. She’s not perfect, but neither are you!
We can practice good humanity by simply considering that frustration makes it too easy to pass judgement on those who we know little to nothing about. Trust me, as the mom to a child with autism, I’m fully aware that I regularly slow things down a bit. I feel bad for those behind me, but I have a lot on my plate. I certainly don’t need the added guilt that directly results from needless judgement. Tomorrow, it might be you who holds up the carpool line. Would you want someone to create or share a hostile meme about your morning?