People without disabilities like myself often look at people with disabilities, and for a brief second, we try to put ourselves in their position—empathize. When we can't fully relate, or perhaps won't, we quickly move towards sympathy and feeling bad or sorry for that person.
They are living a life that we can't imagine for ourselves. Sometimes we view disability with sympathy. We may view a person who has a disability as resilient and inspirational, further reason to be grateful for our able-bodied experience. We walk away feeling good and move on with our life.
What if we were better at empathizing instead of sympathizing? If we sought to understand people with disabilities and their experiences? If we realize they have a level of knowledge and insight to which we cannot relate. We have so much to learn from people living with a disability.
I think the big challenge of being a parent to a kid with a disability is to sort through all the advice we get from people without disabilities about what our kids should be doing or how our kids should be living. Instead, I wish people understood the complexity and beauty of our kids' lives. I wish more people looked at elders with disabilities as role models and wonderful examples of who children with a disability can strive to be.
The challenge is that this will make us as parents angry. When we start looking at disability as part of our kid's identity—a wonderful, beautiful part—and then see how the world treats that, it will frustrate us. Being frustrated is way harder than just feeling sad.
However, that's the beauty of empathy and not sympathy. With sympathy, we are looking from above. With empathy, we are partnering with our kids as allies. And doing what we can to help them be the best they can possibly be.
Here's a search on empathy from the blog– it brings up several interesting perspectives.
“Being a mom is like jumping out of a plane with a bunch of people who don’t know how to open their own chutes. So you fly around doing it for them. Then you hit the ground. But you don’t die. You get up and you cook dinner.” -Unknown
Categories: Family Support