Feeling judged as a parent of a child with special needs

Parents constantly feel under scrutiny thanks to media portrayals of ‘ideal family life’, and the way weare connected via social media all the time.

Parenting advice also changes rapidly depending on current trends, recent research, cultural norms and life stages. I have 3 children and when my first was born I was advised to let her cry in order to settle at night (I hated every second, but I did it because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do). By the time number 3 came along, Attachment Parenting was starting to be popular, and I responded to my baby every time he made a noise. Both kids seem to have turned out fine as far as I can tell!

When you are the parent of a child with a disability that people can see, you often get stares and can feel that people are pitying you. If your child has an invisible disability, people often don’t believe yourstruggles or put any unusual behaviour from your child down to “bad parenting”.

It’s easy for me to say “Just don’t worry about what other people think.”, but it doesn’t come easily to alot of people, so I have come up with a few tips for parents on both sides of the judgmental looks on how to handle things:

For parents feeling judged:

  1. Try to remember most people are not actually thinking about what anyone else is doing, they are too wrapped up in their own head and are probably making that face cos they are remembering something embarrassing that happened to them.
  2. On social media, remind yourself that you are seeing everyone’s ‘highlights reel’ while you live the full, unedited ‘director’s cut’.
  3. Gather supportive people around you. When you have a healthy support network, it can act as amental buffer against external judgement. Just keep telling yourself “those who mind, don’tmatter; and those who matter, don’t mind”
  4. You are a good parent. Unless you are actively hurting your child on purpose, you are probably doing the best you can with the resources you have. That is all ANY parent can do.
  5. Your child loves you. YOU are the most important person in the world to your child. You may not feel like it if your child has difficulty with communication, but just remind yourself that you are Number 1 to your children.

For parents seeing other parents struggling:

  1. If appropriate, ask if there is anything you can do to help. Just offer kindly and be prepared forthe other parent to be defensive or prickly. Don’t take it personally if they say no.
  2. If you do find yourself on the verge of staring, just smile and acknowledge them. Suddenly looking away when caught staring makes things so much worse.
  3. Teach your own children about being inclusive.
  4. If you can, help other parents with their kids. Offer babysitting, childminding or respite if you are able.
  5. Don’t judge! You wouldn’t want people to judge you if your child was having a bad day and youwere struggling, so don’t do it to anyone else.

There are places to reach out for support. Parent to Parent offer a Support Parent Network service where we can put you in touch with another parent who has been through similar issues and can offer an understanding ear and possibly some useful tips.

Facebook, social media and other websites offer the opportunity to connect with parents like you allover the world, which can be especially helpful if you don’t have a lot of support around you in everyday life.

At the end of the day, just love your child, feed your child and keep them safe and warm. Everything else is just sprinkles on the ice-cream sundae.

louise ratcliffe
Louise Ratcliffe
Information Officer
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