We're all mostly decent human beings. Sure, we have our own belief systems and our preferences, but at the end of the day, none of us is kicking puppies for funsies. We have our special moral compass of right and wrong and we like to think that we want to be kind and good to each other.
Every religion talks about kindness. Be kind to your neighbor or be kind to someone less fortunate.Do no harm and so on.But what is kindness? For almost all of us, being kind involves doing good deeds and making an effort for someone else. It also means we choose not to be inconsiderate and cruel. And most of us, by that definition, are champions of kindness. We feel good and noble and pat ourselves on the back for a job well done. "Look how awesome I am, I passed on some great advice about parenting to that young mom", or "I'm proud of how I treated that homeless guy - I gave him a dollar AND a smile"
But often this kindness goes unrewarded. We think we're doing such a great job being kind, but we forget that kindness and compassion isn't so much about us. In fact, it shouldn't be about us at all. A true act of kindness is about the person it is directed to.
When I first shared publicly shared my son's diagnosis of autism, I had a lot of people tell me "I'm so sorry. It must be so hard for you". Or " How could this happen to you?" Or my personal favorite " God gives special children to special people".
See, these people think they are being kind. I know they mean well. They assume that by showering sympathy or crying tears of grief for our "situation" ( yes, there were a few of those, God help me!), they were being compassionate.
I did not ask for sympathy. Why do you feel sorry for me? Are you shedding those tears because my son has autism? Does that make it ok for me to cry at how your child's head resembles an oversized melon?
And whatever your belief system, the big Guy above did not look down at me and say " Oh there she is. A beacon of patience (HA!). Let me give her this child". It does not work that way. I'm not Supermom. Autism happened to my family, and we're dealing with it the best we can. My son has his moments and he drives me up the wall, but he is not a "special, pure soul". He's brave and curious, loud and headstrong, but at his core, he's your average 6 year old who loves cars and video games and annoying his little sister. Don't make him out to be a victim or someone you feel pity for.
So in essence, if you want to be kind to me or my sisterhood of special needs moms ( or any parent really), there's a really simple formula with pretty concrete do's and don'ts.
- Don't offer unsolicited advice on parenting. Nothing personal, but we've heard it all!
- Don't tell me about this amazing new "cure" for autism that you heard thirdhand. Autism cannot be cured ( repeat this to yourself a hundred times if necessary). And guess what - we're perfectly happy with our brand of autism!
- Don't tell me "Are you sure, he looks so normal".
- Don't compare my child to any other child.
- Don't be offended if I don't listen to every little thing you say. There's a plethora of therapies to address autism and I can't get to every one of them. Believe it or not, my job is to be a loving mom to my child first, and we'd like to have the basic right to live our lives without trying to fix everything all the time.
And now for some Do's which are actually pretty easy.
- Ask me more about my child. He is so much more than a diagnosis.
- Ask me if I need help.
- Ask me good and effective ways to spread awareness.
A lot of the above is autism specific, but can be applied to any life situation really. Being kind is being mindful of another person's perspective. It is about making an effort to listen. Its about allowing a person to make their own mistakes and learn from them. Its being nonjudgemental about another's choices and resisting the urge to impose your will on them.
The best type of kindness is knowing when to speak and when to support silently.