5 Things That Matter More to Me Than How Smart My Children Are


“My niece was born premature, but she is smart as a whip.”

“They told my friend her son was going to have Down syndrome, but he was born totally normal and is just so smart.”

“My daughter struggles to gain weight, but is seriously smart.”

There’s a big emphasis in society about being smart, and as a mother with a child with Down syndrome, I pick up on these sentiments a lot — more now than before my daughter Phoenix, that’s for sure.

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And while there’s nothing wrong with being smart, it’s the emphasis on it as a source of pride that rubs me the wrong way.

I used to proclaim Phoenix’s accomplishments as if they were badges of merit. Sitting at 9 months, walking at 22 months, good speech and sign language, sight-reading at 3. Things she earned that became a collection of milestones that made her life worthwhile. Accomplishments that said “See? Look what she can do, even with Down syndrome!”

There’s a mindset that can develop as a parent of a child with an intellectual disability — one where we feel the need to defend our kids’ existence. Where we need to justify why our child’s life has meaning and value and worth — even though they aren’t smart or have medical conditions or require surgeries. We think that without the presence of the intellectual disability, people would not wonder if our children’s lives held value or worth.

If I was brutally honest with myself, I’d admit that I used to think like this too. I thought, “Life is hard enough without having to live with a cognitive disability.” I used to think I would definitely, 100 percent, terminate a pregnancy with a child with Down syndrome. No question.

I didn’t bank on the faith or support of my boyfriend (now husband), who, despite a chance of Down syndrome, felt in his heart this baby was loved and wanted and was going to be good — Down syndrome or not. That whatever happened, it would be OK.

It wasn’t OK for me. It wasn’t OK for a long time. But it is now. Turns out, I had a lot of work to do on myself, my preconceived ideas, my beliefs, my values and my understanding of worth. Of what constitutes a life worth living. I had to reconsider how important it was to be smart when balanced with all kinds of other attributes that humans possess: compassion, joy, kindness, understanding, affection, acceptance. Attributes I truly want to pass on to all my children, attributes which possess an importance that moves beyond being smart.

I’ve come to see that I don’t need to defend Phoenix’s life. She’s brought so much to just my world; it’s hard to fully describe it. This child made me a mother. She’s made me grow, and for that, I’m thankful. Because of her, I’m more thoughtful, more compassionate, more understanding, more contemplative. I have a wider view of the world, including a better understanding of questions like “Why am I here?” “What is my purpose?” “What is important in life?” “What makes my life rich?”

It doesn’t matter to me how smart my children are.

It matters how hard they try.

It matters that they persevere.

It matters that they get back up and try again if they’ve failed.

It matters that they treat others with understanding, compassion, acceptance and reverence.

It matters if they are kind, forgiving and loving.

The world will not be better for our children if it is filled with people who are smart. It will be better if it is filled with people who are kind. That’s what matters, folks.

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This post originally appeared on Celebrating Phoenix.

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