Why I’m Tired of Having to Explain My Child’s Differences to Strangers

I am just going to say it: I’m tired of having to explain my child’s differences to complete strangers.

Since my son, Grant, was born I have had to explain his different medical equipment to people I don’t know and who don’t know him.

The first time this happened was when Grant was 3 weeks old. I took him to a music class with his older brother. I felt so brave for leaving the house with a 2-year-old and 3-week-old by my self for the first time. Watching the toddlers play and sing was fun. I was sitting outside of the circle, feeding Grant with a Haberman feeder. The bottle looks different than a standard bottle and is used very differently. You have to squeeze milk into his mouth every few seconds. All the other moms would talk to each other and look in confusion. Without starting a conversation with me or getting to know me first, I would get the question, “What’s up with that bottle?”

When I had to go to Target and my son was on supplemental oxygen, strangers would stop me in the aisle and ask why he has tubes in his nose. When he was in a spica cast for hip dysplasia, people would stop me on the streets or in parks and ask, “So what happened to him?”

Now my son has a brace on his legs to help support his hips, and it’s still hard to go out even though I have built up a thicker skin for it. People watch him walk differently and play differently, and it’s always the first thing that comes up. Other children will stare at him or laugh at his “cowboy walk.”

It’s heartbreaking.

I would love to go to the store without having to explain my child to the store checker or have the other moms at the park treat us like normal. Other times people will pretend not to notice him or myself, while continuing to stare at him and watch him from afar.

It hurts. Every day it hurts. 

I want people to know that he’s also a normal child. We’re a normal family but have special challenges that we face every day. When I am out and about, it’s not the only thing I want to talk about or focus on. I want to watch my son laugh and play. I want to talk to the other moms about normal stuff and complain about how tired we are all.

I also can understand that you would like to know about my child and learn about his special needs, but there are better ways to go about it. I want you to understand it’s OK to ask, but lets first talk and have a conversation first.

When you do ask, be compassionate. Questions like “What’s wrong with him?” or “What did he do?” hurt, especially when you haven’t even said hello to us yet. It’s not OK to just approach and ask that.

Talk to me, talk to him and introduce yourself. Tell me he’s handsome or that you like his cool new shoes — anything just to strike up a normal conversation like you would with any other parent. Then you can ask about my son in a way that is thoughtful, such as, “If you don’t mind me asking…” That’s a much better way.

I will happily talk to you about him. I will appreciate you trying to learn about my son and taking the time to meet us and get to know us. That can help create awareness and understanding. So next time you feel the desire to just ask, “So what’s up with the braces?” think about how many times I have been asked that and how much I would so much rather talk about anything else.

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