Parents of Kids With Special Needs Do Not Want To Hear "I'm Sorry"

The delightful Ellen Seidman has a wonderful article up on Babble about what not to say to parents of children with special needs.

First on the list: “I’m sorry.”

Ellen says she knows this one’s coming from a good place, but it really doesn’t help to say it. When she hears, “I’m sorry” from someone in reference to her son, she hears, “I’m sorry you have a tragedy on your hands.”

Her son is not a tragedy, she writes. He’s a joy, and they’re both doing fine. She’d like to have their successes celebrated rather than their challenges pitied. For example, on her list of things you should say to her, should you meet, “He rides his bike so well!”

I’m grateful to Ellen for writing this piece. My own kids are healthy and don’t have any special needs that we know of. But like Ellen, I love hearing people compliment my kids on their amazing bike skills, and loathe having strangers in supermarkets offer me pity. It’s better than being judged a failure when my kid throws a wobbly in the snack aisle, but not much.

One of Ellen’s main points in this story is this:

Max is a kid like other kids; I am a mom like other moms — not perfect, but doing the best I can.

Of course, people say things like “I’m sorry” and “I don’t know how you do it” to parents whose children have special needs because we really are sorry, and we really don’t know how you’re doing it. We’re otherwise speechless, trying and failing to imagine ourselves in your shoes, walking what looks like a hard road.

Ellen’s piece is great because it reminds us that these platitudes don’t help the person who hears them. If you really want to help, offer help. “Can I carry your grocery bags?” goes a lot further than “I’m sorry.”

Whether our children have special needs or not, most of us have a hit list of things we would be happy never to hear again from well-meaning people commenting on our kids or our parenting. What are yours?

Photo: Honza Soukup

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