How To Respond When Your Child Is The Topic Of Gossip.

Parenting children with special needs brings about many challenges. In fact, there are days when it’s nearly paralyzing. But that is exponentially greater when you overhear others criticizing your child for something that is out of their control.

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I’m sitting in the bathroom stall sobbing. I’m pleading with myself to just get it together.

It all started an hour earlier at Meet The Teacher night. In the upper middle class suburban school district this is a crucial time. It’s critical to dress nicely, smile and for the love of all that’s holy, put on a little make-up! It’s all about first impressions and signing up for the PTA. You must remember all of your children’s supplies, labeled with their first name and last initial. Don’t forget the last initial! As luck would have it, 1/3 of the parents in the first grade were inspired to name their sons Jake.

Darn-it, I didn’t get to the classroom in time to be one of the room moms. Ok, I admit it, I hate being a room mom, but I do like to get there in time to sign up to bring little heart-shaped paper plates to the valentine’s party. A little commitment, but not too much. It’s a delicate balance. I always chuckle a little at this point in the new school year dance. I’ve caught myself again grasping for a morsel of suburban mom acceptance. I was silently chiding myself as I scurried to the 4th grade hallway.

Just as I was passing the other 4th grade rooms on my way to the resource room (code for Special Education), I heard my son’s name. I curiously turned to see two moms scrolling with pointed fingers down the class list posted on the door. Mom 1 sighs with relief. “I’m so glad he’s not in my son’s class this year,” she says. Mom 2 leans in with a mock whisper and says, “Did you know he had to have a full time aide all to himself last year?” That’s when Mom 1 admits, “I checked all the class lists, he’s not on any of them.” My curiosity has turned to horror and now a fairly blinding rage. I can’t believe they didn’t see me standing there.

Just as I was about to storm their little gossip party, I veered left and into the girls bathroom.

That’s where I find myself now. Squeezed into a tiny stall, head in my hands, mascara running. I’m silently screaming my hatred for anyone ignorant enough to gossip about a 9 year old. Eventually my fury turns to bitterness as I think of the blissful ignorance of their gossip. My final emotion is sorrow, this is where I land most often as my son’s mother.

With my eyes squeezed shut, all I can see is the handsome face of my son. His protruding ears, endearing brown eyes, and deliciously sweet hugs. Will anyone ever see anything but his disability?

My son has ARND (Alcohol Related Neuro-developmental Disorder). ARND is caused by fetal alcohol exposure. My son’s birth mom was unable to stop drinking while she was pregnant. The body of a fetus is not equipped to process alcohol like the body of an adult. Therefore, my son was swimming in alcohol, deteriorating his brain before he even had a chance to take his first breath.

My son lacks a fully developed frontal cortex. He lacks the part of his brain that was designed for problem solving and cause and effect. In short, he is like a speeding car without breaks. His brain cannot communicate properly, so he feels emotions without an appropriate outlet and he has ideas without adequate problem solving skills.

I allow myself to cry a bit longer because this knowledge doesn’t change what those women were saying. It doesn’t change how others will see him. He will struggle his whole life. His brain will never heal. I dab at my now puffy eyes and remember his kind heart and his selfless generosity. I smile a little, thinking of the courage and bravery that he has in facing his challenges.

After splashing a little cold water on my face, I straighten my carefully chosen skirt and blouse. Finally, I exit the bathroom, clinging to the wise words of Taylor Swift, “Shake it off,” because I know that’s what my son will do.

Question: Have you ever overheard others gossiping about your children or your family? How did you react? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Sarah Bellinger Denney

    I have 2 adopted daughters with FAS. I also once heard 2 mothers gossiping about my older daughter (more severely affected than the younger). I am SO not one to head into confrontation, EVER, but the things these mothers were saying were not only wrong, but downright vindictive. I stepped right up to them, excused my way into the conversation and very sweetly said “J******’s behaviors stem from her birth mother drinking while she was pregnant. J****** has no control over her actions or words. You two, on the other hand, have control over yours, and I find your words completely rude and insensitive. It just shows your true character!” and off I went to my daughter’s room (shaking inside but proud of my audacity). Little did I know that my younger daughter’s teacher was standing around the corner during my escapade. She saw me later in the day, gave me a hug, and told me I was her hero. I must admit, it did feel amazing speaking up for my daughter!! I saw one of the mothers later in the week and she actually apologized to me, admitting she had no idea of the situation. Sometimes, all that is needed is a little education!

    • Dee

      AMEN to that! 😀

    • Sarah, well done defending your baby. Love this. We are in the same boat as you. Hang in there.

  • Dee

    Yes I’ve heard the gossip. How did I react? Not as graciously as you. My grandson’s condition is similar to your son’s for the same reason. Sometimes people can be ignorant, so I wait til he’s out of earshot and firmly let them know that intolerance of any kind is unacceptable behavior for adults and ought never be directed at a child.
    I’ll tell ya, for something called ‘special needs’ some people don’t treat these precious young people very special. I worry that one day I won’t be able to control that mama bear feeling that wells up inside of me, and I may verbally consume someone alive. Of course I pray it will never come to that. 😉

    • Dee, thanks so much for sharing so openly and honestly. We totally understand. I wish people would react out of their humanity and not their ignorance. Thanks for sharing.

  • Jeanette Bousman

    We have a 15-yo son adopted 3 years ago who has just been diagnosed with FAS. While the diagnosis has given us answers, he still had the behaviors before the diagnosis so he has a lot of ‘history.’ Unfortunately, our neighborhood is not very accepting and he is the ‘talk of the town.’ We are struggling with how much information to give them. We don’t want them to think we are using his disability as an excuse for bad behaviors, but we would like them to understand why he does some of the things he does. It is very difficult to keep your head up high when you are out and about knowing (and hearing!) all of the negative comments. Our son hears them as well and cries because no one likes him and he can’t understand it all.

  • Susan Thalhofer

    I think giving a little education can be helpful sometimes. Many people have no idea what kinds of issues these kids, and their parents, are dealing with. I actually have the opposite problem. Our children have attachment disorder. They are always acting like perfect little cherubs (superficial charm) and everyone adores them – they are always looking for new potential parents, after all. They will do NOTHING wrong if someone is watching them. Yes, that does make things a little easier for us. However, no one has any clue about all the lying, stealing, and manipulation these kids are doing. They have trauma/neglect reactions which make life very difficult. One lady actually got mad at me and insisted that my child was NOT special needs because she couldn’t see anything wrong with him. He’s an angel in public. They adore him. I don’t even like him because we have no foundation of trust for a relationship. So, I’m in that weird position of wanting to down-grade him so they don’t like him – or at least appreciate the hardship this puts on us. Only when I finally tell people that our adopted girl has been in and out of locked-down facilities for the past 2 years and that we had to remodel our home, so we could sleep safely, because she said she’d kill us when returned home – do they realize that there are things you can’t see on the surface of a sweet, compliant, I’ll-do-anything-you-ask-when-you’re-looking demeanor.