As humans, we are always learning. We have been doing it since the day we were born. It is something we never stop doing. I am a firm believer that every day brings a new learning opportunity. This can be something as big as a life-changing skill or something as small as a shortcut on the way to work. No matter what new skill or lesson you are learning, chances are good it will be in your book of knowledge that you’ll, later on, share with children (or friends and family) of your own.
It is time we discuss inclusion, acceptance, and honesty.
Most of the time, I appreciate honesty — especially from children because it’s from their view, their understanding. My cousin (who is 5 years old) told me I looked “very beautiful.” She made my whole day with that one statement. That little girl radiates kindness, genuine kindness, and sincerity. Those qualities are so hard to find in people these days.
I appreciate honesty, but when does an honest comment become cruel? If it comes from a place of firm belief, or curiosity, can it really be considered cruel? The saying goes “from the mouths of babes.” but are the young really wise?
My son wears a leg brace called an Ankle Foot Orthoses (AFOs). This brace keeps him from walking on his toes, a common occurrence with Cerebral Palsy. It goes over his foot and slides into his shoe so that he can move around a little easier. The AFOs also help his leg muscles with muscle memory.
He wears one every day while we go on walks, explore outside, and even around the house. They are very much a part of our routine, so much in fact, that Mark will bring me his socks, shoes, and his brace when it’s time to get ready for the day. His brace is a natural part of his life that it is strange when others acknowledge it as something unnatural or different or wrong.
My son is 3 years old now and is not immune to dirty looks or questions. He isn’t overlooked when it comes to bullying and cruel jokes from older children. There have been a few kids who have gone out of their way to exclude him because he cannot run or climb as well as others, but he tries. Kids have mocked him for the way he walks and the braces he wears. At what point is enough really enough? Where do we begin to fix this? How can we as parents preach for inclusion and acceptance when we don’t expose our children to these opportunities to learn from this type of mistake?
How can we push for honesty and inclusion if we aren’t honest with ourselves first?
The way we treat others begins at home.
If there is one piece of advice I can give someone, parent to parent, and diagnosis aside, it is to simply encourage children to ask questions. Children are naturally curious, but how we as parents respond to their curiosity is what will either help or hinder them in their understanding of others with needs that are different from their own. So, ask questions. Ask away.
I have never been more frightened that people may see Mark as different and treat him as such. I knew things weren’t going to be normal with my pregnancy, delivery, NICU, or anything of that sort. I knew Mark would be unique, but I never thought people would treat him as if he were someone less deserving of respect.
Kids will be kids. Right?
It is my job as Mark’s mom to teach him to be strong and to embrace what makes him unique. It is also my job to teach him to be kind to others. You can have thick skin and have a gentle heart. I hope Mark will someday have the mental strength to let cruel comments roll off his back, and the emotional maturity to reciprocate with kindness and forgiveness.
In my opinion, when you see a child who looks different, walks different, or talks different — as parents, it’s our job to teach our children inclusion. Don’t run away from situations that can broaden your child’s knowledge. Allow them to ask questions in a polite manner. Educate the kids on this matter. Teach them that not everyone looks the same. Teach your children that not everyone has the same skills. Let them experience interacting with those who are different from them. This is how we get more of that flourishing environment we want for our kids. This is how we teach respect for one another. This is how we raise children who are respectful, accepting, and curious.
This is how we can make the world a kinder place.
About the Author
Brittany Hutto was born and raised in a small (but fast-growing) town in Florida. She married her high school sweetheart and is the mother to the most kindhearted and adventurous little boy named Mark. She earned her bachelor’s degree at the University of North Florida where she majored in Public Health and Health Education. She served her community during her time working with underserved populations. After a complex pregnancy, she and her husband welcomed Mark to the world at 27 weeks and 4 days. She stepped away from her career to become a stay-at-home mom so that she could take her son to his many specialist appointments, therapies, and surgeries. She works tirelessly to ensure her son is happy, thriving, and meeting every milestone. Brittany enjoys many activities with her family. In her free time, you may find her reading a good book, spending time with her family out on the boat, DIY projects, and giving back to the local NICU. She currently manages her own blog which invites you to come along on her and her son’s journey from complex pregnancy, to the NICU, and every diagnosis and surgery in between. Brittany also manages a program called Mark’s Mission which gives back to local NICUs. She is an advocate for NICU support and research and is a current student pursuing her Master of Public Administration with concentrations in Nonprofit Management and Health Care Administration at the University of North Florida. Her dream is to establish Make Your Mark as a non-profit organization to give back to more local NICUs and serve as a resource for local parents with children who have superpowers.