Advice from a Special Needs Parent that Applies to Everyone:

When Ellie asked me to write an article for Parent U Up, I immediately started thinking about what message did I feel was the most important one to share. What is the one singular character trait that I want my children to look back and say that their mother exhibited on a daily basis? I would have to say that trait would be Respect.

As the mother of a son with Special needs, I’ve unfortunately learned that Respect is not a common thing. There are so many adults my age (in their 30s and older) that cannot seem to accept difference. They’re nasty and ugly with their words and actions. Not only can they not accept someone who is not just like them, but they are hateful and disrespectful. It makes me frustrated, but it also breaks my heart knowing that their children will be raised to think and react the same way.

My mother drilled respect into us. We were taught to look at individuals as people to love, and not ridicule because maybe they look, act, think or dress differently than us. We were the family that handed out hot chocolate to the homeless in the winter and freeze pops to the gang members in the summer. We lived in a rough part of Philadelphia, so we were exposed to a lot. Instead of steering us the other direction, she taught us to embrace everyone because you never know who needs that smile or encouragement. She was awesome, and everyone loved her. Actually, she still is and everyone still does.

Respect starts in the home. It starts with how we correct and react to our children. It starts with how we treat our spouses. Our kids are watching everything. Now, more than ever, we need to teach our children to respect everyone regardless of their race, religion, culture, looks or abilities. Everyone is unique. If we are bullies, we will raise bullies. If we are hateful, we will raise hateful children. If we constantly ridicule and mock, then we will raise insecure children. I come from a Christian background and sadly this is a trait that is seriously lacking in our churches as well.

Let’s start by examining our own selves. What kind of message do we send our children on a daily basis? What kind of television shows are we watching and what kind of attitudes do they promote? How do they see us treat everyone in public? How do they see us react to someone who others might be uncomfortable around? Are you teaching them to be respectful and still disagree?

It’s not easy to teach something that naturally goes against the grain for most of us, but it’s important, and it’s worth it. Parenting is a constant sharpening experience. We have such influence over our children. Let’s not take that for granted.