It’s a Tuesday morning and you head to the grocery store. You’ve specifically chosen a Tuesday morning because it’s the least busy at this particular store. You have your list organized according to the layout of the store. You spend half an hour preparing your child for what to expect on the outing. You drive there armed with fidgets and stress balls with calming music playing softly in the background. You even let them wear the superhero costume without saying a word because you know it helps them both feel braver and feel more regulated because it fits tightly.
You have done everything you can think of to ensure this grocery trip is as pain-free as possible. You park. Take a deep breath. Turn around, smile at your child and together you walk in.
You get through the produce section with all its smells and unexpected mini sprinklers without issue. You mentally congratulate yourself for remembering to prepare your child for those potential pitfalls this morning!
You get through most of the aisles without anything dramatic happening. Even the cereal aisle is navigated without distress. You’re starting to breathe a bit easier now. You can see the end in sight.
You swing by the pharmacy where the kind pharmacist is very familiar with your family. Your child knows them well enough to respond and say hello. You can see that this has raised their anxiety just a bit and as you walk away from that counter, you check in with your child to see how they are managing. You tell them that you appreciate how well they are doing. You encourage them by showing them how much of the grocery list is complete.
In the dairy section, you see signs that the tension is mounting. There’s a temperature change and the lights are bright. It’s starting to get a bit more crowded in the store by now. Your child is touching everything you pass by and has knocked an item off the shelf.
You hand your child the list and a pencil and ask them to cross off what’s been found so far. You know that in doing so, you will give them a visual and tangible reminder of how close they are to being done. You will also give them something to do with their hands.
Your child comments that the wheel on the cart is squeaky. You are reading the back of a box trying to determine if it’s gluten free so you don’t respond right away. You move on towards the checkout but your child is standing back where you were, hands over their ears, screaming. You judge the distance between yourself and them and know that you will not make it in time to stop this from becoming a huge meltdown.
As you rush towards them, you mentally play back the trip to the store. Playing detective is an important part of your job as the parent of a child with special needs. You decide based on the evidence that it’s the squeaky wheels on the cart that were the final straw so you abandon your cart mid aisle and rush faster towards your child to help them calm down.
Out of the corner of your eye, you catch glares, a man shaking his head disapprovingly and a woman is approaching you, bent on sharing her “wisdom”. You know what’s likely coming. Not “good job mama”. Not “can I help?”
You’re well acquainted with the whispers, the glares and the outright rude comments. Years ago, you may have left the store in tears over her ignorant words, but not today. Today you know that her words are more a reflection of who she is than who you or your child are. Today, your only worry is your child. You’ve got this!
Tips to Surviving Judgment as the Parent of a Child with Special Needs:
- Choose and practise a mantra that you can say internally. “They cannot steal my joy.” “I am the right mom for my child.” “They do not have the privilege of knowing my child.” “This is them, not me.”
- Know that you do not need to respond. It is not your job to educate the world at the moment your child needs you most.
- Better they judge you than your child. Often, it is tempting to explain your reasons, your methods, your child’s needs to save face. Sometimes it is appropriate to do so, but if your response is only going to further isolate your child and make them feel more different, you may need to risk being judged.
- Surround yourself with those who “get it”. Create a network of support people who understand. Those who have also walked this road are safe to share with. They can offer encouragement in a way that no one else can. If there is not a support group in your community, find one online.
- Keep track of your wins. Parenting a child with special needs can be discouraging at times because it’s often two steps forward, one and three quarters steps back. Celebrating your wins will help you rise above the judgment because you will have confidence that your child is moving in the right direction.
- Remember that you know your child best and that your child is doing their best. “They’re not giving you a hard time. They’re having a hard time.”
Join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.
This post is part of a Parenting a Child with Special Needs series with special needs moms who share their thoughts on “managing public situations.” These articles may help you navigate your way through your next time out in public.
10 Tips for Running Errands with a Special Needs Child | Every Star is Different
7 Tips to Surviving Judgment as the Parent of a Special Needs Child | The Chaos and The Clutter
Navigating the Store with a Child with Sensory or Anxiety Issues | The Chaos and The Clutter
Dear Mom at the Park | This Outnumbered Mama
Dear Mom Who Is Afraid to Leave Her House | Kori at Home
How to Help a Mom When Her Child Suffers a Public MeltdownI Finding the Golden Gleam