What To Say — And How to Say It


Ah….the Most Embarrassing Moments as a Parent list.

Oh, come on — you have one, too. Perhaps it was the time your child announced that Aunt Gertrude was….calorically challenged. Refused to kiss Grandpa. Kicked Uncle Bogart in the shin. Knocked down a display in the grocery store. Or even threw a doozy of a temper tantrum in front of every judgmental adult in your family.

Which earned you a long-suffering sigh, a comment loaded with insinuating undertones, or “the look”. Any and all inferring that your parenting skills were lacking and your child was, ahem, undisciplined.

I have decided I would take all of those together over the “kindly intervention” of well-meaning strangers.

Like the couple that rushed out to assist me when my daughter threw an EF5 tantrum at the house of a complete stranger selling me bookshelves. I shifted her tiny sleeping form to position the shelf, and suddenly the Tazmanian Devil emerged from the vehicle. It took twenty minutes of holding her tightly, as she tried to elude my grasp and grab anything on me that was soft tissue, before the switch was flipped and my sweet child returned.

And the entire time, this couple insisted on talking to me. What causes this? How long does it last? Have you had an official diagnosis? (Eye roll here) Does she do this often?

And talking to her — telling her to stop yelling, here’s a drink, just calm down, sweetie. I’m not sure what part of the aerobic workout performed in front of them, in an attempt to keep her from hurting someone, eluded their understanding. Or my brief explanation of “she has special needs”. Or even “she’ll be fine, just let her be.”


This week, it was the Lady in the Library Bathroom.

We ran in for what I had assumed to be a quick break. I should know by now that such plans are laughable. My daughter, who had been fine the entire day, suddenly began to shriek as if she were being murdered. It took me a few minutes just to find out the cause — painful urination.

Let me also mention that this bathroom is all tile and metal. A pin drop reverberates out to the parking lot. So at her decibel level, everyone within a three-mile area could tell someone in that bathroom WAS NOT HAPPY.

This woman rushed in and demanded to know what was going on. While it was not a polite, “Do you need some help?“, she seemed sincerely concerned. I quickly explained my child had special needs and was having trouble going to the bathroom. And then I continued to attend to her.

But she stuck around, for reasons I don’t understand.

I could hear her shuffling her feet, shifting her purse and books as she continued to listen to the conversation with my sobbing, nearly hysterical daughter. After some time, she apparently realized this was taking longer than she had anticipated — and left.

Cue the sigh of relief from me.

When my youngest finally pulled herself together, we walked out of the bathroom — and practically knocked this gal over.

It seems she felt that since I wasn’t the abuser, my daughter required a lecture. “You need to listen to your Mama,” she warned sternly into the tear-streaked, still-sniffling face of my 5-year-old. “She knows how to take care of you.”

I’m sure she had more expounding to share, but I was so flabbergasted at her need to intrude on our family’s stressful moment that I turned my back and hustled the kids out of the library. Steaming. In fact, I’m quite sure someone suggested that I might need a fire extinguisher as I grabbed my children and fled this “well-meaning” stranger.

We have all seen parents struggling with tired, crying children in various stages of melt-down. In malls. Movies. Grocery stores (especially this one, a huge trigger for my child’s SPD). I have gotten the judgemental looks. Even unkind remarks from grumpy strangers.

Which is not what we or our kids want or need from you.

But if you can smile and ask a frazzled Mom, “Do you need some help?” — you’ll make our century.

We’ll say no, of course. We’ll politely turn you down because a) we know what you’re up against, and b) we’d like you to walk out of the store rather than exit on a stretcher.

But we will appreciate that you asked. That you did not immediately assume we are rotten parents. Or insinuate that our kid is a brat (especially those who cannot help their behavior any more than we can make them behave).

And for that, you’ll have earned our eternal gratitude. For simply being the one person who knew just what to say when we needed it.


2 thoughts on “What To Say — And How to Say It

  1. Donna

    I continue to learn how to interact with families with special needs kids through your writings. Oh and how not to respond. Thank you.

    • What a sweet comment — thank you! I joke that I was the best parent in the world before I had kids! I had no idea so many children had struggles, and so many of them are undiagnosed. I’m convinced it goes back to all the chemicals in the food, but that’s another conversation 🙂

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