Martyr Parents: For The Sake Of Your Child, Please Evolve | Eve Reiland

The tragedy narrative of these martyr parents and birthday parties. WTAF?

OK, martyrs and parents who wallow in the tragedy narrative to social media and make a spectacle of themselves, I’m going to be as kind as I humanly can with this: Grow Up and Evolve.

Parenting any child is not for the faint of heart. Parenting a child that’s different – you need to put some steel in your spine because tossing a personal pity party after a ‘failed’ birthday party is not good parenting, and even more so it’s degrading to the child’s personhood. Shaming others for not attending your disabled child’s party is downright embarrassing, and how mortifying is it for the child when they realize what their parent has done in their name to the public at large? Also, it causes resentment towards the child by the people who were shamed.

Note, the child’s party wasn’t about you the parent. Yet repeatedly I see these martyr parents make it all about them. They make mainstream media headline news with it too.

Here’s a fact of life: The world is not going to change and accept your child’s invitations because you tossed a drama on social media. In fact it’s only going to revive institutionalized stigma and prejudice towards the child and all other children like them. It’s also going to negatively affect the population you say you’re ‘advocating’ to help. Please, just stop it. (For those following these martyrs please stop rewarding them.) You’re causing harm.

Yes, I agree, it’s painful to see when your child doesn’t fit in with family, friends or peers. It’s horrific and soul destroying to see them suffer bullying and abuse . It’s heartbreaking to realize your child will never fit in because they’re different. I know. It kills me when it happens to my children. From my lived experience being Autistic and parenting Autistics, the rejection hurts far worse when my children experience it than when I experience it. There’s no denying this rejection is incredibly painful … but as a parent it’s YOUR JOB to help the child to learn to survive, live and thrive in a culture that treats disabled children and people as second class citizens and burdens. It’s not your job to expose them with a virtual pity party and create a spectacle of shaming others in the name of your child’s best interest. That’s wallowing in tragedy narrative, not seeking appropriate support or actual parenting.

So what’s the lesson here?

So … the lesson here isn’t shaming others with a tear-rage video to social media demanding I don’t know what goal (very often these parents are fortified with cash and prizes for their efforts, media fame, and build their personal social media followings into lucrative enterprises and turn their child’s life into a ‘brand.’ $$$ ka-Ching). The lesson here is to teach your child that yes, they are different, and how to survive, live and thrive in life with those differences.

The lesson here is to teach them to recognize people who are good for them and those who are belittling them in the name of friendship (gaslighting). The lesson here is to teach them to love who they are even if the world hates them because they’re different.

The lesson here is to teach your child they are perfect and worthy of friendship, comfort, humanity and the pursuit of happiness exactly as they are and exactly as they will be when adults.

The lesson here is to teach your child they are worthy of life, compassion and care.

The lesson here is to teach the child that they do contribute meaningfully to society even if most in society aren’t capable of recognizing that yet.

It’s a parent’s job to raise their child to have self-worth and know how to be a self-advocate to the best of their abilities. To do so, the parent must actually practice advocating appropriately for the child and demonstrate strength in hardship, practice self-care when exhausted or needed, and how to set appropriate boundaries with others while creating a village of legitimate support for the child and themselves. These are not the life lessons given by martyr parents who cry, scream or toss a tantrums for the spotlight. There’s a difference between experiencing pain as a parent for your child, processing those feelings and finding the support and resolve to create a better way … and wallowing in it as a lifestyle.

A martyr parent unpacks the tragedy narrative and wallows in it. Martyr parents are known to dog pile their woes, express some of the worst ugliness to each other in these groups and claim it as ‘support’ and demand the attention stay on their negative feelings and experiences. They de-center the child’s personhood and center themselves and their emotions of parenting a disabled child instead. These parents were taught how do to this, and rewarded for it too, over the past few decades by incredible marketing teams powering the likes of Jenny McCarthy’s “mother warriors” and Autism Speaks propaganda scaring the world for donations to solve the “autism crisis the world can’t afford” – and other organizations similar to them.

The resolution here isn’t to cry a puddle online and then swim in it, create social media pity videos, or scream to the media to effect positive change (or get kudos, gifts, feel goods and focus the martyr platform has so often brought). The goal here is to create a network of family, loved ones and others that do support the child now, as they transition into adulthood and beyond. The goal is to connect to disability communities, independent living centers and other reputable organizations and networks that can strengthen the quality of your child’s life now and in the future. The goal is to connect with others who understand this different kind of parenting experience and seek support, information and learn how to advocate effectively and create real systems of support. There’s no easy answer here. Just a lot of hard work and commitment.

A disabled child, an Autistic child, a child with Down Syndrome … The child is different and that’s a fact of life and it’s never going to change. I’m starting to understand the birthday parties of a young child are often the first time a typical or non-disabled parent experiences the rejection of society and in the most painful manner, through the rejection of their child. This might be the first experience for many parents who belong to the neurotype majority or general society have with being an outsider. The want to fight for the child to fit in and rage at others for not accepting them (or inviting them or attending their birthday party) is understandable but it’s not productive to a positive reality. It’s a dream and one worth fighting for …. however, acceptance of disabled and other differences is generations away yet. We have an incredible amount of work to do before that evolution takes place.

Fact: there’s nothing wrong with being different. In the future, your child might not care about the things that matter to you so greatly. It could be your child even rejects what general society has to offer and seek their own social network, one that looks very different than the parent’s network. Or the child might embrace typical society. Either way, that’s the child’s journey in life to take, and a parent’s to support.

Yes, it hurts a lot when your disabled or Autistic child doesn’t have the acceptance others do. It’s what you do with that knowledge that makes the difference in the child’s life and perspective of themselves. Throwing an international pity party that exposes your child’s private life and perhaps personal hurt on display for all to judge, comment and snark about only teaches a child how to be a martyr.

These kinds of Martyrs don’t help anyone, not even themselves. Worse, they only devalue the hard work done by others to bring acceptance and contribute greatly to the culture of ugly, stigma and hate disabled and Autistic people must navigate today.

The reality is the disabled, autistic, or otherwise different child will never fit into mainstream society as we know it. Ever. This child will never have the social privilege a non-disabled, non-autistic typical parent does. This requires a parent to learn how to teach their child how to survive, live and even thrive in a society that doesn’t respect differences.

Perhaps these early birthday parties are the first experience for many parents of that vast difference between awareness and acceptance. Perhaps social rejection is the dividing line between disability awareness and acceptance. As a parent, none of us are perfect, and there’s still time to evolve.


Eve Reiland

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