Growing Up Last is looking for bad advice—and I am not one to disappoint. I’ve gotten a lot of bad practical advice over the years, but I thought I would take this time to showcase some of the worst “life” advice I have received.
Making the announcement to someone for the first time that my son has Down syndrome usually goes one of three ways. There are the people who do not bat an eyelash, and continue on in our conversation as if I’ve pointed out nothing more than his eye color or his favorite TV show (this is the preferred response, by the way). Then there are the people who go really positive—the “that’s wonderful!” or “what a blessing!” people. I get where they are going, and I truly appreciate the sentiment and the love, it just can sometimes make for an awkward moment in the conversation. Finally, there are the majority of people who make what can be referred to as a “grief cocktail”: two parts condolences, a splash of disappointment, mix in a glass with muddled advice, serve over ice with salt.
I’ve gotten used to the condolences and I don’t mind the disappointment. These people do not know my son, and they really don’t know the appropriate response. I give them a pass. But the advice? Why in a moment where you don’t know what to say, would you offer advice? I don’t know the answer, but here are some of my favorite gems.
“Don’t have any expectations for him.Just let him surprise you.” Okay. Great. Is that what you do for your kids? She obviously meant well, but it is this kind of ignorance that can be dangerous. I have only the highest expectations for my son. I expect him to get an education, and drive a car, and date, and marry, and provide a wonderful life for himself. I expect just as much of him as my other children. And if and when he ever falls short of my expectations, I will grant him the same grace I will grant my other children, the same grace that was granted to me by my own mother. I will readjust and move on and I will be proud knowing that he tried his best with the best that I can offer him.
“Don’t worry about his independence in the future.There are wonderful group homes nowadays.” Maybe there are, I don’t know. But this advice seriously makes me laugh inside. Is it your dream for your child to one day aspire to a “wonderful group home”? The best part is, this advice is always given to me by someone who has absolutely no knowledge of or experience with any group homes.
And my all-time favorite: "Don't save money for education. It's not like he's going to be an engineer." This actually isn’t bad advice—you could give this advice to about 90% of the parenting population and save them loads of money. It is what it represents. That my future, my son’s future, is somehow sealed because of his condition. That we are resigned to a certain fate, while children without Down syndrome are still full of happy possibility. That because the young children of the giver of this advice just might turn into rocket scientists in the future, so she should be prepared, but I have no need. Why, oh why did I not tell her the truth? That in this economy, her own would-be geniuses have a better chance of sleeping on her couch playing video games in 15 years than becoming Nobel scholars. That my son most likely has some special talent that if discovered and nurtured could turn his life into a testimony for countless others. But in the moment, I was speechless, and she filled the silence with a story about her neighbor’s cousin who got a great job bagging groceries.
So now it is my turn to give some (hopefully good) advice. When someone tells you something about their child and you don’t know what to say, think first what you would truly like to hear in that moment if it was your child. And if you still don’t know what to say, do what your mama told you and say nothing at all. I promise, you’ll thank me when you keep your foot on the ground, and out of your mouth.