We all know as Catholics we are called to respect life from the moment of conception to natural death. We use this phrase so often it tumbles off our tongues on instinct. Often we focus on those two moments when a human is most vulnerable: unborn or dying. But what about that long space between. As homeschoolers, we have the opportunities to really teach our children, in word and deed, how to truly respect all life.
A friend recently shared a story about her preschool aged son. They were out to eat one day and her son licked a woman at another table. Embarrassed and apologizing, my friend was caught in a moment I suspect many moms of kids with special needs have. But the woman smiled. Even when he licked her again, she remained nonplussed. Given an unusual situation, this stranger gave my friend a gift of understanding and respect. See, the boy who looks like every other kid his age does not process touch very well. His tongue is much more sensitive and useful for him.
Again, we all know we are to care for the “Least Among My Brothers.” It’s easy to spot that when a man with Down’s Syndrome joins the ranks of the Knights of Columbus and serves up hotdogs at the parish picnic or when we give our time at Special Olympics or the Miracle League. Do we remember that, for many people, a special need isn’t always obvious? Or are we quick to bolster our own parenting egos with phrases like “my child would never …”? When teaching our children in public, are we leading them to do as St. Francis de Sales reminds us, to Live Jesus?
The mother in the store with a screaming child- Do you avoid eye contact, tell your children that is an example of bad behavior, jump in and try to calm her child? Or do you smile reassuringly, pat her arm or even offer a hug? Surely you’ve had a moment when your own child was unruly in public. Would you want your whole life judged on how you handled it?
Are you fumbling and awkward trying to find the right words, to be friendly without condescending? It’s okay. Admit it from the beginning. A parent is going to appreciate your honesty and effort. Be teachable.
There are many opportunities to be patient and kind. Holiday celebrations can be particularly stressful and are an excellent chance to be respectful without judgement. One friend talks about Halloween and how brave a parent must be to take a child with special needs out. Her child looks like all the other costumed but may be non-verbal or have weak gross motor control. Surely your child has been less skilled than his peers at something. Would you want your whole life judged on that?
Just try giving the benefit of the doubt. You don’t have to know what personal trials a person faces in order to be kind to them. Assume the boy playing with an iPad during Mass is communicating the only way he can. Assume the girl who doesn’t offer the sign of peace has autism that makes large groups terrifying to her. Assume the mom with the newborn does want you help keeping her preschooler out of the street but does not want your parenting advice. Whether your are wrong or right does not matter. What is important is that you choose to be patient, to be kind. Choose to be love.