Just A Couple of Stories About Being Yourself
We're Big on Costumes Around Here.
Okay, well at least my youngest son is. He is my son who happens to have Down syndrome and his imagination runs wild. He loves to dress up and pretend to have various jobs. Sometimes, I am not quite sure he is pretending. There is a certain amount of reality to all of this for him. In any case, he is often a cook, a garbage man, a scrapper, or a bull-rider. His two favorite costumes are his surgeon's scrubs and his policeman's tactical gear. Now when I say he likes to wear costumes, I mean he likes to wear them everywhere (at home, on a bike ride, to the store...everywhere).
My Husband and I Can't Agree.
We can't seem to agree on whether or not to let him dress up when we go out. He is 17 years old and sometimes I do wonder what people will think if we let him go out as a garbage guy or whatever he is into that day. But more often than not, I feel like if he wants to dress up and it makes him happy, so be it. Is it really important to me what other people think? Generally not. My husband, on the other hand, does not like to be the center of attention. So he is pretty quick to make our son go in and change into regular clothes. He is very concerned with how others perceive us as parents and our son as a person with Down syndrome. Ultimately, I feel that as long as it isn't to church or somewhere where what he is wearing really matters, he can wear whatever he wants.
Now, There'sThe Matter of The Bike.
So, our son had grown a lot over the winter and it was time to upgrade his bike. We took him to the bike shop to try some on for size and pick one out. He immediately fell in love with this hot pink mountain bike. Hot pink, I thought, really? I kinda hoped it wouldn't be a good fit. It was a perfect fit. I tried a little to steer him towards a bright blue one that I thought was cool, but he was really excited about the pink bike. As if we switched personalities, my husband convinced me that our son should be able to get the bike that he wanted no matter what color. So hot pink it was and our son was thrilled!
What is this Really All About?
You may be wondering what a doctor, a policeman, and a hot pink bike have to do with one another. Or maybe you are wondering what the point of me sharing our experiences with costumes and bikes might be. Well, as I thought about parenting and the choices we make as parents, I came to a realization. Sometimes when we think we are making choices in the name of protecting our son, what we are actually doing is stifling his self-expression. Yes, there are times when wearing a costume is inappropriate and we have to say no. However, if it isn't one of those times, what's the harm? What are we really protecting him from? In the case of the bike, I was concerned that the other teenage boys in our neighborhood might make fun of him. I wanted to protect him from that. Instead, I should have given neighborhood kids the benefit of the doubt. It turns out that they all liked his bike and told him so. I am glad we let him express himself by getting the bike he liked. And even if the guys on the block did make fun of him, he would've been ok. It would have been a teaching moment for us with them and they would've learned more about acceptance and self-expression.
Self-Expression is Important.
Individual expression, verbal or otherwise is the way we learn about one another. Self-expression is a way we learn about ourselves. It encourages us to be our best selves and relate better to others (Ackerman, 2018). I really like the following quote.
“Neuroscience is teaching us that ‘self-expression’ might be one – if not the most important ways for people to connect, navigate and grow with each other.”
~ Judith Glaser
It is an important part of ourselves that shouldn't be stifled by anyone. I think that sometimes as parents, we get so caught up worrying about what other people might think of us or our child that we put that ahead of things that allow them to be their authentic selves.
It's So Tough.
I know it can be difficult. We don't want our loved ones to experience pain or disappointment. We can feel like their neurodiversity sets them apart enough and that we want them to fit in better. But isn't part of what's awesome about them is that they aren't like everyone else? Isn't their individuality what makes them who they are? We may feel the need to protect them, but what are we really protecting them from? Disappointment? Well, I hate to say it, but that is a part of life and it tempers expectations and entitlement, so maybe it's not such a bad thing from time to time. Are we protecting them from the opinions of others? Instead, maybe we work to instill self-confidence, tolerance, and kindness in them. Teach them how to set examples of love and acceptance for others. And you know what? In my experience, most people are generally good when given the benefit of the doubt.
So what do we do?
I say we give them the chance to express themselves as often as possible whenever appropriate. I say we let them be who they are comfortable being. I say we love them and teach them to love themselves, no matter what anyone else says. I say the Doctor, policeman, and hot pink bike are all pieces of who my son is and I personally don't ever want to take away any part of my boy. But again, this is just my opinion. I am sure you have your own and I am glad for that. How boring life would be if we were all alike.
Courtney E. Ackerman, M. A. (2023, March 30). What is self-expression? (20 activities + examples). PositivePsychology.com. Retrieved April 4, 2023, from https://positivepsychology.com/self-expression/#theory-self-expression