For Those Who Mean Well

I went to see a new doctor this past week. I arrived early, paperwork in hand, and then filled out more paperwork once I got there. It’s like they throw tons of paper at you in the hopes that you’ll get fed up and leave, giving them all free time to watch television. Joke’s on them, though. I finished it all.

Once inside, the nurse and I made small talk and I mentioned my kids. As talk turned to their ages and accomplishments, I inevitably had to explain that my son, Lucas, was non-verbal with Autism. I learned early on that the subject can sometimes be unavoidable as questions like, “Does he say he likes school?” can leave me stuck with a response. At that point, I’d have to tell her anyway or lie and feel rotten for the rest of the day. I don’t do that anymore, so I just told her right off the bat.

After the appointment, I returned to the front desk to pay and schedule a follow up. Before I could, another receptionist stood up and began to loudly whisper to me.

I heard about your son. There’s a woman online who talks about CBD. She uses it for her child. Have you heard of CBD? The boy is talking and improving. It’s like a miracle. He’s doing so great. I can get you some information.

Now I know that there are people reading this right now who are thinking, “Oh hell no.. I’d have been like, you get my kid’s name out of your mouth, lady! No one asked you!”

meanwellHonestly, I’m sure some people would have, but most people wouldn’t. I didn’t. Trust me, that initial thought definitely crossed my mind. How I feel about CBD is immaterial. She could have been talking about anything. The problem wasn’t what she was suggesting. It was that she was suggesting anything at all, when I didn’t even know her name.

Here’s the thing, though. This woman wasn’t trying to be hurtful. In fact, she thought she was being helpful. She overheard something that she felt I needed help with and wanted to do just that.

Sure, no one asked her to help. In fact, I never even told her about my son – someone else did. I never implied that I wanted to “cure” him. I never claimed to be confused about his medication. I didn’t give any indication that this fairly well-known treatment for my son’s condition had never occurred to me, his father, like it has for her, a person with no link to us at all. I never did any of those things. And, for all those reasons, this woman was being technically, well, kind of rude.

In her mind, though, she wasn’t. She hadn’t considered any of the items I listed above. From her point of view, she heard “Autism” and thought, “Hey! I know a thing that cures Autism! I better tell this guy!” Her initial idea, reasoning, and eventual execution were all completely flawed.

But she meant well.

Those words have been swirling around since my son was born. People “mean well” when they say things like that and, at least the first time they do it, you can’t go all Brock Lesnar on them. There will be plenty of people who don’t mean well. You should save your rage for them. Those are the ones to unleash your Mama and Papa claws on. The ones who just lack the social graces to know when to keep their advice to themselves don’t.

Make no mistake, people who don’t mean well are out there. Some people like that arrogant boss my wife had many years ago. He took it upon himself to speak with her about Lucas’s Autism, a fact that he heard from a third person, and remind her to “not let yourself become a victim.” She recounted this shockingly obnoxious story to me when she got home and I told her she should make sure I never meet him. That’s someone who needs a “oh hell no” speech. Maybe a head butt too. 

It’s dopes like that who show you the real jerks who are out there. Their existence is what make responses to the well-meaning, yet unintentionally rude people so difficult to balance. Especially in the split-second moment you are looked to for a reply, it’s hard come up with an answer that seems correct.

In some cases, when my head isn’t a million different other places, I might politely explain that we have tried many strategies, but will always be happy with my son as he is. In others, I shrug and say “OK. Thanks.” I remind myself that their advice, whether solicited or not, come from a good place. It’s a place of caring and, although it might leave me with a bad taste in my mouth at that moment, it makes me feel a bit more secure knowing that good-hearted people, even those who come across as impolite in their execution, are in the same world that Lucas will have to share.

Then, in between those two extremes are the “they don’t know what to say” crowd. Those are the ones with nothing to offer – good or bad. Those can be the most bothersome. They just open their mouth, let words fall out, and then look to see if you’ll pick them up.

You get a lot of that. Someone will say something mind-blowingly insane and you’ll stare at them in shock. Like the family friend, famous for his awkward statements, who wanted to know if Lucas ever asked me any questions. Yes. He asked me that despite the fact that he has known my son since birth. I paused with exaggerated confusion before replying, “No, Stan. He’s non-verbal. He doesn’t speak.” Without missing a beat, he replied:

Yeah, I know that, but sometimes he doesn’t ask you things? 

I felt like he was doing some sort of Star Trek mind trick on me. I would have given anything in that moment for Lucas to look up and ask, “Yo, Dad. Question. Is this dude for real?”

People will hear that story and, with a sympathetic look, reply, “Well, he doesn’t know what to say.” They say it as if it’s a foreign concept to me. I must not get how hard it is to be around my family because of how oh-so-different we supposedly are. I can’t possibly understand the idea of being stuck for words in an uncomfortable scenario.

Well, guess what. There are many instances that I encounter where I too “don’t know what to say.” Unique families aren’t limited to children with special needs. There are tons of situations, conditions, life events, and types of people who are unfamiliar to me too. I’ve been in that same position. When I don’t know what to say, I don’t say anything.

Life would be easier if we all operated like that, but we don’t. So, the burden can fall on the parents to handle these situations appropriately. I may not do so perfectly every time, but that’s OK. What I get wrong today, I might get right tomorrow. If I don’t, that’s OK too. I have a lot going on.

People can say whatever they want. I’m not concerned about people. I’m concerned about my children. As long as I do right by them, that’s all that matters.