Debilitating Differences and Loving No Matter What

I want to share arguably one of my favorite Ted Talks by a writer named Andrew Solomon. Andrew Solomon beautifully speaks about what it means to be a parent of disabilities and differences. In this particular talk, “Love, No Matter What,” he talks about his findings on “what is it like to raise a child who's different from you in some fundamental way (like a prodigy, or a differently abled kid, or a criminal)?... What's the line between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance?” He has spent years amongst parents who have children with different afflictions and disabilities from deafness, dwarfism, autism, down syndrome, gay, and criminals and what he found is that all the parent’s despite their hardships the parents all found extreme meaning in the experience of parenting.

Now, I am not a Mom. Something I have actually struggled with and foresee much therapy in my future to overcome is the fact that I am terrified of one day being a Mom. One of the biggest triggers for me is the fear of losing someone I love. After my brother passed away I started believing that I could never be a Mom because I was so petrified of the possibility of losing a child. Once you see a Mom grieve I don’t think anyone wouldn’t think twice about it. But what I love most about Andrew Solomon’s talk is his outcome. After spending years surrounded by parents with children of disabilities he and his partner decided to have a family. One of his friends asked him, "But how can you decide to have children in the midst of studying everything that can go wrong?" And [he] said, "I'm not studying everything that can go wrong. What I'm studying is how much love there can be, even when everything appears to be going wrong."

So there is hope for me yet, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. But in liu of my own personal battle, I wanted to share some of my favorite parts of the speech. I think as a human being you should listen or read this speech. It’s a beautiful reminder that our differences are our identities.

He talks about what he believes to be two different identities, vertical and horizontal.

“There are vertical identities, which are passed down generationally from parent to child. Those are things like ethnicity, frequently nationality, language, often religion. Those are things you have in common with your parents and with your children. And while some of them can be difficult, there's no attempt to cure them…

There are these other identities which you have to learn from a peer group. And I call them horizontal identities, because the peer group is the horizontal experience. These are identities that are alien to your parents and that you have to discover when you get to see them in peers. And those identities, those horizontal identities, people have almost always tried to cure.

And I wanted to look at what the process is through which people who have those identities come to a good relationship with them. And it seemed to me that there were three levels of acceptance that needed to take place. There's self-acceptance, there's family acceptance, and there's social acceptance. And they don't always coincide.

And a lot of the time, people who have these conditions are very angry because they feel as though their parents don't love them, when what actually has happened is that their parents don't accept them. Love is something that ideally is there unconditionally throughout the relationship between a parent and a child. But acceptance is something that takes time.

I can’t tell you how soul crushing it is to watch my friends who are gay refuse to come out to their parents. Sometimes I believe it’s because they are afraid their parents won’t accept them and other times I know it’s because their parents will disown them. I don’t understand how any parent would disown a child because they were gay. It makes me sick. I watched my mom lose a son and shatter into a billion pieces. What would do if something happened to your child while you sat there full of self-pity and loathing? Would you be able to forgive yourself for turning your back on your child for something as silly as not accepting their identity? It’s your job to advocate, love, and fight for your kids.

The same goes for all sorts of disabilities. Everyone hopes that their child is born healthy because life is a little easier without “flaws.” That makes sense. But what happens if your child is born with autism? Or with down syndrome? Or deaf? ‘Jim Sinclair, a prominent autism activist, said, "When parents say 'I wish my child did not have autism,' what they're really saying is 'I wish the child I have did not exist and I had a different, non-autistic child instead.'

There’s a great fear of things that are different to us. It’s easy to fear the things we don’t know. One of the parts of Andrew Solomon’s speech that hit me square in my chest is his time with Dylan Klebold’s family. Dylan was one of the two boys who opened fire at Columbine High School and shot and killed 12 while injuring 24. We read about these tragedies and think of the evil behind them. We think of Sandy Hook Elementary or the UC Santa Barbara shooting and I always hear people blame the parent’s. Blame. Yes of course you want to blame someone because these sorts of tragedies don’t make sense. No tragedy makes sense unfortunately but they happen. So how do you move forward trying to mourn your son the now murderer? Does your love for your child change? I think in this particular situation absolutely no one can even begin to understand what it feels like to lose a child under those circumstances.

Andrew spent years with the family and one night over dinner asked them, ‘"If Dylan were here now, do you have a sense of what you'd want to ask him?" And his father said, "I sure do. I'd want to ask him what the hell he thought he was doing." And Sue [Dylan’s mother] looked at the floor, and she thought for a minute. And then she looked back up and said, "I would ask him to forgive me for being his mother and never knowing what was going on inside his head."

“When I[Solomon] had dinner with her a couple of years later -- one of many dinners that we had together -- she said, "You know, when it first happened, I used to wish that I had never married, that I had never had children. If I hadn't gone to Ohio State and crossed paths with Tom, this child wouldn't have existed and this terrible thing wouldn't have happened. But I've come to feel that I love the children I had so much that I don't want to imagine a life without them. I recognize the pain they caused to others, for which there can be no forgiveness, but the pain they caused to me, there is," she said. "So while I recognize that it would have been better for the world if Dylan had never been born, I've decided that it would not have been better for me."

 Ask yourself, would you tell this woman I am sorry for your loss?

The talk is about 30 minutes long, but I urge you to find some time to read the transcript or watch it. CLICK HERE to do either. Andrew Solomon raises some very important questions and points that I think are important that we all ask and remind ourselves. We owe it to ourselves and those around us to be aware of our differences. We don’t have to do anything about them necessarily, just be aware of them.

Alright, I’m exhausted. It’s only Tuesday. Share your thoughts and opinions below, there’s so many out there I am always humbled to hear them. Until tomorrow, #RunSelfieRepeat.