When friends say painful things about your child — 5 Minutes for Special Needs

When friends say painful things about your child

by Ellen


It’s Saturday night, I’m in Chicago for the BlogHer conference. A good friend of mine lives there. This is a good friend I tend to avoid talking on the phone with since inevitably she asks, “Is Max talking yet?”


“Yet” is a horrible word to use when you’re talking with a parent of a kid who has disabilities. For me, it dredges up a barrage of emotions. Disappointment that my child seems deficient in her eyes. Despair that Max may never achieve “yet.” Rage that the person is clueless enough to use that word, even though she means well.

Sure enough, she brings it up. Only this time, we’re at a crowded restaurant we’ve come to for dessert, waiting to be seated. We’ve just been been having a fun, lively conversation about which bazillion-calorie piece of cake we’re going to have, and so what she says feels extra jarring.

“Soooo, how’s Max doing? Is he talking yet?” she asks.

Oh. My. God.

I feel that surge of emotions welling up inside me. I do not want to get into this now. Actually, I do not want to get into this ever. Ask me how Max is doing, fine. Ask me what words he has, OK. Do not ask about “yet.”

Am I overly sensitive? Maybe. I have earned that right. I have a kid with serious special needs and you’re asking me a question that somehow dredges up all of my anxieties about him, every single one.

I simply say, “He’s doing great, he has a bunch of words!” And then, to head off any more questions, “He’s walking really well, and he’s using his hands better, and he and Sabrina are each other’s best friends and enemies—are your kids like that?”

I realize, of course, I could come out and tell her that when she uses the word “yet” it upsets me. But, I just haven’t had the emotional energy to bring it up. Certainly not on a Saturday night out

Friends can be well meaning, but some just don’t understand.

Ellen blogs daily at To The Max


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1 Jenny July 27, 2009 at 2:33 pm

Are you kidding? I don’t even know what to say when friends ask me how she’s doing! I guess I figure out what they expect to hear and go with that – just like you did. Sometimes that’s easiest.

2 Bonnie July 27, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Why not say something like…, “Believe me when that day comes, I’ll be telling you before you can ask” I would get the hint

3 Janet July 27, 2009 at 3:37 pm

My 6 1/2 year-old son is non-verbal. For the most part, I don’t hear too many “yet’s”. Though my step-mom does ask if Luke is talking yet. I wouldn’t hurt her feelings for the world — but there are times when I want to tell her that the whole world will know when (if) he starts talking.

4 lisadom July 27, 2009 at 4:31 pm

just say “yeah he is, and he told me to tell you to feck off”


5 Finding Normal July 27, 2009 at 5:34 pm

UGH. They just don’t get it. I was out to dinner the other night with a group of teachers. You’d think they’d all know better, right? We were discussing the needs of a coworker who had just had a stroke, who has an adult daughter with special needs. And someone said they didn’t know what was WRONG with her (the daughter). It took everything I had (and my sangria) to NOT say nothing is wrong with her. And I wish I would’ve said it.
My mom asked if Addison was walking YET for a while, until I explained to her that it’s going to be a very long process for Addison and we’re so proud that she’s showing signs as a future walker. And we’re okay with where she’s at right now because we didn’t know if she’d do what she’s doing right now. And now she doesn’t ask anymore. Yet.

6 Finding Normal July 27, 2009 at 5:35 pm

And I’m so jealous that you went to BlogHer. There, I said it. I could’ve driven there from here, and I didn’t go. BAH!

7 Awesome Mom July 27, 2009 at 10:19 pm

It is hard enough to have to deal with yet with strangers, I can’t imagine having to face that with friends. Luckily for me my friends are very understanding and all the comparisons are in my mind and not from them.

8 Janis July 27, 2009 at 10:56 pm

RUDE! Not to mention inconsiderate and hurtful. But I so know what you mean by not saying anything. One of these days we will rise up and say it!!!

9 MaddyM July 27, 2009 at 11:05 pm

Yes it hits a raw nerve around here too. I doubt if I would be brave enough to broach the subject with my friend and speak out although I know that would probably be the best thing to do.
Hope you have a blast at Blogher.
Best wishes

10 Lana July 27, 2009 at 11:18 pm

How is she supposed to “know”, “understand” or “get it” if you don’t tell her. To most people with kids with special needs its something that you’ve grown into right? (This is coming from someone who had a “typical” child until 2 years ago when she was 7 and got sick.) It’s not something that’s in their scope of things. Because if they don’t live it, they don’t “know”, “understand” or “get it” unless someone tells them right? Think back before you had kids (seriously)did you, “know”, “understand” or “get it”.

I’m not trying to stir it up. But I read these frustrations quite a bit and I’m always wondering why don’t you just say something. Especially if its family or friends, they would, or should understand. As long as you do it when your calm and not so frustrated with that word they just used. Right? I mean, like you just said, she doesn’t mean anything buy it. And like everyone said they just don’t “get it”, maybe they need to be informed so they can get it. Otherwise they are just going to keep on and on and not knowing, understanding or getting it. Right?

I don’t know, just thinking “out loud” here.

11 Ellen July 27, 2009 at 11:32 pm

Lana, thanks for your comment. I don’t disagree with you. I should just tell her. I know she doesn’t realize how much it upsets me, or that she’s being inconsiderate. This is a friend who tends to not have much of a radar for people’s feelings. Like I said, I just haven’t wanted to go there; it’s not a friend I see often, and so when I’m out with her I just don’t want to rock the boat. And, actually, for the life of me I cannot remember how I used to think of parents with kids of special needs before I had my own. All I can see is Max.

12 Ellen July 27, 2009 at 11:33 pm

PS, Lisa, the thought of telling her to “feck off” made me laugh.

13 colleen July 28, 2009 at 12:17 am

yeah I have had many comments…like Is she ever going to walk? Those comments where they dont really mean to get you down, but it does…and I have had those comments that plain right out infuriate you, like saying the R word…yeah that person knows exactly why I said “yeah just the way I like it” after he said nice chatting with you tonight and we never even spoke.

14 The Gang's Momma July 28, 2009 at 8:25 am

I have found this line of questioning to be the most frustrating thing about Li’l Empress’s adoption story: that people ask me if the doctors can “fix” her ear. If they can do a surgery to “make it look normal.”

I’m sure they are well-meaning, and I try to focus (RE-FOCUS) them on the fact that it looks fine to us and that “surgery” isn’t an option towards improve her hearing. But even so her hearing is excellent in the other ear so we’re happy to keep giving her skills to sharpen and improve and excel in that.

I try not to take offense, but once they notice the ear’s differences, they don’t know how to converse about it. Sometimes the education of well-meaning folks is exhausting. I’ve become far choosier about how I talk about it and to whom I speak!

And I LOVE that little ear. Just the way it is.

15 rickismom July 29, 2009 at 1:36 am

I Dunno, but she was showing interest in your child, his abilities. If you get upset over every little thing, it takes an awfully big toll on you over the years.

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