Monday, 25 May 2015

A normal difference - a post about diversity

A conversation with Lou Lou on preparing her daughter for school, really got me thinking.  I had similar issues when Buddy began school.  Trying to work out whether to expect no issues and an easy transistion, or to prepare for difficulties and having to educate others on difference.  I took the path of winding myself up to a ridiculous extent.  I was sick with worry.  Worked well really!  The picture I'd painted in my mind was sooo bad that I was, of course, relieved and delighted at how painless it was.  It was sort of like the feeling you'd get if, while falling from a tree, you expected to break a bone but suffered only bruises instead.  However, it's not a method I'd recommend.  All we can do is hope to change perspectives until we reach a stage that diversity is truly welcomed.

We are all different.  We look different, have different jobs, hobbies, favourite foods, live in different areas with different coloured paint on the walls.  We're married, single, divorced, employed, unemployed, young, old or in between.  We have different cultures, beliefs and states of health. We spend our leisure time differently; some choose to read a book, others dine out, go to parties or play sport.  These differences are accepted and embraced.   Life would be so very boring if we were all the same.

Difference is measured by the majority so the further you stray from the mainstream the more 'different' your unique situation becomes.  And that's when it becomes occasionally problematic.  What is it about our society that it sometimes struggles to accept anything that strays from the norm?

I know you have your own differences.  Some may be large and some small.  Us too.  I used to feel unusual due to our lifestyle.  We choose to live in a way that is respectful of the environment and, with that as my goal, we didn't care if it seemed strange to some that our crockery didn't match, we had a compost toilet on the verandah (isolated property), or that I had holes in my jeans.  As a big picture issue these details were unimportant.

Happily, lately more and more people are living as we do and moving away from a world where money and possesions are the be all and end all.  I've also gradually met more people who live like us due to concerns about climate change.  Therefore our lifestyle is moving toward mainstream and becoming normalised.  In this particular case, I'd be delighted to see one of our differences become the normal for the majority of the population because lifestyles need change.  Climate change is becoming an urgent problem and needs serious action to be taken on every level, from individual households, to organisations and governments.  I'm not even going to bother searching for links to back up my statements here.  You know it's true, and if you don't, take a minute to do some basic research.

However, I don't aim for all of our family's uniquenesses to become the same for everyone.  I shouldn't need to be 'the same' to expect acceptance.  Our family has three ways in which we digress from the path most are taking.  My children are homeschooled.  My daughter is living in a gay relationship.  My son has Down syndrome.

Here's the thing.  These things are not differences to us.  They are our normal!

You have no idea how often my poor children get asked "Why aren't you in school today?"  But that's ok because people are totally unused to seeing *gasp* children  older than toddlers in our world during the hours of  nine till three thirty.  There's no malice in the question but it gets a bit annoying in its repetitiveness.  And then there are the judgements.  Are the children socialising?  Are they going to learn properly?  Are our family sure we're doing the right thing?  Umm.... no, but is any family sure?  Can any family predict a happy future for their child?
As for Down syndrome, I struggle with the balance of normal versus different.  You see, I want my son to be accepted as normal.  He is a boy first and foremost.  He's my boy.  Not my 'Down syndrome child'.  If I'm honest with you, I can't even see his Down syndrome.  I know he has features which distinguish him as having unique chromosomes.  His facial features are different, as are his rate of growth and his rate of learning.  But his cuddles and kisses feel the same.  His contributions to our family feel the same.  And his games and his jokes.  He messes his room up just the same as his sisters and gets yelled at asked to tidy it, just the same.  He is so much 'the same' that occasionally I stare at him and try to imagine how he seems through other people eyes because - I truly can't see it!!  But my struggle?  Well, while I want everyone to see him as any other little boy, I also want them to be understanding of his struggles.  Because things are harder for him.  Where other things come naturally to my girls, Buddy has to really work hard to learn them.  I have great respect for my boy who watches others constantly to learn the correct social behaviour; who has spent hours learning how to fold clothes properly because he wants to be able to fold them well; who struggles to do difficult buttons and needs my help often, while knowing other children his age don't need mums to dress them.  So yes, I want you to accept Buddy as normal while appealing for you to be patient and understanding of  his difference.  I want you to converse with him and expect him to understand.  He may understand, he may not, but he'll sure enjoy the chat.  I want you to invite him to play with your kids.  I want you to expect him to grow up to be employable, drive a car, complete adult education courses.  I want you to see him as the clever little boy that he is!  Your attitude affects his view and expectations of himself.
The 'manly' expression
Joining tug-o-war at a family fun day
As for my daughter in a same sex relationship, it is very difficult because these relationships are judged by so many in society.  Somehow people find this a threatening issue.  Lou Lou has been with her partner for years.  They have gone to a lot of trouble and expense with IVF to produce me a delightful granddaughter.  TOM (The other mother) and Lou Lou have bought a home together, keep it very well - it's much tidier than mine - made home improvements, paid bills, socialised as a family, argued with each other and made up again.  They've lived in a real relationship with its ups, downs and responsibilities.  Ella has pet cats, chooks, a cubby house and loves to read books.  She goes to kindergarten and is looking forward to school next year.  Her parents deliberate over where best to educate her and also discuss daily parenting and discipline styles.  In short, their family is so much the same as many, many families.  Most people are very accepting but those that aren't feel they have the right to be vocal.  Do they not realise the effect they could have on children from these relationships?!  These are Ella's parents!  This is her normal.  Nothing different about it in her mind.  Lou Lou talks openly about their family's differences with Ella because different is ok.  What she can't share with Ella are society's judgments.  She can't tell Ella that her parents are not legally allowed to marry.  This carries with it a message that her family is sooo wrong and her parents relationship is sooo unacceptable that even the government frown upon it and see it as illegal!  A heartbreaking view for any child that is being raised in a warm, loving and thoughtful environment.
such a little/big girl
my two granddaughters

Ella, cooking with Lou Lou
So, what do you do if you have some major ways that you differ from those around you?  You acknowlege the difference. (I don't convince the kids that Buddy doesn't have Down syndrome or that the rest of the world should home school)  Apart from that, do nothing.  Get on with your lives.  They are more normal than they are different.  I don't dwell on our differences or make a big deal about them.  They are what they are and they're really ok!  Despite my family's three main differences, we are normal, we are happy, we are all productive, contributing members of our communities.  We are also lucky to have very accepting friends and feel fully included in our friendship circles.

So what do you do if you are one of those on the outside observing the differences?  You do nothing.  You accept other people as they are.  Hopefully you even embrace the diversity.  If you really struggle with acceptance, then possibly you should do a bit of soul searching to see why you have issues with how others are living their lives.  Lives that don't affect how you choose to live yours.

While our differences can't really affect other people's day to day life, negative opinions can cause us unnecessary pressure and emotional angst while we go about our lives, living them the best we can.  Opinions shouldn't matter and deserve to be shrugged off but the nature of humans means it's not that simple.  We take things on board.  So hey - like us, love us, admire us, be our friend and we'll accept you just the way you are too.

I wonder how different your normal might be.


narf7 said...


Kathy said...

Catching up on my blog reading and I had missed this post. Very well said! I grew up being told that God gives special children (alias angels) to special people, I've never heard or seen anything to change that opinion. Bless you as well for understanding that normal isn't! There is no such thing. There are so many children in the world who are struggling to meet their parents unreasonable expectations or living in fear of disappointing them, I hope your kids know (eventually if not now) how lucky they are to have you and your acceptance in their lives. Love is easy, tolerance is the kicker, acceptance is saintly!!