It’s heard a lot in parenting circles – especially from parents of children who have extra needs, or require higher levels of care than other children. This idea that those children are here to teach us lessons about something. Or that there is a “higher purpose” for their “suffering”
(child or parent, you can take your pick there). It is a damaging idea though.
Although that idea – that there is a reason for our children being the way they are – is intended to bring comfort to parents who are facing something unexpected or extremely challenging (and parenting can be challenging, every parent knows that), it glosses over an integral piece of the
picture. It is glossing over your child.
When we say that our child’s disability or our child’s difference is to teach us something, when we say that the things our children experience are life lessons for someone else, teaching moments for the general public, or that there is an unknowable “purpose” for our children being who they are, we take away from their humanity. We are ignoring the inherent value our children have simply by being people. We’re placing them in the position of something to be experience by other people. Our children aren’t here for the benefit of other people. They aren’t even here for the benefit of us. Our children are here, and are who they are, solely for themselves.
This doesn’t mean that I, as a parent, am not taught things by my kids. I’ve learned a lot by being a parent. I’ve learned to be more patient. I’ve learned that snuggles are a magic panacea to most things, no matter your age. I’ve learned that teaching kids to arm fart gives you pretty good street cred with the kids, and sometimes glares from parents (too bad, arm farting is an essential life skill!). I’ve learned way more than I wanted about dinosaurs, volcanoes, and what trees can/can’t be climbed. But all these things were MY things to learn. I chose to pay attention to what I saw. My children didn’t seek to teach me these things, I learned through observation.
Because my children are not my teachers. They can’t be reduced to something I benefit from. My autistic daughter has no higher purpose in being who she is other than to simply be who she is. She has inherent value as a person by virtue of *being* a person. Her life doesn’t need to be given
purpose by burdening her with the role of teacher/inspiration/lesson. Her life’s purpose is to grow and change and be awesome – all of which she already has down pat. She owes no-one else anything more than that, and certainly does not need to justify her existence as being someone else’s life experience or “ah ha!” moment.
It might sound like I’m trying to take away a comforting meme from parents. And it’s true, I am. Because while it might be comforting for parents, it silences and degrades the children it is used to describe. It removes their dignity, places them in a position of only having value if they can
do or be something for someone else. And our children don’t deserve that. Our comfort, as parents, should never come at the cost of the humanity and dignity of our children.