When Compliments Hurt

Lorna and Craig watermarked

“You’ve done such a good job with him.”

I know it was meant as a compliment, but this statement from someone over a year ago has stuck with me for a variety of reasons.  As my baby turns 25 years-old I have to ask myself the question, have I?

Asperger’s is what it is. We’ve taken our son to all variety of therapies and he has gained genuine coping skills. He is a remarkable young man, confident and caring.  He advocates for himself. He understands his limits. A friend said something to him in humor.  It left him confused, so he asked, “Is that sarcasm?  I don’t do well with sarcasm.  I’m very literal.  Could you please explain what you meant?”  Way to go!

There are many things my son does, but one thing he doesn’t do is blend.  A parent recently confided in tears about attending a party with her son and being reminded again that he was different due to autism.  No one was mean. Nothing was wrong. It was just one of those times when the developmental disconnect reached up and slapped her in the face. That innocent comment, “You’ve done a good job with him,” did that to me. Differences had been noted and evaluated without anyone saying a word.

Honestly, it made me defensive. I wanted to ask, “How would you know? What leads you to believe it took extraordinary effort from all of us to get to where we are? How do you know the job we did was “good?”

I let it go. No harm was meant. It was a compliment! It just happened to be one that accidentally poked at a tender place that all special needs parents guard.  We had done a “good job.” Were we perfect parents? Of course not! Perfect is over-rated. We did our best.  A lot of the time we just winged it and prayed. Babies don’t come with owner’s manuals, especially not ours!

I’ve come to learn that blending is over-rated too. We aren’t meant to blend.  We are meant to stand out.  The psalmist writes,

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.” (Psalm 139:14)

How can a person who is fearfully and wonderfully made blend? Wonderful are God’s works in making each and every one of us as unique as fingerprints. Yes, as parents we work hard to equip our children. It is our most sacred privilege in this world. As they mature, let their differences shine. Embrace their strengths, reinforce where they need support.

When I pray for my son I hear the voice of my heavenly father saying, “You’ve done a good job with him.” To which I reply, “Thank you. You gave us great material to work with!”

Creating God, bless your holy name for making us all unique and yet all in your image. Free us from the expectations of this world and help us embrace instead the beauty in not blending. Amen


4 thoughts on “When Compliments Hurt

  1. I have heard that comment more times that I want to remember. It always left me feeling so uncomfortable. This is well written Lorna.

    1. Thank you, Jennifer. I think it was the tone of sympathy with which it was stated. The person saying it was virtually a stranger as well. I finally had to embrace my inner Elsa and “let it go.”

  2. Omg…you just touched on the same circumstance of my last emotional “valley.” During a recent family visit to a museum, a man approached me with a smile and said, “We understand, and you’re doing a great job.” Perplexed at first, I realized he was commenting on my son’s “atypical” behavior. I politely thanked him – for his aim was compassionate – but it stung when he told me his own grandson is autistic. It bothered me greatly because it didn’t seem apparent to me that Duncan was acting any differently. Of course, it may have been God’s way of saying I shouldn’t take pride in the times that Duncan seems typical.

    1. Catherine, we get so comfortable with how our kids function in the world, we accept them so fully, that what others see as different disappears to us by them simply being who they are. Craig is Craig. Duncan is Duncan. They are both fearfully and wonderfully made. I think a bit of parental pride in that is warranted! We know well the uphill battles they fight at times.

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