A question & observation from a mom of a confident limb-different adult:
“When was the last time someone stared at your child because of their difference? How did YOU react?”
(Note: My daily world involves thousands of youth and adult athletes with limb-differences, both congenital and amputee. However, a difference is a difference. Most of us have them. Some just aren’t as visible as the others. I believe the words about my experiences here can minister to every parent.)
Sam Kuhnert, my second out of 3 sons, recently spoke to a school for Red Ribbon Week. He spoke about dreaming big dreams and working hard to make them come true. He graduated college this past August and has been fine-tuning his motivational speaking skills. He speaks to all audiences, but his passion lies with school kids. He learned so much in life about perseverance, achievement, failure and heartbreak being a kid with a visible limb-difference in school, he wants to encourage youth to learn from his story and encourage courage in themselves and in others. You can read more about Sam and his story here at SamKuhnert.com. I want to ENCOURAGE YOU!
As the gym quieted, he spoke passionately, humorously and with audience interaction. I was proud as his mom to witness, how he captivated the young listeners for forty-five minutes. He spoke about his story and how many different obstacles he overcame to reach his dreams. He spoke about “OWNING” his difference and how that truly made the difference in his journey toward achieving his dreams. He told his story. One that has been centered around sport. Sport that he was told time and time again that he couldn’t do at the next level. Sport that took him to the mound of a college team with the lowest ERA in his conference. Sport that he used to prove his difference was just that, a difference, not a deal breaker.
As the Q & A time ended at the end of his speaking, the kids ages 6-14 filed out of the gym, one-by-one. Sam took the opportunity to hand them each this bookmark:
The younger kids were fixated on his nub that held the bookmarks close to his body. Their stares were of wonder and curiosity. It tickled Sam! He, like most of us, notice when we are being studied. I stood back as his mama and smiled, with my face, with my heart. The prophesy I told him when he was young and hurt by the stares of others has come true:
“One day, you will be in a position where the watchers will become respecters. They will leave your presence and tell others they are happy to know who you are and what you do. AND, you will be thankful that you were born with a nub, because it is a beautiful part of you, but it doesn’t define you. You will define it. You will change lives because of it.”
We taught him that they were “watchers” and his actions would turn them into “respecters”. That’s happened. We taught him that no one can steal his joy if he doesn’t allow them to. We taught him to take the bully target off of his back by seeing himself as he was created to be. We taught him his circumstances would be defined by how hard he worked to overcome the way the world viewed them. We taught him that he would define for the world his circumstances. What are you teaching your kids that have a difference?
You see, I understood from the beginning what the Author of my faith says about knowing you and I. I read what he said about my boy.
I knew from the moment I held my little butterball for the first time God had a plan for him. I knew there was a reason he was made different. While others were in turmoil over “how” he was going to do the same things two-handed people do, I was confident he was created to do things differently for a purpose. It took a few months, but after he climbed up the T.V. antenna at 9-months old, my husband came around to my way of thinking. There is a plan. A perfectly purposed plan.
Psalm 139:15-16 New International Version (NIV)
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
I taught my boy what God said about him.
It became a process of progress over the years. It wasn’t a one and done parenting method. Words still hurt him, actions still crumbled him. However, as each incident of has been recalled throughout my 24 year-old’s life, we could clearly pinpoint a defined improvement in confidence, courage, and attitude about his nub with each hurtful action and each curious stare. When he decided to “own” his difference around the age of 14, his world changed for the better for good.
Sam was given the passion to push forward with his vision of NubAbility Athletics at age 18, so youth with limb-differences would experience that “ownership” at a much younger age. You should check out how in 6 short years, Nubability Athletics has grown into a global organization in it’s service reach!
So, what do you say to your child who has a visible difference when others notice?
Have YOU encouraged your child to define their difference as a good thing? To take ownership of it? Courage Up parents!! How you view your child’s difference to them and to others is how they will view themselves. Life is tough. Make your kid tougher by REMOVING pity from your attitude and replace it with gratitude for being entrusted with such a unique and marvelous creature capable of amazing others. Love them through it but guide them to it!
And, what do you say to those that notice?
Addressing the stares, correcting the rudeness, calling out the curious and the watchers in front of your child can be detrimental to their self-image. Especially if you don’t have your own feelings about their limb-difference settled. So, STOP IT! Going off on a tangent and telling someone off does NOTHING positive for your kid. It sends all the WRONG messages to your child. You address the actions of others TO your child if they noticed. If you find yourself face to face with someone that has made you or your child uncomfortable simply ask this question:
“I’ve noticed you might have a question about my kids cool (___________). What would you like to know?”
AND… Be prepared to answer that question with a smile on your face, confidence in your heart and pride for your child. Keep is short. Keep it sweet. Thank them for noticing how freakin’ AWESOME your kid is!
Much Love & Be a Blessing,
Jana Kaye Kuhnert, Co-Founder and Team Mom of NubAbility Athletics a 501(c)3 Nonprofit Speaker & Author of www.RisebyLifting.com Blog