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Why I don’t want you to feel sorry for my child

Frances Vidakovic

When you have a child with a disability or special needs, you learn to develop thick skin over time.

Life constantly throws you challenges that you somehow – as if possessing crazy superpowers – manage to surmount, even though if it often feels as if you are swimming against the tide.

It’s pretty impressive the amount of stuff we mums of special needs kids manage to do on any given day. Most people would crumble under the pressure.

And then one day you find that the littlest thing knocks the wind right out of you and take your superpowers away.

For me that thing is always the same. It’s when I hear the words:

I feel so sorry for your child.

You know if I’m totally honest with you right now, just thinking about these insensitive words makes my heart sink with dread. I can pretend they don’t matter but inside they spark the sharpest pain, like an invisible sword cutting deep.

I feel like this is honestly the worst thing you could ever say to a parent raising a child with special needs or a disability.

Why do I find these words so offensive?

Frances (left) with son, Jake

I know, I know. I understand. The person sharing this thought with me never intended to hurt my feelings. But when you say those words to ANYONE there is an underlying sense of pity that feels super insulting to the recipient.

It makes you question your own happiness. If my life is so great and I think my son’s life is so great, why is someone feeling sorry for him? Or for us (I mean I just as often get told: I don’t know how you do it!) Am I missing something here?

If I could step back in time and not be so thrown back by a person’s rudeness, I would take the time to say:

Why you do actually feel sorry for my son… because he has a wheelchair?

This is the point where I explain that his wheelchair for us is actually the most amazing gift, the best invention ever created. To a child or any person with mobility issues, a wheelchair symbolizes freedom, independence and the opportunity to live life in a way that wouldn’t be possible without one.

Don’t feel sorry for him because he has a wheelchair;
imagine his life if he didn’t have one…

If his wheelchair is the reason someone feels sorry for my child, I want them to rethink this position. Why would you feel sorry for someone who has an amazing family life, great friends, attends a fabulous school, is super intelligent and has a bright future ahead of him simply because he has a wheelchair?

If I had to feel sorry for anyone it would be for children who are victimised or abused and can’t do anything to protect themselves. Or maybe I would feel sorry for people who are so negative that every day for them on this planet is a miserable one.

But even then I wouldn’t feel sorry for them, because guess, what? There is massive difference between pity and compassion.

Let me explain the difference.

Pity is defined a self-serving feeling of superiority aroused by the suffering and misfortune of others. When you pity someone you may feel obliged to help but it is more out of a feeling of guilt.

What people don’t realize is that pity actually makes the other person feel worse! No-one wants to be pitied because they find it insulting and belittling.

Compassion, on the other hand, is a feeling that is basked in love and comes from a deep awareness and pure, genuine desire to want to help others. It is distinct from pity because it is driven by a person’s sincere desire to help alleviate another person’s suffering or misfortune.

When you are compassionate, you don’t tell people you feel sorry for them, even if they have suffered from abuse or negativity.

Instead you say:

What can I do to help you?

You see, I don’t need your pity. What I need is your love, empathy and understanding. Pity is feeling sorry for someone and then turning your back and pretending you don’t see them anymore. Pity is when you focus on someone’s disability and not their ability.

Pity is when you think someone’s life is a hardship (based on what you see in a second) and when you can’t believe that any genuine joy could possibly exist in for them. It’s when you think their life is somehow less valuable or special than yours, even if you don’t admit this out loud.

In case you aren’t aware, everyone is fighting their own battles in life.

EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE WORLD.

Our family’s “battle” may look different from your battle but that isn’t to say one life is better or worse than another. Just because someone can’t see or talk or walk or hear or > insert set of circumstances that you would feel sorry for < doesn’t mean his or her life can’t potentially be beautiful is so many different ways.

I know ours is! We are amazingly blessed to have the best friends and family in our life. What you might think is a hardship or a burden or something to pity is totally normal to us – just a different sort of normal. We live our days with purpose, passion and strength, because that it is only way to live when you realize how precious life really is.

Besides, just because we sometimes face hurdles that other people never have to worry about doesn’t stop us from jumping over them. Indeed, we embrace these hurdles every day and we appreciate them.

Why wouldn’t we? These obstacles have increased capacity to love and feel compassion for others in a way we never thought was possible. A lightbulb was switched on the day we realised the cards we were dealt with in life looked a little different from everyone else’s hand.

But the lightbulb also made everything clear. We had no choice but to make the very best of that special hand we had. No point looking to see what cards everyone else was holding in their hand.

So to anyone who is ever tempted to say those words to me again: “I feel sorry for you,” I promise to bite my tongue and show you some compassion in return.

I also promise to refrain from retorting: I feel sorry for your lack of understanding because the truth is I too once lived on your side of the fence. But I just don’t see that invisible fence anymore.


Living in Sydney, Frances Vidakovic has two children, Savannah 15 and her son Jake 13 has a neuromuscular condition called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disorder. With a degree in psychology and diploma in journalism, Frances is an author of 21 books, certified life coach and course creator. She now creates parenting and self-development content, designed to help mums live their best life possible. Frances has been featured on various platforms, including Scary Mommy, Thrive Global, Medium and SBS Radio. Her blog inspiringlifedreams.com is also the winner of the Infinity Best Parenting Blog of 2019 Award.

www.inspiringlifedreams.com