Recently, I’ve found myself swept up in the Instagram Reels and Tik Tok craze. I really do enjoy making those silly, short videos. One especially popular audio track circling the platforms is: “See that toxic person, walk the other way.” It’s set to music, so it can easily get stuck in your head.

Video-makers have used it to talk about mental health, things people say to pregnant women that they shouldn’t, negative or irritating things people say about dieting or women’s figures… you get the idea. The other day, the tune somewhat plagued my morning as it played on repeat in my mind until an idea struck me. You can watch the video here.

First off, no, I don’t actually think you are a toxic person.

I don’t think anyone who’s said any of these phrases is actually a toxic person. I just started thinking back through some of the comments that have been said to me since Josiah’s birth; since people found out that he is not like other children. Phrases like, “I’m sorry,” or “It’s going to be so hard,” or “You knew before?” in a tone that insinuates “… and you still chose to have him?” At not quite three months old, the list is short, thankfully, but it comes with the hard realization that I will probably face these kinds of comments for the rest of my life. And, even worse, the comments and looks that Josiah will face.

It made me think about the kinds of phrases that are probably best left unsaid to moms of kids with disabilities. I can’t pretend to know much about this seeing as I haven’t been a mom for long. But, I can tell you my experiences thus far and how they made me feel.

I have to tell you that my feelings toward these phrases can pretty much be summed up in one word: hate. I hate these phrases. I consider hate to be a very strong word that should not be used lightly and should just about never be used at all, but I don’t know a better way to put it at this time. And, I can tell you saying “hate” beats the expletives that I’ve wanted to use and have written out and erased; we can thank the good LORD for that. Ooo, Jesus, hold me back and change my heart because You know I need serious help in all this, too.

I’m a new mom of a kid with disabilities … so yes, mama-bear mode is hot and heavy.

To best convey the root issue that launches so many painful emotions for me (and maybe other moms of kids with disabilities), I’ll share a couple experiences.

One day, my older brother showed a favorite photo of Josiah to a coworker. In the picture, you can see Josiah’s differences. In response, the guy asked if we knew before Josiah was born that he would be the way he is. My brother said, “yes.” And the guy went on to say, “I don’t think I could do it.” It didn’t unravel me when I first heard the story, but man did it sear into my brain and linger till my true feelings exploded. How. Dare. He.

How could you look at my baby, at his sweet face, and say that you don’t think you could do it? I’m sorry, don’t think you could do what, sir? I understand that this man meant no harm whatsoever by his statements. In fact, I’ve had people make other statements in what I believe was an effort to be kind. Things like, “you’re stronger than me,” or “you’re a better person than me.”

This is MY BABY you’re talking about.

But, with each one of them, I’ve felt a deep burn like fire ready to smoke out my nose and send flames out of my mouth. I’ve always been cordial and chose not to say how the phrases actually made me feel. Right now, I’m going to try to keep from starting any fires and pray that Jesus speaks His words of love, too.

The truth is, in most of these moments, people just don’t know. They have no idea that they’re saying a hurtful phrase. Heck, I didn’t know it before they said it. Being new to motherhood and to life with a child who has evident differences, I’m discovering that I already err on the side of too easily offended, which God specifically says not to be.

Most people can’t imagine the line of thinking that might result from a comment like, “you’re a better person than me.” I’m a better person because you wouldn’t want my son, or you wouldn’t be able to love him like I do? These are the kinds of thoughts that roll through my mind. And the truth is, we all make this mistake in some form or fashion out of just plain ignorance.

Tone and context can change everything.

Now would be a good time to share another experience. We have a very sweet neighbor, genuine guy, who told me that he didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know whether to say sorry or that’s hard, etc. He was honest. So, despite tossing around some phrases that could be hurtful, his humble, kind demeanor made everything more than fine. In fact, it was a pleasant little conversation and good for both of us. 

Ultimately, we have most likely all said something that offended someone and not had a clue what we did. I know that I have a bad tendency of assuming that a person means something that they don’t. So, in all this, God will most certainly be working on me. He’s good about pointing out my hypocritical thoughts; helping me to consider more possibilities, and, ultimately, to have more hard conversations, so He can unearth issues in my heart and in others’.