Why Can’t My Friend Accept That My Disabled Son Has a Great Life?

Our son was partly paralyzed in a sporting accident as a teenager. Now, years later, he lives a full life — with friends, a job, sports and lots of fun. Still, when we socialize with a certain friend, our son’s disability is her main concern: We get sad eyes, soft touches and pronouncements about how brave we are. I know she means to be supportive, but it makes me uncomfortable. When I respond that his paralysis is not as problematic as she thinks, she goes on and on about how inspirational he is. Sometimes, it casts a pall over the room. Obviously, I am not uncaring about my son’s situation, but he is more than his legs. How should I handle this?


I think there may be two issues here: Your friend’s well-intentioned compassion — which you kindly acknowledge — seems to have tipped into pity. That would make many of us bristle. Pity carries a whiff of superiority. And I second your objection to your friend’s (implicit) judgment that your son is somehow inferior because he’s paralyzed. He seems to be living a full and happy life!

Now, we can manage this first issue pretty easily. But the challenge comes — in my experience — because your friend may be frightened by your son’s disability: She brings it up endlessly because she can’t imagine how she would cope in your position. The prospect may unnerve her.

So I would be direct but gentle with her. When you have some time alone with her, say: “You seem so focused on my son’s disability. We’ve all had years to process his accident. And look at what a fulfilling life he leads. You may want to consider why his disability strikes such a deep chord in you.” As you aptly put it, we are all more than our challenges.

Credit…Miguel Porlan

Table-Side Chat, or Tip-Gouging Enterprise?

In restaurants recently, several waiters have delivered meals to our table and then proceeded to talk to us the whole time we were eating. In retrospect, I realize they shared — in great detail — their hard-luck stories. I wonder if they do this in hopes of getting bigger tips. I know times are tough, and I want to be sympathetic. But restaurant meals are treats, and we’d like to be left alone to enjoy them. Any advice? We don’t want to be rude.

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