#026 Awkward mom moments – how to help your child interact with someone with a disability

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Camilla is a big-hearted mom whose kids don’t have disabilities. I’m a frayed-at-the-edges mom with a son who has disabilities. We had an open conversation about those awkward interactions between moms like her and moms like me. 

The story gap. When you reach out to try and engage with someone and you feel like you didn’t do it right, it feels awkward and uncomfortable. And if you don’t know what you did wrong then there is a story gap. A story gap is when there is a gap in information and so your mind creates a story to explain what happened. That story is rarely helpful! 

It makes it harder to approach someone with a disability next time.  

The “getting to know you stage” is easier when kids start early and grow up together or have many opportunities over time.  

Parents of kids with disabilities might respond from a space of self-protection because:  

  • You don’t know what people’s intentions are. 
  • People often mean well when they say things but sometimes even though they mean well they are actually saying something insulting or rude and it hurts. 
  • Sometimes it is exhausting navigating the questions. And so, we can be cold or aloof because we just don’t have the bandwidth to manage the situation.  

It is good for parents on both sides to understand though that uncomfortable situations create a story gap for people who try to interact. And a story gap doesn’t get filled with anything good.  

How we act is a barrier or a facilitator to other people’s interactions with our kids.  

Point: have your kids in the same places over time so there is an opportunity for people to get to know your child and develop a sense of shared commonality.  

Parents of kids without disabilities: Point out to your children the things that they have in common with a child with disabilities.  

We don’t tend to connect with each other because of our differences. We connect based on the things we have in common.  

For example, in Camilla’s mom group, they connected with each other because they all had small babies and were at the same stage in their lives. That initial shared experience was the variable that brought them together and facilitated a bond. Camilla became good friends with people who, because of differences in political beliefs, education, background, personality, etc., she likely would not have otherwise gravitated towards.  

Diversity enriches our lives, of course. But it is not our differences that create connection in the beginning. It is the things we have in common.  

Discomfort with people who are different is normal. Discomfort with new situations and people is normal. Discomfort when someone doesn’t follow social conventions is normal. We aren’t quite sure how to manage the situation and so we feel uncomfortable.  

Being uncomfortable is not bad. And it isn’t the same thing as discrimination.  

Teaching your kids that discomfort is normal but worth working through because there are great benefits once they get to know the person is helpful! Don’t give up and turn away because you are uncomfortable.  

It might be more powerful to speak to your kids about getting ok with feeling uncomfortable than teaching them facts about disability.  

If you are trying to figure out how to approach a parent of a child of a disability about setting up a play-date with your child, it is ok to be straightforward and say something like, “I’d really like for our kids to play together. And if you have suggestions about how to make that happen best for your child I would really like to know!”  

Is it okay to ask about someone’s disability? My opinion is that it depends on the purpose of the question or the interaction. Let’s use the playground example.  

The three reasons that people take their kids to the park include: 

  1. So that your child can play and have fun. 
  2. For your child’s social enrichment. 
  3. Maybe so that you have the opportunity to speak to another adult.  

None of these reasons have any relevance to the diagnosis of a child who might also be playing at the park. Really, the only reason to ask about the child’s diagnosis is to satisfy your curiosity.  

However, if you are inviting a child with a disability to your home for a birthday party, it might be different. You might ask, “Is there anything about your child or their disability that I should know to help welcome them in my home and ensure they have a good time at the party?” In this situation you are seeking information for a reason that serves the purpose of facilitating a relationship between the two kids.  

Small children will ask questions. This is a bit different. When kids are asking questions like, “Why can’t that child walk?” The heart of these questions is really about whether someone is like or unlike them. “What can’t that child walk?” really means, can that child play with me, do I need to be concerned, are they like me or too different? Do I need to be afraid? Answers to these questions are important! 

What does Camilla think parents of kids with disabilities could do to help her be better at facilitating interactions, invitations and play between her kids and children with disabilities?  

Acknowledging all the valid reasons for this, Camilla has experienced some “stand-off!” vibes from parents of kids with disabilities. That makes it hard.  

Role modeling interactions would be really helpful. Nudging in a direction that invites interactions. For example, “Oh! I see your son really loves playing with that ball. My son loves playing ball, too!” This both says that you are open to talking and having the kids play and it models what others can say to their kids to encourage interaction.  

For lots of people, the biggest fear when interacting with people with disabilities is the fear of doing it wrong.  

As adults, we know that we will make mistakes and that we need to pick ourselves up and try again. But it is hard to do and being afraid of doing it wrong is a deterrent to trying. Especially, if our kids watch us try and we do it wrong and even maybe hurt someone’s feelings! 

Genia thinks that trying, messing up, saying you are sorry and trying again next time is not something you should worry about your kids seeing. But parents should worry about having their kids see them try, get it wrong, and never try again. Because we will all mess up social interactions and we will all do it wrong sometimes; especially when we are interacting with people who are different from us and who we don’t understand deeply.  

What do you think is helpful for people to know when approaching someone with a disability or a parent of someone with a disability? What do you think that parents of kids with disabilities can do or say that would help you facilitate social interactions between your child and their child? Leave a comment below!  

Camilla Jean Ringkob is the host of the Mompreneur Podcast and coaches mothers in their entrepreneurial efforts. Camilla is passionate about moms being able to use their strengths and build businesses that allow them to actually function as thriving moms not businesses that create more friction and tension in their lives.  

You can find out more about Camilla, access free resources, and get information about working with Camilla here

Tips For New And Awkward Social Situations Between Families With Disabilities And Families Without. Click Here For Video And Pdf Download


Genia:            Welcome to the good things in life podcast. I’m Genia Stephen. And I’m really excited to be here today with Camilla Jean Ringkob, who is the host of the Mompreneur podcast. Camilla and I recently had a conversation about my experience as being the parent of a child with a disability and the awkwardness, and sometimes inappropriateness, of the things that people say or my social interactions with people who are not part of the disability community and Camilla’s experience of being friends with families that have children with disabilities and her awkwardness in trying to navigate that well. So, welcome. Camilla. I’m really glad that you’re here with me today.

Camilla:          Oh, thank you so much for having me on. I’m really excited and I’ve just really enjoyed getting to know you over our conversations and stuff like that. Anyway, the work that you’re doing is amazing. And I do not have a child with disabilities as you said, but I have a lot of friends that do and you know, you’re always wanting to give support and it’s, you know, it’s hard to just not know what are the right things to do.

Genia:            Well, I wonder if you could tell me about some of the situations where that comes up. I mean, I think for my audience, you know, we’re on the other side of that fence and it often feels sort of like, you know, people who are on the other side are just sort of blithely stumbling along, not really paying attention or caring, but I suspect that that’s not actually true. That while some people might not be particularly sensitive or care about being sensitive to our experiences, that lots of people really do care, but aren’t always totally sure.

Camilla:          Yeah. I think you nailed it right there. I think there’s been a lot of times where I feel compelled to say something to engage. And I guess before we get into that, it’s, there’s definitely like the two preliminary situations and I think if it’s somebody I know well and somebody that I’m just coming across and it’s always a little bit easier if I have that background relationship with somebody, it’s always easier to navigate. But then I find sometimes I’m in a situation at school you know, helping, volunteering or just out and about, engaging, being in the public, and I see somebody who has a child with a disability and there’s an opportunity to engage and I always feel compelled that I want to treat them as normal. I want to help or something like that. But then immediately I feel like there’s that part of my brain that kicks in and says, maybe it’s going to make them uncomfortable if you engage wrong or what if you say the wrong thing or what if the help you think you’re offering isn’t very helpful and it’s actually hurting. So, I think I feel like it’s that voice in the back of your head that you know, in so many ways, that first time you take a new class at the gym or you start something new in your business, it’s the same thing that, that doubt or voice.

Genia:            Right.

Camilla:          But it’s really intimate because what if I cause pain? Or do some kind of damage or hurt a child’s feelings when they don’t understand that I’m stumbling through this, too.

Genia:            Right.

Camilla:          Or hurt a parent’s feelings. I mean, I know how sensitive I can be about my own children and they’re dealing with a situation I think can be a lot harder. So, I feel like a lot of times there’s that voice in the back of my head.

Genia:            Yeah.

Camilla:          And on the other side, if I have a relationship, I have friends that I had a long relationship with them before their child was born, so I felt like I kind of was there during that experience and we had mutual friends. You kind of had some padding and some support as I entered into it with them. And you also knew that they were new to it.

Genia:            Right.

Camilla:          And that they could still distinctly remember what it was like to not know …

Genia:            Right.

Camilla:          … what to do. So, those are two different kinds of situations.

Genia:            Yeah. Have you ever had an experience of reaching out or you know, really doing your best with the best of intentions, where the response you received was not positive?

Camilla:          Yeah. I can think of, I don’t know if I can remember specific details, but I can think of a couple times and kind of, I’m envisioning like maybe being at a park with my kids and trying to engage and encourage some interaction and stuff like that and kind of getting that cold feeling of, that it wasn’t being well received. And then immediately wondering what did I do wrong? Or maybe they just didn’t want that engagement.

Genia:            Yeah.

Camilla:          So, I think of it hasn’t been anything overwhelmingly drastic or anything, or at least I hope it wasn’t. But, I think maybe there are situations and I just don’t know where it’s not helpful, but I don’t know. It’s like before, you know, like you just don’t know. But I have had some situations where I definitely started to feel like I don’t know what I did, but I don’t think it was received the way I hoped it was received.

Genia:            Right. Right. Yeah.

Camilla:          And then you just back out and you’re, you know, you’re really left with this. It’s like a story gap. I feel like a story started and it was never closed because you always wonder, you know, what could I have done better? And I feel like being as a mom, the stakes are much higher because I don’t want my kids to kind of be struggling with this the same way I am. But I know my kids need an example.

Genia:            Right. Well and I think what you said, the story gap is sort of an interesting thing to think about because with that gap, our minds fill it in.

Camilla:          Yes. Absolutely.

Genia:            Right. Our minds fill it in with what we think was going on and often it’s going to be self-doubt. But I would suspect, and correct me if I’m wrong, I would suspect that even if it’s unconsciously, part of what gets filled into that story gap is the message that trying to reach out is the wrong thing to do because you’re going to get negative feedback. Like it doesn’t feel good. And so you’re less inclined to reach out the next time?

Camilla:          Yeah, I think so. I mean it’s just like asking that person out on a date and getting the “No” without the, well I actually am engaged in another relationship or you know what I mean? Like so, there is that same thing. Like there’s that open story gap in your mind just floods it with, “Oh man, I did something really wrong”. “I did something very offensive”. Or maybe their disability, I could have harmed them, you know, maybe. Or maybe there were some immunity things. I don’t know but your brain just starts going crazy, you know? And if you really stop and think about it and look at what you know is getting filled into that gap, it probably is crazy. It’s probably …

Genia:            It’s probably largely unhelpful at least. Yeah.

Camilla:          But it’s in there.

Genia:            Yeah.

Camilla:          And once it’s in there, it’s part of your next experience and it gives you more hesitancy. But I know since having kids, it feels more urgent to me to get it right because I know they’re having interactions with classmates. I know they’re going to be out and about. They’re going to move into the world and I don’t want them. This is a skill and a tool that I want them to feel comfortable with and confident with and be able to have relationships that maybe they otherwise wouldn’t have had an experiences. I mean with anybody they meet, but especially kids with disabilities. The other side of this is I was part of a MOPS group growing up and …

Genia:            I don’t know what that is.

Camilla:          Pardon?

Genia:            I don’t know what that is.

Camilla:          Oh, I’m sorry. Sorry. It’s a Mothers Of Preschoolers. Okay. It’s kind of a Christian based group. A lot of churches start them and then they also have moms next, which would be after your kids maybe got into like first grade and beyond, then maybe you would move into mom’s next. So, and then they come together. They share meals, they share resources, they have speakers and advice. I had a super active group. We did lots of volunteering and fundraising together. So, I really got to know these women really, really well. And you’re really in the trenches. Like I actually started immediately after my first son was born. Like I was trying to figure out nursing. So like I remember, so actually the girl I’m talking about, I ended up being sat at her table right away and we’re introducing ourselves and I said, well actually I know you. And she said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t know you.” And she actually worked at a store that sold bras for lactation for nursing. And they did some lactation resources and stuff there too. So I said, well, you might recognize me if I lifted up my shirt. She goes, “Oh, you’ve come into the store.” I’m like, yeah.

Genia:            Yeah.

Camilla:          This is like, a little awkward, but so …

Genia:            Right.

Camilla:          … you get past the awkward stuff really quick in this group is the point that I’m making. So, she had just had a baby, so my son and her daughter Kaleena were basically the same age. So, they grew up together in this church and in this group, they went to different schools, but still we’re totally friends, grew up playing together and she had some disabilities and Jacob never knew the difference. And honestly, I knew there had been some problems at birth and stuff like that, but I had never even put a name to what was wrong with her. I had never really thought any differently about her because I think it was just natural and it was my norm with her. And I remember the moment later on, somebody saying something to the effect of what the disability was. And I was like, “Huh?”. Like I never even thought of Kaleena that way. So, and I remember thinking in my head how unique that like I didn’t even realize, but yet in hindsight well, of course she was had different disabilities. So, I thought that that was always a really unique experience of that flow of that relationship. And all my kids were friends with her and she’s the sweetest, greatest girl and how grateful I was that they had that relationship and it was tainted by nothing.

Genia:            Yes. Yeah. It’s interesting. I want to swing back a little bit to what you were saying about those not so great interactions in the park and just having been that mom in the park with their kid with a disability. I can imagine that, you know, there’s a little bit of self protection going on not knowing what the intention is. There’s a little bit of, or maybe a lot of depending on your, you know, how you’re feeling in that moment, but sometimes people say things that they mean to be helpful but really are at their core kind of insulting or rude. So, you’re always a little on guard for that. And sometimes it’s just exhausting navigating the questions.

Camilla:          Yes. I could imagine that.

Genia:            You know. And so, sometimes I think parents are, you know, a little bit cold or a little bit aloof, because they just don’t have the bandwidth all the time. But I think it’s really helpful for parents of kids with disabilities to be thinking about… not blaming themselves for sometimes, not having the bandwidth to manage the situation, but also recognizing just that reality. That there is a story gap that gets filled and it doesn’t get filled with anything good. And if we want our kids to live in community and to develop relationships with each other often, how we respond to people who interact with our kids is a lens through which they see the approachability and the potential for friendship with our kids. Like we are in between that potential relationship there. So, I think that’s really valuable. And one of the other things that I think that you’ve said, or referred to a couple of times, which is really valuable is that, you know, there’s that old saying that familiarity breeds contempt, but, and that can be true, but also that the more you know somebody, the easier it is to be in an authentic relationship with them without feelings of awkwardness. And I think that that’s really, it speaks to the importance of helping our kids to foster interpersonal identification with people. Right? Like whether it’s you helping your kids or me helping my kid that sort of like, “Oh look! You know, Will has a ball. You really liked to play ball too.” Or, you know, finding the ways, the commonalities or, “Oh look! Look how busy the park is. All of these kids love to play at the park. Just like you.” You know, these kinds of ways of helping our kids to see the sameness in each other. And, was it Kaleena? Was that the name of the child? So with Kaleena, the other thing would, you know, the other interpersonal identification piece that comes in as, you know, frequent interaction that starts early and develops over time. Right? Cause when you both had these little babies, regardless of Kaleena’s impairments or disabilities, both your kids were just sort of sitting in a bouncy chair.

Camilla:          Yeah.

Genia:            Like the differences aren’t as obvious, right?

Camilla:          Yeah. Yes.

Genia:            So, it’s easier to find that those interpersonal identification moments in those early days, in those early moments, you know, so as parents of young kids with disabilities, I guess the takeaway point is having your kids be in places repeatedly like the same places repeatedly over time so that people can get to know them is going to be one of the most successful approaches to bridging that perception of difference into actually seeing commonality and an identification.

Camilla:          I like what you’re saying about commonality as just kind of a quick tool to have, for somebody from my site to navigate and just like a quick reminder like that, that word that you can just pull up of commonality like, and keeping it small, like that relatable commonality of what might they have in common to take it down to that really fundamental level. I think that could be a really valuable way to give me or somebody like me a little bit more confidence in saying, engaging in a really, you know, conversation that feels less stilted. Because let’s be honest, all the parents and the kids sense it when there’s that awkwardness of, “Oh, I’m stumbling into this. How do I do it? And the tension around that. You know, that could give you kind of an easier confident like, you know, “Look! We’re playing ball and I think this little boy likes to play ball too.” They can, you know see that commonality versus it’s not about them or their situation, but the commonality amongst your children.

Genia:            Yeah, and I think it’s sort of interesting. I mean you’re in the U S, I’m in Canada, and kind of nationally or culturally, we have a bit of a different approach to diversity. You know, the US has historically kind of had a more assimilation kind of model. We’re all Americans. We’re all the same. I know there’s lots of holes in this. I’m just like very broad strokes here.

Camilla:          Yeah, for sure.

Genia:            And, Canada has sort of had more of a diversity, celebrating diversity kind of approach. And there are problems, deep profound problems with both of those approaches. But one of the things that is a problem with the just celebrate diversity piece is that it ignores the power of interpersonal identification. Like we don’t tend to connect with each other because of our differences.

Camilla:          Okay. Yeah.

Genia:            We tend to connect with each other because we have some commonality. So like you’re getting together with all, with the moms in your, in your MOPS group. You guys might have nothing in common with each other except that you all have little babies. And so, and then the other things that are different, like, you know, well, “Sue, she’s really gregarious and funny and I really love that about her.” But you know, that’s not how you connected. You connected because you all had little babies or you’re all at the same stage in your life or …

Camilla:          Yeah, I think that’s …

Genia:            You know.

Camilla:          … so true. I remember talking to my husband after I’d been in for a couple of years, a conversation that came up multiple times is I formed really, really close relationships with women that probably based on our backgrounds, our political beliefs or you know, education, something I never would have gravitated to.

Genia:            Right.

Camilla:          And yet I was forming, like they became some of my best friends and I feel like it grew me as a person. So, I’m always really, really grateful for that.

Genia:            Yeah. And that’s such a, that’s beau … That’s exactly how diversity beautifies our lives. Right? Like it’s, diversity is absolutely the way that our life becomes rich. However, it’s not the place where we form bonds. Yeah. We formed bonds based on some commonality.

Camilla:          Yes.

Genia:            And that commonality can be anything.

Camilla:          Yeah.

Genia:            It can be, you know, it can be sleeplessness. Sharing we’re all experiencing sleeplessness.

Camilla:          How do I feed this child and keep it alive?

Genia:            Exactly. It could be, we all shop at the same grocery store and we keep running into each other at the butcher’s counter. Or it could be the, you know, we all play baseball. Like there’s nothing fancy or complicated necessarily about commonality, but I think it’s really important for parents and people, parents of kids with disabilities and people with disabilities and people who want to be supportive to recognize that it is those points of commonality that are the basis of social bonds. And then we are enriched by our diversity, not the other way around.

Camilla:          Absolutely. Yeah.

Genia:            Yeah. Yeah. So, one of the other things that made me, that sort of twigged in my mind when you were talking about the story of Kaleena and your son, and also just your sort of general relationships with some people is the, or your desire for your kids. Sorry. It all tied up when in my mind when you said that you don’t want your kids to struggle in the same way. Like you want it to be better for them, for them to be better at this than you are. But I think that that is affected by things like having a relationship early in life with Kaleena.

Camilla:          I think so, for sure.

Genia:            But I’m not confident that that then translates into people being comfortable with people who are different in other ways. And the reason that I think that that’s the case is because we either fall back in our relationships and our personal comfort, we either fall back on our relationship with somebody or we fall back on social norms. And if the person with a disability can’t participate in this social interaction in the typical way, we don’t know how to behave.

Camilla:          Yeah. Yeah.

Genia:            And that’s uncomfortable.

Camilla:          Yeah, that’s true.

Genia:            So, I think part of the, I think one of the valuable things to teach your kids about interacting with people with disabilities is the tolerance for feeling uncomfortable while they figure it out.

Camilla:          Wow. That’s truly interesting. Like that is a really different way. But I think a really kind of getting to the nerve of it way of looking at it. And a good skill regardless for life.

Genia:            It is a good skill for life. Yeah. I mean it would be nice to think that we would just be comfortable with everybody all of the time and we would love everybody all of the time. But if we don’t know how to interact, that’s uncomfortable.

Camilla:          Yes. In any situation, I mean …

Genia:            In any situation, that’s right.

Camilla:          In businesses with new friends, with people you’re introduced to with new activities in your life, it’s all uncomfortable. Everybody feels that uncomfortableness. When your kid joins the basketball team for the first time, they’re uncomfortable.

Genia:            Right.

Camilla:          When the new kid comes to class, they’re uncomfortable. And so are all the peers in the class. Like anything, any new introduction or unfamiliar introduction of anything or anyone is uncomfortable. And I don’t know if that’s …

Genia:            Yeah.

Camilla:          I don’t know if that’s human nature. I don’t know if that’s taught to us. Maybe a little bit of both.

Genia:            Maybe a bit of both. But whether it’s nurture, nature, it is pretty universal.

Camilla:          Oh, for sure. Yeah.

Genia:            Yeah. So, I think, you know, when you think about your own, you know, interactions, you know, if you go to a new event, let’s say you go to a new, like a business networking event and you go with somebody, you generally pretty grateful that you can stick by that person’s side for a little while.

Camilla:          Yeah. It’s nice. It’s that comfort of a wing man.

Genia:            Yeah. And it’s the comfort of sort of familiarity and you know, all the rules of interaction with that person. And then if you’re really good at networking and reaching out, which I am not, like honestly, that kind of thing is super tough for me. But if you’re really good at it, then you can pull people in and you can engage in conversation and you both know the rules, you know. “Hi, my name is Camilla, you know, I’m a podcast host. What do you do?” And then the other person tells you and then you look for [undecipherable]. Then you say, “Oh really? Well I know somebody who works in that industry.” And then you find those areas of commonality, and then you build on that conversation, right?

Camilla:          Yeah.

Genia:            But if the person you’re speaking to either can’t speak to you in that way, or they don’t understand or can’t participate in those kind of rules of social engagement, it kind of leaves you out on a limb.

Camilla:          Yeah.

Genia:            And then that’s awkward. So, I think teaching our kids that that’s okay, like the feeling of awkwardness is perfectly normal and you know, is good. And I think we talk a lot, we give a lot of kind of lip service to expecting people to just be fine and accepting. And we do want people to be accepting, but there’s still going to be some social awkwardness in the beginning.

Camilla:          Yes.

Genia:            Yeah.

Camilla:          And you know what? It’s, we need to remember all of us that it’s not just those interactions, all new and unfamiliar interactions of them. So, I think that what you’re talking about with, you know, allowing your kids to know that it’s okay to have awkward moments. And, it makes me think about Angela Duckworth’s work on grit. And I know that’s something that I apply when I’m teaching mompreneurs or coaching mompreneurs as, is, you know, some of those concepts, how to nurture it. And I know she does a lot of work now with, you know, how to nurture some of these characteristics in our kids. And I think that this could be an applicable thing because it’s when things get uncomfortable that a lot of us quit or give up or turn away.

Genia:            Right.

Camilla:          So, this is a skill that we should want to nurture in our kids and in ourselves all the time. Not just in these situations where you’re encountering somebody that’s different and wondering how to engage in the right way. So, when I look back about what we were talking about earlier and some of those awkward, you know, stumbling moments for me at a park, I probably stepped away quicker than I should have. I probably felt some discomfort and a lot of that probably radiated from myself, not just them or just the parent, but it was …

Genia:            Right.

Camilla:          … probably already coming from me. That warning signal of, you know, you’re getting it wrong and you’re getting uncomfortable. You know, maybe sitting in that moment and being uncomfortable a little bit longer could have offered a breakthrough. You know, maybe pushing them a little bit harder to know that, “Okay, well this is okay. They’re genuine.” Like it’s, and they don’t know what they’re doing but I can help them, too. Then I had to, I needed to stick with it long enough to get there.

Genia:            I think what you’re saying is really valuable and I think it again, sort of circling back to what we talked about earlier. Also trying to make conscious the story gap in our minds so that we can sort of choose to fill the story gap from a place of empathy as opposed to just letting our sort of awkward and self-conscious brains dump into the gap.

Camilla:          Yeah.

Genia:            You know, but we could stop and say, “Okay, well this isn’t going so well. I wonder how this might be for them.” And I think just consciously voicing the question at least for many people would then provide the, “Oh I might be able to imagine what …” You know, how, what’s going on for them really has nothing to do with me or if it does have to do with me, it’s not necessarily, like even if I’ve done something wrong, I’m still making an effort and I can learn from that and try and reflect on how I could have managed that situation a bit better.

Camilla:          Yeah. Like maybe an active curiosity and trying to, I think going back to the story gap, just cause I like that phrase and that tool to work through this, you know, using your curiosity in saying I’m going to actively feel that I’m going to inquire and going to investigate and I’m going to go a little deeper and see if I can’t find the gap that really fits in there. Cause sometimes it doesn’t take, you know, you have to have the interaction too because they’ve got to fill that gap for you or your brain’s going to feel it.

Genia:            Right. Yup.

Camilla:          And your insecurities going to feel it, but you have to keep engaging and be a little bit brave in that moment and push past any awkwardness or there won’t be an opportunity for that gap to fill and maybe it doesn’t feel, but you know, that’s just about having courage. And actually, I recently did a whole episode on kind of moving into your business with courage and how, you know, sometimes you’ve got to use fear as a tool and an indicator, but then you also have to consciously make a decision to step past it. And that takes courage. And I think it’s the same concept applies here.

Genia:            Yeah, I agree. And I think, you know, the difficulty in, you know, we’re talking about in some ways one group of people approaching another group of people are interacting with another group of people and inherently problematic in a conversation like that is generalizing either group of people.

Camilla:          Yeah.

Genia:            So, you know, recognizing that our conversation is not in any way, you know, we’re not trying to say speak on behalf of a group of people. Having said that, on behalf of a group of people, …

Camilla:          Yeah.

Genia:            I think that it is okay to sort of be somewhat straight forward and say, you know, I, and … Sorry. Definitely going to need to edit this part as I fumble along here. I think that it’s okay to say, something along the lines of, you know, “I’d really like, you know, for our kids to play together and if you have suggestions about how to make that happen best for your child, I would really be open to hearing them.” Like, I think it’s okay to ask, you know, I think it’s okay to ask.

Camilla:          I love that. That’s so simple and honest. I mean, which would be liberating for everybody involved, I would think. And I was actually going to ask you that exact thing, I think, and I don’t know where I heard it, but, and I don’t know if I read it, I heard it somewhere, somebody actually said it to me, but that, you know, you should just try asking, like, inquiring about their disability and like, but I thought, “Really?” Like, yes and no. Like it’s pretty straight forward and it could be like that to me, I felt like that might really, really work with some people and really, really not work with others. So, I’m curious like what do you think of that advice that I’ve heard and seen?

Genia:            So, yeah.

Camilla:          I really liked the one that you just described that feels good to me because it’s not too direct about maybe a possible pain point. Maybe that advice I was given could come later, but I would be terrified to lead with that.

Genia:            So, I think it depends on, so I’m truly just speaking for myself now.

Camilla:          For sure.

Genia:            I think what you need to ask yourself is what is the purpose of the question? What is the purpose of the interaction? So, if you are approaching a child on the playground and you presumably are there so that your child can, so maybe there are three purposes to going to a playground. You’re there so your child can play and benefit from the environment. You’re there for your child’s social enrichment and you’re there potentially so that you can chat with another adult.

Camilla:          Imagine that.

Genia:            Right. So, those are like generally maybe why people are going to parks, right?

Camilla:          Yup.

Genia:            Nothing about any of those purposes has to do with a child’s diagnosis. So, the only reason why you would be asking about a child’s, like what kind of disability or whatever diagnosis, the only reason to ask for that is to satisfy your own curiosity. And that doesn’t serve the purpose of the situation.

Camilla:          Yeah. That makes sense.

Genia:            Like, what is the point? Why are you asking? So, I do think that there are situations in which you might say… So, let’s say you’re inviting a child with a disability over to your house for a birthday party. You might want to say, “Is there anything about your child’s disability that I should know in order to be able to you know, welcome them into my home and help them to have a great time?” That would be a relevant question to the purpose of the interaction. So, then you’re actually seeking information for a reason.

Camilla:          That makes practical sense. And I think …

Genia:            But I would never…

Camilla:          … always intention about the question like it …

Genia:            Yeah.

Camilla:          It makes it softer. It makes it applicable.

Genia:            Yeah. But I would never, like I personally would never find it appropriate to ask for personal information outside of the kind of purview of my relationship with somebody.

Camilla:          Yeah. And I think that’s why …

Genia:            You know what I mean?

Camilla:          … I was kind of when I heard this, and I wish I remember the context or what it was, but for some reason in my mind I almost picture as if somebody was really kind of frustrated and trying to express and didn’t know how to express, like maybe they didn’t even know how to express what they’re saying. Why don’t you just try asking? Like, you know, maybe that was a frustrated suggestion because I really like what you’re saying about, you know, what’s the purpose of the question, which kind of goes back to finding the commonalities is focus on the positive, focus on those small potential interactions of the positive of how can we engage, how can we react, what we have in common? And I feel like that question, that maybe was suggested to me at one point, doesn’t focus. It does the opposite. It focuses on the difference.

Genia:            Right. And I think an exception, it’s not, it’s a superficial exception or it’s an apparent exception, but not actually an exception is when children have questions. So …

Camilla:          Yeah. Yeah.

Genia:            So, many children will want to know, well why can’t William walk? And, you know, that superficially is a question about disability or diagnosis. But, when kids are asking that, depending on their age and you know, obviously I don’t know exactly what they’re thinking, but often that question is really more of the question is really, “Can he play with me?”

Camilla:          Yes. I think so.

Genia:            Like what is the intention of the question, right? Like what’s the purpose of the question? “Can he play with me?” “Is he like me?” Do I need to be worried about this?” You know. “Is he too different?” “Do I need to be afraid?”

Camilla:          Yeah.

Genia:            And I think, that that is quite different than the intention of a lot of adults when they’re asking that question.

Camilla:          Yes, I think that’s true. And they’re coming from this place of just really genuine, innocent curiosity. They are less tainted by you know, classes and you know, everybody else’s opinions and stigmas and all that kind of stuff. So, it just got a nice general curiosity feeling. And though it always feels better coming from a child because, you know, it’s just this genuine that they don’t understand and they want to know.

Genia:            Yeah, I mean, I think that kids learn pretty early on who belongs and who doesn’t. And this is one of those kinds of questions can be a place where we help kids to understand that people with disabilities belong in all the same places, doing all the same things with all the same people as they do. So, yeah. So I mean, I think the question, you know, is that when you’re an adult asking, I think you really need to be careful on my just honestly feeling my own curiosity and my own sort of voyeuristic …

Camilla:          Yeah.

Genia:            … interests. Then I would say it’s never appropriate.

Camilla:          Okay. Yeah, I like that.

Genia:            Yeah. If it’s relevant than it is.

Camilla:          Yeah. Now, I think that’s a good question to ask yourself as why are you asking? So, yeah. Yeah.

Genia:            Well, I’m curious, Camilla, about what you think from your perspective, parents of kids with disabilities could do to increase the likelihood that you would, or you would help your kids, to engage socially with them?

Camilla:          That’s a really good question. So, I would say, and I can completely understand, I feel a sense sometimes of, there’s a shield up and there’s a certain amount of stand off radiating and I don’t [unintelligible] not everybody, and part of it maybe my perceptions as well. And the other part of that is I can understand that. Like they may have already had some interactions that really weren’t great or they’re just tired of the questions and don’t want the questions anymore. They’re tired of possibly non helpful or hurtful situations or conversations that their kids have been exposed to and they’re just sick of it. And so, I get that. But I think in my head, the first thing that popped in my head was modeling, for me as a parent. Like, you know, being willing to, and I go, I’m going to go back to that example of finding commonality. Like the, if somebody, if they could even say, “Hey, you know, my son loves playing ball too. I see that your son’s playing with the ball. They have that in common.”, kind of nudging me in a direction kind of, it kind of leads me down a path where I’m like, okay, they’re comfortable with the conversation going this direction.

Genia:            Extending invitations essentially.

Camilla:          Yes. Yes. And I think that would be really liberating and it would be, I could feel myself breathing a huge sigh of relief of like, okay, they’ve modeled how I can enter into this conversation and then how I can turn a model it for my child to enter into the conversation and to enter into engagement.

Genia:            Yup.

Camilla:          So, I think sometimes that would be really, really helpful because for me personally, I would say sometimes the biggest obstacle is the fear of doing it wrong in the fear of making anything worse or hurting anybody’s feelings. You know, or teaching my kids something that isn’t helpful. You know, I really don’t want, nobody wants to, you know, to experience this, but I talk about that. I mean, on my podcast and with my clients, I talk about a lot that we talk about our kids, to our businesses. We’ve talked about absolute failures we’ve had in our business and in businesses we’ve been involved in the past. And we’ve talked about picking ourselves back up and coming back from it. So, I shouldn’t be afraid of this, but it’s just natural. You know, I don’t want my kids to see me try to engage this and do a terrible job and hurt somebody.

Genia:            Right.

Camilla:          Like I don’t want my kids to see me as doing that. So, I think that’s another, it’s not just fear of messing up that particular conversation. It’s the fear of up the perception around you or the potential value you’re hoping to offer your child by modeling the right way to do it. So, there’s a fear from both sides but if either party can just, you know, and I need, I don’t have that experience. I need somebody for me to model to me what works for them.

Genia:            Right.

Camilla:          Like that’s huge.

Genia:            Yeah. I think that’s a really thoughtful and insightful and excellent response. And I just, when you’re saying about, you know, you’re afraid of trying and having your kids see you do something wrong, I think, I just want to sort of say, I think that’s not something to be afraid of. What you should worry about your kids seeing you model is never trying again.

Camilla:          Yeah. That’s really, really true.

Genia:            Cause you are going to not get it right all the time.

Camilla:          Yeah. And being able to maybe, you know, maybe something that would help somebody in my shoes is, and I think of this just because of how we talk to our kids about business. Like for example, I grew up in a family that, you know, we talked about the fact that, you know, my grandfather had this business, then the depression hit, they had over leveraged themselves, they lost everything and how painful it was and what happened. So, I grew up at a table where we talked about that, like we talked about this painful loss and then we talked about, well this is what they did next and this is how long it took and how it was. So, it was modeled for me to talk about business in front of my kids. Do I tell them everything? No, but I answer their questions and I tell them when it’s hard. And John and I recently have went through a hard business loss for, we had to walk away from something and it was, we knew it was going to challenge our family. It is going to impact our kids, but it was the right thing to do. And we owed them an explanation and it wasn’t a failure, but it was not easy and it was not, you know, it was just hard.

Genia:            Yup.

Camilla:          So, I think, you know, I need to have the confidence of if my kids witness this type of interaction and it doesn’t go well, I need to talk to him about, well, I really wanted to reach out and maybe I didn’t do it right, but I’m going to try again next time. Maybe this is what I learned. And I want you to not be afraid.

Genia:            Yeah.

Camilla:          I want you to also try because there’s a lot of value there. There’s precious things there and I don’t want you to miss out on them. Just like watching my kids’ relationship with my friend’s daughter before, like, there was wonderful moments. I sat there and watch them play and was so grateful that there were no barriers. And I’m so grateful for that and I want them to be able to find those opportunities throughout life.

Genia:            Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s awesome. And I wonder, so lots of moms are going to be listening to my podcast and I would love it if you would talk a little bit about your podcast and the work that you’re doing to help moms with their careers and their businesses.

Camilla:          Oh, I’d love to. So, my podcast is the Mompreneur Experience and it started as a way to just really kind of share information and also something that I was seeing. I’m a coach, so I work with entrepreneurs and I found that it was moms that were coming to me and I think that’s because that’s where I was in life and I could really relate to them. And it was this really great chemistry when I worked with moms. So, I decided I really wanted to focus on them because I also saw so much potential kind of pent up in, you know, a lot of the times there was a sense of non fulfillment or their kids were getting old enough that they just wanted a little bit more out of life and they were missing something or they really wanted, they needed or wanted to give, you know, bring some money in or bless their families. So, I really focused on starting to provide them the things that they need in forms of coaching business resources. I was blessed to be raised in a business, get every single opportunity to work in and on the business from different directions than we’re in work for large corporations, built another business with my husband. Like I said, you know, we’ve had hard times off and on. My dad passed in a plane crash unexpectedly when I was still in college. And it was like …

Genia:            I’m so sorry.

Camilla:          Thank you. Thank you. It was all hands on deck. Like it took my whole family coming together to pull this business back from the brink. And now I can say my mom is now run that business successfully longer than my dad was in that business when he started it. So, I’ve got some really wonderful experiences. Some of them have been painfully hard, but I’m passionate about moms being able to use their strengths and build businesses that allow them to actually function as thriving moms, not businesses that create more tension and more friction in their lives. So, and I think there’s a process to that and it stems around understanding your strengths, your previous experiences in your passions, and getting really clear about your expectations and your goals and designing it that way with the support of your family. And sometimes it’s hard to ask for that support. So, those are a lot of the things that I work on with my clients. The podcast is fun because a lot of mompreneurs are also solopreneurs. So, we do mentor interviews where I mentor women that have gone before them, sometimes a long ways before them, sometimes just a little ways. But just to kind of give them a little insight and encouragement on their path. And then I also do episodes that provide them actual business content that they can apply to their businesses like right then and there.

Genia:            That’s great. That’s awesome.

Camilla:          Yeah.

Genia:            You know, certainly families that have kids with disabilities, what we know is that the extra work that’s often involved with supporting and meeting the needs of your child with a disability can translate into lost income. And so, I think, which then has all kinds of implications of course. So, I really appreciate the goal and the mission of your business to support moms to find viable ways of supporting their family that recognize the demands of family life as well. So, I think I’m grateful that you’re out there and you’re doing that work and I …

Camilla:          Thank you.

Genia:            And where can people find you?

Camilla:          So, on my website at www.camilla-jean.com and I’ll share the link with you so you can provide that to your listeners as well.

Genia:            Absolutely. It’ll be in the show notes.

Camilla:          Oh, great. There, I have some free resources. I have opportunities to sign up for weekly newsletters that actually provide actual usable content resources as well. And it’ll also be links to jump in on the podcast, however you want to listen to it. So, I’m on iTunes, Spotify, Google, all the big ones of course. And there’s a lot of content and actual tools that you can use some inspiration. I hope it’s helpful for moms out there. And then I’m also going to be launching some courses and workshops or you can actually work with me one-on-one, get coaching and we’re building some communities because the big thing is I think having a place where moms with all kinds of backgrounds, all different of goals and expectations for their business can be together supporting each other and getting the resources they need.

Genia:            Awesome. Well, I’ll make sure that your website and any other links are included in the show notes because as I said, I really think what you’re offering is valuable.

Camilla:          Oh, thank you so much.

Genia:            So, thank you very much. And I really appreciate your willingness to come on the podcast, Camilla, to kind of be open and vulnerable about your experiences and to provide that insight into, you know, the thoughts and feelings of big-hearted people in our community who don’t necessarily have all the answers, but who want to be part of the story.

Camilla:          Well, thank you. It’s been really helpful for me. It’s really kind of fun to process something that’s kind of difficult and awkward and it’s hard sometimes to find somebody to talk to about and ask, like, how do I do this better? So it’s been really wonderful for me because now I feel like I kind of have some tools and a little bit more confidence to engage and make sure that me and my kids don’t miss out on what could be some really wonderful, blessed relationships.

Genia:            Well, that’s wonderful. Thank you so much, Camilla.

Camilla:          All right, thank you.

Genia:            Okay. Take care.

Camilla:          All right.

Genia:            Well, what do you think? I think it’s pretty brave for Camilla to come on the podcast and talk about her experiences and to ask vulnerable questions. And it was really valuable and insightful for me to stop and think about Camilla’s experience, but also to think about how do I want people to approach me or to approach my son. I’m really curious about your experiences and I would love to hear from you about them. If you go to goodthingsinlife.org/026, you can leave a comment below the show notes and I would love it if we just had a conversation about this. What are your top tips for parents who are trying to support their kids to interact and get to know our kids? What are the top tips of things that not to do? Is there anything that I said or Camilla said that you think, “No, that is a hard NO, I totally disagree with you.” Or is there anything that you think, “Absolutely! Yes, that really resonates with me.” Let’s chat about it. Again, you can go to goodthingsinlife.org/026. Thanks very much, and I look forward to seeing you next week on the Good Things In Life Podcast. Take care.

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Special thanks to Camilla Jean Ringkob for joining me this week. Until next time!

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Genia Stephen
Genia Stephen

Sister, mother, midwife, writer, speaker and perpetually curious. Dedicated to bringing you the voices, ideas and conversations of world class mentors and thought leaders in the field of disability.