Netmums have a fabulous campaign running at the moment. Called the United Kindmums it is a year of action by Netmums members to improve their own lives by carrying out small acts of kindness. They say that by showing compassion to other people we can become happier in ourselves, something that I discovered myself when I did voluntary work a few years ago. It really is a great experience to feel that you are helping others but how many of us actually do this? With such busy lives it can seem hard to find the time to do voluntary work but the Kindmums campaign is about the little things that can make a difference to other people’s lives.
One of their ideas is for mums to knock on a neighbour’s door, introduce themselves and hopefully forge friendships with other mums. It is a fabulous idea and I really encourage you to check it out because they offer some great tips to overcome those nerves when introducing yourself to a neighbour (click here). The only slight criticism I have is that it doesn’t go far enough. Why restrict ourselves to making friends with other mums; why not knock on our neighbours’ doors anyhow and build relationships with some of the wonderful people that make up our communities.
I have to admit that this campaign has struck a nerve with me. As many of you know, a few weeks ago our neighbour knocked on our door and threatened us with the police if we didn’t quieten our autistic son. You can read more about it here but to sum up, our neighbours jumped to conclusions about what they heard and reacted without giving us a chance to explain. As a result of their actions, we had to deal with the police on our doorstep questioning us about our son’s behaviour. We were gutted.
A few days after this incident, I sent my neighbours a letter explaining autism and what happens when someone has a meltdown but they have not found the grace or the courage to apologise. Their silence makes it clear that they do not want to learn about our lives or even extend compassion our way. And yet if they did, their kindness could improve all of our lives. We wouldn’t feel so rejected by our community and our neighbours could learn about autism and the challenges and joys of raising special needs children. They might actually discover something in themselves; that happiness feeling which many people describe when helping others. But it seems that they have decided that this is not what they want and in making this decision they have caused an irrevocable split in our relationship. Now I cannot look at them or speak to them; I still feel hurt and disgusted about their behaviour towards my son, a vulnerable child who cannot help the way he behaves.
It makes me sad to be experiencing this. I grew up in the 1970s and 80s when neighbours were more neighbourly than they are now. People had more time for one another back then, there was less preoccupation with job statuses and money and the acquisition of goods, gadgets and clothing. Of course things weren’t all rosy. I remember my dad having to cross over picket lines at the local car plant, I remember the power cuts and getting by on lit candles and the worries over jobs and money. We didn’t have much those days but what we did have were neighbours who rallied round when help was needed.
Now that I’m a mum, I don’t have neighbours to call on in this way. The road in which I live may look pleasant with its tree-lined kerbs but it is not a friendly road; few people talk to one another and sometimes you can go months before you get a chance to say “Hi” to someone. There is no-one to call on if there is an emergency. If anything happens to my children, one of us has to go to hospital whilst the other stays at home (thank goodness for having a husband). At other times we call my parents who live further away but sometimes we don’t have the time to call them and wait for them to arrive. If we’re dealing with an asthma attack we have to act quickly. Sometimes I think how great it would be if I had a reliable and trusting neighbour who could help us when one of my children becomes suddenly unwell. Alas, I don’t.
I sometimes wonder if having special needs children is the problem. I often see children playing together along our road but my children aren’t part of their group, they are not welcome. Sometimes I wonder whether I could have done more to help my children to feel included but in truth I doubt I could have done more. For years I organised birthday parties and encouraged them to bring friends home for tea but rarely did they get invites back. Instead my son started to become teased and bullied and as he started to become excluded, so did the rest of us as people started to view us with suspicion.
Perhaps I should have been more honest about autism and aspergers but for many years I didn’t know my children had this and so I think many people assumed (and maybe I did too) that my children’s behaviours were because of me. As my children got older and became more affected by their ASDs, so I lost confidence and trust with my community which took another dive when our neighbour betrayed us the other day.
So for me, a knock on the door by a neighbour who is geniunely interested in us would be so lovely. I would welcome the opportunity to explain autism and aspergers and the chance to reassure them that in many ways we are still an ordinary family and that I am still an ordinary mum. I would love to offer them a cup of a tea and a biscuit though I can’t promise there would be any left after my son has raided the barrel. I can’t promise not to look dreadful or to sound harassed either but please believe me when I say that beyond that haggered look is a mum that really needs you to knock on my door and say “hi”.