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Our Hive. Better Together.

Founder, Veronica Martinez has always and will always be an advocate for the disability community. Curently working as a contributing writer for a SAMHSA funded workbook about Family Leaders through the University of Texas at Austin. Family Leadership, in the mental health world, is an individual that looks beyond advocacy for their own family and begins the process of looking to influence their community, especially in terms of better services for children or individuals with mental health needs. The concept of looking beyond ones own family interests and recognizing that the testimony to their journey can absolutely influence a larger community is the exact premise behind Better Beehive Project. This is empowerment for the benefit of others, for the benefit of a Better Beehive.

The process of becoming a family leader can be difficult especially if there is experiences of their voice being ignored. For example, recently the mother of a son that was school-aged and wore braces on his legs left a sting for her sons school, with fierceness she wrote of her sons experience of being non-verbal and noticing that an aid continued to tie his braces too tight and after numerous warnings he was left with permanent scars on his legs. As she recalled their experience she felt helpless that after going to the principal and other officials, her son was not even given an apology. Due to how her voice was disregarded and the needs of her son neglected she was to say the least skeptical that her voice would matter. Why would anyone care, no one has ever cared before? But given a tiny glimmer that her sons story would help another mother or boy like her son she left a sting for the school. As humans we want for our story to touch the broader landscape, we want for our voice to be productive among all of the voices. This mother is a family leader, her resilience to hope for change is the reason why we exist.

Her voice, her sons experience can absolutely influence how our world interacts with individuals that have a disability. All too often negative or positive experiences remain silent in our hearts and memories. We feel the buzz of a positive experience, something as simple or small as a waitress smiling and addressing a child with a disability directly letting them know that she sees them. And it can sting, really sting, heart breaking when our child or selves are rejected, neglected or left to feel as though our voice, our experience does not matter. The ability to be a family leader  or leader is within us all and Better Beehive Project is here to capture your voice and as we grow in numbers our voice will become increasingly more difficult for the world to ignore. The mother that felt so helpless and silent can now have us all behind her and she can know with all of her heart that she is part of this hive, and that we are better together.

Parenting To-Do List: Empathy

s parents, we have many values to introduce and teach our children. Honestly, the task of parenting is daunting, not only do we have to guide them in the logistics of coexisting with others, i.e. don’t forget to flush the toilet. But we also have to introduce and instill very complex values such as empathy, self-awareness, collaboration and self-respect which are all imperative to a resilient and prepared adult. In Dr. Michele Borba’s book Unselfie, she asserts that the “selfie epidemic” is a symptom of self-absorption and lack of empathy in our society, and further asserts that this can lead to a less resilient individual.

In our world resilience is key. In my work, I see resilience firsthand. Resilience is an amazing human component that all too often is undervalued and overlooked. A single mother that has two children both with special needs. She not only works a full-time job but also deals with an entire team of well intentioned professionals that seem to each have the “answer” to her child’s behavior and diagnosis. Her resilience fuels my fire. Life for a multitude of reasons has forced her resilience. I assert that our society has a tendency to see this mom often through a lens of judgment, rather than through the lens of empathy and awe that she deserves. Unfortunately, often she also sees herself not as the shooting star in the dark night sky that she is, but she and her children also believe what society projects. I have witnessed the lasting and chronic effect this has on our society. Another example is that of my daughter. Everyday her diagnosis forces her to try harder than the average person. Communication is how our society judges the ability of another person, my daughter’s verbal communication is her greatest challenge and will be for the rest of her life. Imagine taking your biggest weakness, the thing that you hide from society as your greatest weakness and have it on display in big marque lights for all to witness and judge. We are able to stack the cards in our favor, we take on tasks that play to our strengths and alter our environment to keep those deep dark insecurities very well hidden. My daughter can not hide, her weakness is available for all to see and judge. As her mother I witness my daughter’s brilliance, she gets up to a world that does not play to her strengths and honestly, I want to be just like her when I grow up. I believe that our special needs community holds the key to a stronger more resilient society.

If we were to practice empathy and learn from their strength the world would be our oyster. I believe that empathy benefits all and opens the world and makes each of our fellow citizens with all of their uniqueness our teachers. Through my work I am lucky enough to witness and learn from the families I serve, and as my daughters’ mother I am honored to witness her unrelenting beauty and grace, her life is not always beautiful often it is hard and filled with obstacles and tears, but every single day it is real, and I think we need more real in our world.

Why should empathy be on our parenting to-do list? A low empathy IQ means that our child’s hearts’ understanding is only as large as it pertains to them resulting in missing out on a whole world of lessons. Empathy leads to Inclusion, and inclusion creates a stronger and more richly diverse society and life. In short, it benefits ALL of our children to be able to put themselves in another persons shoes and experience their feelings. Taking the empathy point of view can place an individual typically considered the receiver of charity to a position of teacher and mentor. As a mother I want to teach empathy to my children, of course, but more importantly I hope to model empathy to my children. Taking the time to recognize and identify their own emotions and care for the emotions of others will promote a higher Emotional IQ and will create a strong individual. Empathy also fights stigma and small mindedness and the damage it inflicts. Take the time to practice empathy and follow this wonderful rabbit hole with your family: How?

1. Be Sincere. Mention something such as “I truly want to take the time to think about others” 2. Lets look around and with an empowered eye think about if everyone of all abilities can participate in this activity right now If not, let us use this time as a family and participate in a sort of social experiment, how can we improve our surroundings as to promote inclusion for all? 3. Together use the Better Beehive Application and help the Better Beehive Project advocate for a more inclusive world. 4. Discuss the process with your family the process of practicing Empathy, how did that feel?

Taking more opportunities to be present with our children, empowering them to have a voice and using their voice for others, is the first step in creating a better generation then our own, and a huge step in creating a stronger and more inclusive beehive!

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