The myth of independence

Do you live independently? Yeah. Me too.

I live in a house with my partner. We both have jobs. I buy food, pay rent and bills, and drive my car. I am raising six children. I care for our pets. I clean the house, wash clothes, garden, and grow some of our own food. I go to appointments, deal with necessary bureaucracy, and I vote. 

By societies definition I am independent.

Except I’m not.

I rely on the support of my partner for a great many things. The above paragraph could just as truthfully read

We live in a house with each other. We both have jobs. We buy food, pay rent and bills, and drive cars. We are raising six children. We care for our pets. We clean the house, wash clothes, garden, and grow some of our own food. We go to appointments, deal with necessary bureaucracy, and we vote.

When I am having difficulty with a decision I talk to him about it and he helps me clarify my thoughts. I do the same for him. When I am overwhelmed with something he is beside me offering support. I do the same for him. When I have run out of time to complete tasks I wanted to get done around the house he pitches in. I do the same for him. When I don’t want to attend an appointment alone, he comes along. I do the same for him.

I have friends who I share my problems with and receive emotional support from. I support them too. Some of my friends and I look after each others children sometimes. Last time I moved house a group of wonderful friends helped me with a truck, and helped with packing and shifting boxes. In my local community, we support each other and help each other however we can. In the international community I am part of I have friends I value and who value me. We share opinions, information, advocacy, and laughs.

I also receive help and support from my children. They contribute to the house work. The older children watch over the younger children sometimes. They ask me if I am okay if they notice I seem down. They add humor and joy to the day.

Admittedly, on a day when I am tired and “over it” I may be guilty of muttering to myself over the kitchen sink ‘why am I the only one who cleans up around here?’, but that is frustration, not fact. Same goes when one of the kids says ‘you never help me’. They know it’s not true. We try to be gracious about frustrated outbursts, as another way of supporting each other.

The truth is, in our house we share the load. We make mess together. We clean up together. We learn together. We make mistakes (sometimes together). We work together. We play together. I don’t expect anyone in my family to do all the things on their own, and they don’t expect me to either. We all contribute what we can when, we can. We all have value here.

We are interdependent.

The prefix inter- means ‘between; among: mutually; reciprocally’

The word dependent means contingent on or determined by: requiring someone or something for financial, emotional, or other support: unable to do without:

Interdependent: (of two or more people or things) dependent on each other

Yes, interdependent describes our family well. I suspect it describes a lot of families. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it describes our society well. We each offer something different. Some of us grow food, some of us treat illness, some of us teach others, some of us remove waste, some of us provide clothing, some housing, some tools, some toys. Some of us are storytellers, some of us are artists, some are supporters, some are enforcers, some are protectors. All these things add value to our society.

We are interdependent.

Unfortunately we are also competitive. Many of us think that doing (and doing more, bigger, better, and for more money) is the only way to add value. I don’t think that is true. I think we all add value just by being. Just the same as in my family, our society works on the basis that we all contribute what we can, when we can. We all have value and we all add value.

There are times when a member (could be any one) of my family has nothing to give but their presence. There are times when I have nothing to offer than just being here. There are people in our society who are the same. Sometimes there is a reason they can’t do for a short while, sometimes they can’t do for a long while. Sometimes some of us can only offer that we are here. There is nothing wrong with that. It all still works. The contribution of being is just as valuable as the contribution of doing. We need all of us here. We need the diversity that naturally occurs in humanity to make us what we are. We all have value. We are interdependent.

Which leads me to a few questions.

Why are we so infatuated with the idea of independence?

Why are we so uncomfortable with the idea of interdependence when it is, in reality, the way we all live every day?

Why is the concept of independence touted with such enthusiasm as the greatest of great achievements, when none of us are actually capable of true independence anyway?

And why, when independence is unattainable for any of us, do we inflict the goal of independence on disabled people, then use their lack of independence to shame them?

I see this happen a lot…..

“That persons opinion is not valid- the don’t even live independently”.

“You can’t possibly know how I feel about this, or how hard my life is, my child will never live independently, I need support”.

“You must put your child in 40 hours a week of intense behavioral therapy or they will never live independently”.

All of the above statements overlook the fact that every life has value and adds value, no matter the persons functional capabilities- their ability to do stuff, and they are all based on the pursuit of the myth called independence.

Now, Parents, before you jump in to tell me that you have rights to support and I am minimizing your struggles, let me assure you that is not my intention. I know parenting is a tough job. I get it. I live it. I know there are very real worries when you are supporting a disabled child. I experience those. I live with those. I completely understand the need for support in your role as a parent. I am not diminishing that at all. I need support too.

What I am doing is questioning whether we are aiming for the right goals? Should we be focussing on pushing our children toward independence? It is not something even we have achieved, and doing so comes with a very real risk of causing our children distress and harm.

What I am doing is suggesting that the above 3 statements are fear based silencing tactics used to dismiss the rights to self determination, dignity and privacy, and to scare parents into spending large amounts of money trying to make their children appear normal.

What I am doing is asking you to think about changing the goal you set for your child from “achieves independence” to “is equipped to live their life as the best person they can be, has the resources to meet the goals they set for themselves, and is surrounded by community that sees their value and accepts them as part of an interdependent society”. Isn’t that the way we all want to live?



This article has been translated into Russian on the Neurodiversity in Russia website. To read >> click here << (link will open in a new window)

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