I find that one of the hardest things to deal with when you are parenting an autistic child is the attitude of those that you feel are supposed to have your back. Yep I mean the blood-family that you grew up with. Whether it’s your parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins or grandparents, nothing hurts when they treat you and your child as if you were pariahs, just like the rest of the community around you. It is supposed to be those people that you could turn to in a crisis, that they would be there to help you when the chips are down. It is those people, the ones you had, sleepovers with, watched firebugs, and 4th of July fireworks, shared your first everythings with, that are supposed to know how to just hold your hand. It is these people that you lived through every up and down and in and out of life that are supposed to remember that it is your turn now.
Well unfortunately it doesn’t’ always work that way. In fact, near as I can tell, it very really does work that way. Listen that is not to say, that my parents haven’t been great, and understanding. That I have an understanding brilliant-computer-sis or that hubby has supportive siblings too. They even try to understand and in their own way help. Most of them just live too far away and truthfully are entitled to their own lives. They have careers and families to raise just like we do. The truth of the matter is that my parents even live thousands of miles away, so while I talk to them every day, there is truly very little they can do except be there. I actually don’t tell them everything. They can’t help from where they are and all it would do is upset them. I am not really sure that you can ask for more than that.
But there are those that are “family” that are hurtful and mean and just don’t care. You try your hardest to deal with them. You try your hardest to see beyond the nastiness that they are spewing or the ignorance that they project. But sometimes you get to the point that enough is enough and it’s time to let go. Is there a timetable for when you know when to let go? Not that I know of, but I know when it happened with me.
Suffice it to say, we all carry baggage from our childhood into our adult lives, but a true grownup doesn’t allow that baggage to decide who you will be or who the other person is either. People tend to grow and change and mature and the things that they may have done in their childhood doesn’t really count. The problem you may come across is the fact that they don’t change. If they are jerks in childhood, they can continue to be jerks as adults. There is no hard and fast rule about that. I think you need to take each situation as it comes. I for one do have a sister I have not spoken o for over 7 years.
Why? It isn’t because she brought flowers and candy to the boys and was nice and respectful to my husband. I tried to overlook the childhood crap and I worked very hard at it. I remained friends with her long past the time I should have called it quit, just for my parent’s sake. They needed me to be the “good girl.” You know after awhile I said to hell with that too. After the umpteenth time that she was mean to my husband and the boys and me (name calling, swearing at, and ignoring), heck I even knitted her son a blanket for his bed, but she resented it because it wasn’t totally in his favorite color, I said it’s enough. She refused to invite my children to her stepson’s birthday party saying that they don’t like parties anyway; she carried on at my son’s birthday party to make herself the center of attention to the point that people thought she had to have been the wife of someone hubby worked with or why would she have even been there; she refused to come to my new house for Thanksgiving and kept saying she forgot to send a housewarming gift; she constantly told me how I need to raise the children and allowed her husband to be mean to my sons ( my parents even commented on it); she made fun of me to strangers at a party at her house; all this while I had been the older supportive sibling through every foible of her life….need I say more(there is plenty but you get the picture). I did promise my mother that I would invite her to collegeman’s Bar Mitzvah, just to keep peace and give my parents their fictitious view of the world, but when she returned an email saying communication between the parties is not wanted, I had had enough. My mother got an earful that day. (I did have to apologize, I think I finally cracked and yelled at my mother. That was not warranted either, but it was the last straw among many straws.) The problem with people that continue to treat you poorly is that they don’t ever think they do anything wrong, even when you point it out to them when they hurt you and they never ever learn to change their ways.
There is a lot of psychology written about frenemies. But what do you do when that frenemy is your own sibling? It does make it harder to break-up, especially when you parents won’t deal with it and have probably given in to that sibling their entire life. Funny today, my mother won’t even talk to me about my sister or her family; she knows that it is very unwelcome. My father can’t deal with it and still tries to bring her up. Luckily my mother does understand and will take the phone from him if he starts to cause trouble, He just refuses to see the really awful things she did and has decided that we, me and brilliant-computer-sis, should deal with it.
No, I don’t think it is easy for my parents to know that two of their children don’t talk to the third. I look at my own boys and know that what I would love most of all, besides that they should live and be well, is that they should grow to be friends. But it is also something that I cannot totally control. I can make sure though that they are not mean to each other. That there are no excuses for behavior, that they don’t pull bullshit and that they both held to the same standard. I can do as much as I possibly can to make sure they are kind to each other and that they do not take each other for granted or think that the other is more important to us and vis-a-versa. But I cannot make them like each other or guide who they might end up with in marriage (there I can try but I don’t want to become the wicked wicked mother-in-law either).
The truth of the matter is that as you enter the adventure called life and you move on outside your parent’s home, you are entitled to live your life as you see fit, and that includes demanding respect for those that are your immediate family. Once you are married that doesn’t include your parents or your siblings, but does include your spouse and eventually your children. (Now as far as the spouse is concerned we are going to make an assumption that you are married to someone who loves and respects you and treats you well. None of the spouse comes first stuff is for abusive or neglectful or hateful spouses.At those times, you run, run like the wind to get help, especially if you have children).
So I had had enough, and have given up on my sibling. I realized that I am a person and that my parents need to show me respect when it comes to how someone treats me including my sibling. I realized that my husband and my children come before some fictitious view of the world that my parents need. I realized that I used to get such anxiety before I went to see her, and that is not how it’s supposed to be and I know that because I have a sister who truly loves me, my hubby and my boys. Now it doesn’t mean that we don’t argue, fight and disagree. It doesn’t mean that we don’t give each other a hard time about things or tease each other as siblings do, but it’s different. There is respect and love and care and something cherished. There is an attempt that when we get together it’s not about one or the other, but about us all. I think that’s the difference. Something else too, family is not always about blood anymore. I have found wonderful friends and support among persons that I have no relation too at all. We care about each other and how the world treats us all.
I remember when collegeman was little and we just moved to town. It happens to be where hubby grew up so my sister-in-law knows everyone here. One of the parents in his kindergarten class was mean to collegeman and me because of his disability. Well, SIL got her friends to blackball the bitch for awhile. Made her life so terribly miserable to the point that hubby made his sister stop. (Too much overlap with business and community life for hubby’s taste) OK, it’s a little middle school, but the cow deserved it. Who is mean to a sick 5 year old, you tell me. The SIL also would be there for us if we need. Her hubby was there for us and her children were the kindest and sweetest to my boys. I can honestly say that about hubby’s other siblings too. They may not have understood what was going on, but they definitely tried and made an effort and their children tried and made an effort. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. Family is supposed to have your back. Now we all don’t see each other very often, we live in different parts of the country, but no matter what baggage they bring with them, hubby and his siblings make a huge effort to get along. What was in childhood is over. What is today in the world is real. They are real grown-ups and real family.
Sometimes what we hope for in childhood doesn’t appear. Sometimes we can’t count on those we thought we could have. Sometimes blood doesn’t define family at all. Sometimes we need to go out and make our own family circle. Sometimes we need to be creative about who we bring into our world. Perhaps our definition of family is changing in society. I sure hope so. There are many constructs of what family looks like in America today. It’s time for society to recognize that what defines family above all else is love, not blood, but love.
Until next time,