(I am glad to say that we have been able to find "our family" (they all know who they are)- these people love us, the boy and our cats for who and what we are.)
When Your Family Members Reject Your Child On The Autism Spectrum
In recent days I’ve had several conversations around the same issue. The issue is, why is it that the parents of children on the autism spectrum can often find support from complete strangers or close friends, only to experience hurtful criticism, profound ignorance and sometimes rejection from their own family members?
Believe it or not this occurs in my own family routinely. With everything I know and how well I explain it, I am still told by some family members that my children don’t have Autism and that what they need is a good beating. I’ve been told that my wife and I are awful parents and don’t know anything about Autism. That our kids are wimps and need to toughen up. The list goes on and on.
With so many conversations about this lately I was compelled to ask myself the question, “What’s up with that?”It seems so counter intuitive that family members turn their backs while others run to your side. I really want your input on why you fell this happens. In the mean time here are my thoughts.
My Life Sucks So I’ll Fix Yours
There is a tendency in people to go out of their way to fix the lives of others when their own life is a mess. When listening to others describe the persecutors in their own families and after examining those in mine, this appears to be a common trait. The ones doing the criticising are the ones with the greatest number of problems themselves.
Even those who claim to have it all together as part of their ongoing effort to wrap themselves in a comfy coat of denial, are unable to prevent those around them from seeing the trail of chaos they blaze wherever they go. Especially when they bring it with them to our house.
On a deeper level, when you consider how unhappy these family members are, it’s fair to say that the majority of the thoughts going through their heads are self critical. If this is their primary lens on the world then they’ll have little else to offer you or your child.
It’s Your Fault
Another reason family members blame the challenges with your child exclusively on your parenting is because a simple fix to any problem relieves them of any obligation to help you. I’ve seen family members step up in huge ways in times of medical emergency, where the solutions and outcomes are more clearly defined. But when a crisis arises with a child on the spectrum those same relatives respond with (I swear to God), “I’ll have to check my schedule” or “I have a party to go to.” Those statements have been said to me by family members.
When others feel helpless to help you with your child they manufacture blame, put it all on you and can then rationalize not offering you help or educating themselves on how to do so. The reality is they aren’t obligated to help, but it would sure make life easier some days if they did.
If You Feed Them They Keep Coming Back
Another consideration is that we’re often slow to set boundaries with family. If a non-family member pulled this crap we’d likely respond by cutting them from our lives. We may seek support from friends when we feel wronged by others. Our friends then empower us to “Kick em to the curb,” “Ignore then, they’re idiots.” So we do and we move on.
What makes it so difficult to bear with family, in my experience, is that we keep exposing ourselves to the ones who don’t get it and allow ourselves to be beaten up by their ignorance. WHY? For one, pressure from other family members. “You have to invite them, they’re family.” There’s an unfortunate code in families I call The Obligation of Inclusion which refers to the belief that you owe it to a relative to include them unconditionally. Can I say for the record that this belief is a steaming pile of toxic self-destructive BS.
In just this past year my wife and I have reached our limit with the uneducated, armchair parenting quarterbacks in our family and are openly distancing ourselves from them. We are flat out telling people why we don’t want to spend time with them. The result has been interesting, they actually back off and leave us alone. Thank Goodness.
So what do you do now?
Find A New Family
One of our best solutions, and an often difficult one for some, is to actively seek out new connections. When it comes to getting the support we need in life the harsh reality is that those we want support from can turn out to be the least qualified to provide it. We can either exhaust ourselves trying to convert them into team players or we can seek the support from those ready and willing to provide it.
I can speak to a friend about the challenges of raising a child on the spectrum, after which I feel listened to, validated, vindicated, stronger and more proud of the life I’m creating with my children. Then I talk to a family member who proceeds to kick the confidence right out of me. It’s easier for family to do that because they are typically the co-creators of our feelings of not being good enough and have an all access pass to our buttons.
The bottom line is that having Autism in your life requires a close knit tribe to navigate successfully. I wouldn’t be the successful adult spectrumite I am if it wasn’t for the amazing support system I have. I simply couldn’t do it without all the help I get. When I look at those who have helped me get where I am today, I can often give more credit to those who acted like family than those who actually are.
We’re All In This Together : )