How to handle well-meaning family members who just don't get it
Do you ever feel misunderstood?
As a mom of kids with invisible disabilities, I have been on the receiving end of many comments from others.
These comments can be annoying and hurtful as people do not understand the mental health issues and trauma my kids have been through and how that affects their behavior.
These comments are much more challenging to handle when they come from those close to us.
Strangers do not know us and our lives, but those who know us and see the struggles and joys of a special needs mom's life should get it? Right?
But this is often not the case. I will never forget a conversation I had with a family member.
Several years ago, we were going through a challenging time with our daughter, her behavior was escalating, and we had tried everything. My family member had a front-row seat to the drama of Reactive Attachment Disorder ( RAD) and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome( FAS). I had been honest with her and kept her up to date on all the therapies and things I was learning and trying.
One day she sat me down and asked if we had considered having our daughter memorize scripture to help control her behavior and if we had thought of praying more?
These comments came from a place of love, and I am not discounting the value of prayer and scripture, but this conversation hurt me and made me feel very alone. How could she miss the mark so much? How could she not see that this was so much more than behavior that could be controlled?
Whether you're a mom to kids with behavioral issues or have a medically complex child,
we have all experienced these moments when the people we love and are closest to us; our moms, in-laws, and siblings just don't get it. In their attempt to support us, we feel more alone.
So how do we help our families understand? How do we get them to partner with us in our journey as special needs moms in a helpful way?
Remember Their Perspective
We have to remember that no one will ever fully understand. You are the expert on your child, and as that expert, you are constantly learning and changing plans or treatment. We, as special needs parents, often struggle to understand how to best help our child - so offer grace. These family members are on the outside looking in. They do not understand all that goes into your situation. They may be able to name the diagnosis, but they are the actual daily living of your life they cannot understand.
My parents expressed concern that I was too strict with our daughter. They felt terrible that she couldn't do the things my other kids could: for example, stay up late. I had learned her restrictions the hard way - so early bedtimes and limiting situations without too much stimulation were best for her. These decisions often made others think I was being unfair. I had to learn to offer grace even when I was so annoyed by these comments and try my best to make them understand
Set Clear Boundaries
Start with an honest and humble conversation about what you need or do not need to feel supported.
You need to set healthy boundaries for yourself and your family, but do this with the backdrop of love.
Once you have boundaries, be clear about them.
If you do not want your parent to discipline your child, let them stay up late, overrule your parenting, or talk about your child's issues on social media, express those expectations. It is best to do this when you are calm. Be clear and loving. Keep it short and sweet. Long explanations of the reason you need this boundary are not always understood.
Remember that your loved one is loving you the best way they know how. They may feel left out or need help understanding how you live your life.
That does not mean they can't change and improve how they support you. Often I was hurt by the words of my family, and I couldn't see that they were doing their best.
Express your love and desire for a relationship while setting boundaries. Tell your mom what she is doing right. Tell her what you appreciate about her. Start small, then explain one or two boundaries. No one responds well to demands not surrounded by kind and loving words.
Tell your mom what she does right. Express your love for her and your desire for a quality relationship. No one responds to demands that are not surrounded by kind and loving words.
Allow Them to Try Again
After setting the boundary, give your parent a chance to abide by your requests. They may not have understood that this is that important to you. Remember that clear is kind. Keep the conversation going. Even when there are misunderstandings, keep having these conversations.
Understanding these principles can help our families give us the support we need. We can unite and learn to love and support each other on this journey.