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In Disability-Land, Friendships Can Turn Toxic

How you know it's time to let go.

Every parent has absorbed at least one or two uninformed (and hurtful) criticisms of their parenting work--often from well-meaning family and friends. Those of us whose kids are traveling alternate developmental or emotional paths endure a lot of that. Because to us, the standard playbook does not apply--whether or not our family and friends realize it.

We disability parents hate to be judged as much as the next person. But for us, unsolicited criticism is particularly painful--especially when it comes from people we respect.

Creative Commons
Source: Creative Commons

There’s a difference between well-meaning advice of the “It’s not appropriate to let Lucy leave the dinner table and eat in her room!” type, and plain old mischief-making. The former is forgivable, if not very useful. (Oh, you thought we wanted her to erase herself from this moment, and from social world altogether? I see. Well, we don't. Get back to us when you have a feasible strategy, will you?)

The latter? Not forgivable at all.

Sometimes friends are reluctant to look beneath the “everything’s OK” veneer we parents of complex kids try to assume in public spaces. (Hey--there be monsters in that roiling deep.) Those same friends may choose not to open the books we send them, or avoid clicking on those informative links we gather for them on the internet--all performed in the vain hope they will believe some total stranger if they won't believe us.

If they would only open themselves to the possibility of universes parallel to their own, they’d learn why our lives, our families, and our choices are not carbon-copies of theirs. There’s a reason why some of us can never seem to save any money, or why one parent in our households simply cannot hold down a paying job--and that reason is not called by the names “shopaholism” or “malingering” or “selfishness.”

As my German husband says: understanding the plight of disability families “is NOT brain science.” (To which I invariably reply, “that’s Rocket Science or Brain Surgery, Sherlock.” So cute, that German husband of mine.)

Some of these friends-- perhaps it's time to face the facts and call them "frenemies?"--may even possess higher degrees or practical experience in fields that ought to make them get it, and lay off the judgmentalism. Yet still they judge--never asking, listening, practicing empathy, or trying to understand.

Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I can’t explain it, but it sure happens. And if you let them get to you, these frenemies and their negativity can do all kinds of nasty stuff to your self-esteem, your confidence, and your stress-levels. They can even interfere with your most cherished relationships--those with your partner, your parents, your children.

Hey--WAIT a minute. Maybe that’s exactly the point! But WHY? Could it be jealousy? Insecurity? Downright unkindness?

I dunno. We’re humans, People. We make no sense whatsoever. We cannot be reckoned like last month’s payroll.

Anyway, it doesn’t much matter what your friends, your frenemies, or your arch nemeses think. All you can really do is keep doing your best for your kid(s), your family, and yourself. There is no one-size-fits-all in the world of parenting. (Although I’m feverishly working on it. You’ll be the first to know when The Key to All Child-Rearings is available at your local bookseller.)

But what can I DO about these pretend-friends, who seem to thrive on bringing me down? you ask.

Until a few days ago I was wondering that very same thing. There'd been some things done, and other things said, that made me feel like I'd sucked in a hundred angry wasps. It was not the first time, but it needed to be the last.

And then a good friend, a fellow disability mom with very different kids than mine but a true Sister in Life’s Trials and Triumphs, gave me the 411.

“Shed ‘em,” she said. “Like that hair on your shirt.” She plucked a fallen strand off the back of my T-shirt and flicked it into the air. “Just let them go. Life is too hard and too short for that kind of crap.”

She may not realize how much good her morsel of wisdom has done me. Man, that was one heavy strand of hair. The frenemies were taking me down, killing me softly. What a relief, to say goodbye to all that--the negative energy, the endless, heartbreakingly intentional misunderstandings.

And what a pleasure, to revel in that other kind of friendship--the feeling, open-hearted, supportive kind.

Want share your own stories of judgmental friends and frenemies in the comments, Readers? I'd love to hear them! But please, no willfully ignorant, cruel, or uncivil comments, which will only defeat the purpose of this post. Sorry, but I'll have to delete those.

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