While the world around us is ripe with outcries against social injustices, people crying racism, ageism, bigotry, sexism, hate, etc. I have been regularly taking a good hard look at how my family treats me, compartmentalizes me and sees me. It is hard to even type but for a multitude of reasons, the most significant one being that both of my children have special needs, based on their actions and words, I have been made to feel less in the eyes of my immediate and extended family.
I honestly would have never thought it would come to this but I really do think it has. It has everything to do with the fact that everyone wants their life to appear as a Christmas card – everyone handsome, well-dressed, smiling and uniformly looking like the perfect all American Family. That is the opinion and perspective that most people want to emanate to those on the outside looking in.
We as a culture have an insatiable appetite for Hollywood stars and their glamorous lifestyles and seemingly perfect lives. If only we looked like them, had their money, our lives would be perfect – or at the very least, much better than the lives we have now. I don’t know about you but my Facebook timeline is constantly jammed with comments about reality shows and completely unrealistic TV shows about people who have everything and still want more. While some may crack up at all of the dysfunctional family TV shows on these days, they only want to see it on TV, not in their own family tree.
Well, I live in reality and refuse to live my life by these terms and because of it, I often feel that I am being marginalized, often by my own family because we aren’t that Christmas card family. We live our lives around the needs of our children, drive older cars and don’t dress like we walked out of a fashion magazine every time we walk out of our house and don’t live via credit cards. Good Lord! We actually live within our means and don’t try to appear to be anything more than what we are – a middle class family with two special needs kids trying to do the best we can with what we have.
Yes, I wear jeans and T-shirts most days because that is what is most comfortable for me. Let me say this for the 5,000th time – I have no one to impress. I can’t even remember the last time I went on a specific clothes shopping spree for me because we simply can’t afford it. If I need something, I get it when I need it and that’s it This lifestyle works for us but it seems to make my family think less of me – even at times my parents.
I see the look in their eyes all the time, they see the smart, intelligent and highly educated daughter they raised who had the world as her oyster when she was 28 years old and now they see a tired, often worn down woman whose choices they respect but really can’t brag about with their friends. I have often been hurt by things that my mom says to me about her friends kids and how successful they are, their nice homes, new jobs, exotic vacations and then my mom will turn around and tell me, “What do I have to brag about?”
You see, while she respects my decision to stay at home to do what is best for our daughters, she cares about what others think and in our day and age it’s all about what you can brag about. No one gets excited over the fact that her daughter has two special needs kids and stays at home – they only give her the “oh that’s too bad” look and that stings her.
She keeps telling me that she can’t wait for me to get my life together and make something of my life. Caring for her granddaughters apparently isn’t good enough. And I see these same looks in the eyes of other family members when we show up for family events. While they are genuinely happy to see us, and don’t get me wrong, my family loves us, I just feel that we make them uncomfortable at times because we aren’t the picture-perfect Christmas card family.
Because they think less of me, they do treat me differently, that there is no doubt about. I am the first one many of them come to when they need a favor or someone to go the extra mile for them because they know that my mindset as a special needs mom is one of self-sacrifice and that I am a pro at putting everyone else before myself. If they need something researched online, writing done, errands ran during the day while everyone else is at work, etc.
Yet, here I sit today with a family funeral on the horizon and I almost don’t even want to go because I don’t want to be an embarrassment to them because what other people think is more important than how I feel. They want to show the perfect happy family to everyone on the outside looking in … and my family isn’t aesthetically pleasing, I see it all the time when their eyes dip down for a moment or when I run into them in public and they just introduce us by our names to their friends, not mentioning the fact that we are related. It hurts but at least they are being real.