By The Auntie
Don’t be scared.
Yes, you. I’m talking to you. You aunt, uncle, grandparent, family friend.
You can look on with sympathy. You can listen when your sister/brother/daughter tells you how awful their day has been. You can offer a hug when they tell you that they are struggling.
Then you go back to your house and get on with your FASD free life and feel bad that you can’t do anything to help. Or relieved that you are not going through what they are going through.
You look at your own child/ren and are thankful that you were lucky that those nights, when you had a few too many, before you knew you were pregnant, hadn’t affected your child/ren. Or you may be glad that you recognised early on that you didn’t want to be a parent and don’t have any children.
I don’t have my own children – that previous sentence applies to me. I’m a single auntie. And whilst I have had a lot of involvement with my nephews throughout their lives, I have recently realised a few things that I would like to share with you.
When your sister/brother/daughter tells you how awful their day has been, they are only telling you about 30% of it. It is actually worse. A lot worse. But they are probably reluctant to tell you everything. They’ll do this for all sorts of reasons. They don’t want to burden you; they are trying to pretend it’s not that bad; they are embarrassed by how bad it sounds; they don’t think you will believe them. Whatever their reason, they, quite simply, won’t be honest.
You sympathise, you listen and when you administer that hug, which you believe to be your only possible response to them telling you they are struggling, it will be gratefully received, but it doesn’t really help much.
So you return to your world, in the knowledge that you have done all you can.
No. You haven’t. I’m going to be brutally honest with you now because you need to hear this.
I looked on with sympathy. I listened. I gave the hugs. And then went back to my beautiful, happy calm life knowing that there wasn’t anything more I could do. And I was scared to ask.
And my brother and sister-in-law let me. This is important. They were too proud/worried/scared/desperate to actually tell us how close they were to breaking point.
And for years we, all of us, continued this strange game of “if I don’t say it out loud, it’s not happening”.
Then one day, we caught my sister-in-law off guard. The mask fell off for a split second and she did a weird thing. She was really, truly, brutally honest with us.
And I woke up and smelled the coffee. Well, we were in a coffee shop!
So, draw a line in the sand and say, ok, we’ve maybe got it a bit wrong in the past, but what can we do today and tomorrow that actually helps? There is no point in beating yourselves up for not stepping up in the past, because your suffering family probably aren’t being honest with you and being an auntie to any child is a series of mistakes and trial and error, let alone a child with FAS.
Just don’t be scared. Getting involved doesn’t mean you have to abandon your lovely life and live in the constant turmoil of your FASD family. You’ve probably got turmoil and trauma of your own to deal with as it is. Getting involved doesn’t mean you have to suddenly learn unfamiliar parenting skills. Getting involved doesn’t mean you have to take a crash course in FASD Expertise.
Getting involved can be as simple as popping in for a coffee. This can change the atmosphere in the house and if a meltdown is imminent/happening, the distraction of you popping in for coffee can change everything.
Invite your FASD child to go for a walk.
Have him/her over to bake some cookies.
Take them to feed the ducks.
Be prepared to watch while they show you the latest Little Mix DVD.
Rub their backs and tickle their feet.
Ask their parents. No – wait – TELL their parents you are going to do something with the little one for a couple of hours – what would they recommend?
I had my SuperT for a week-end before Christmas; that respite week-end you can read about elsewhere on this site. Now, I appreciate that not everyone is in my position and may not be able to accommodate a whole week-end, but after school for an hour, even just once a month, will be more appreciated that you know.
SuperT came here and made a bread and butter pudding last week.
Today I took him to the allotment for two hours.
I’m going to have him overnight one Saturday in Jan.
I’m not going back to the time when I honestly believed that there was nothing I could do. I have learned that SuperT and I can rub along nicely together and his mum, his dad and his big brother can have a couple of hours during which there will be no meltdowns. Sometimes my work takes me away and I can’t help. But while I’m home, I can. I’m not scared any more.
I know I have said that the awful stories you hear are likely to be the tip of the iceberg, but…… BUT. What you might not hear about are the moments of joy in between, because these frazzled parents might not remember to tell you about the good times. A child with FASD is capable of enormous love, extreme happiness and tender loveliness. SuperT’s behaviour with me is always great – and your little one will be great with you. You’re not the parent who has to discipline. The rules are probably more relaxed with you. You are not the ones s/he needs to rebel against, like every child/teenager ever born in the whole world will do (given half a chance!) And if it turns out that s/he does have a meltdown whilst with you and you don’t know what to do, then just ask mum and dad. And if it doesn’t work out that time and you have to take them home, then it may work the next time – just keep trying.
And you know what – you will never know, unless you try. If you are sitting there reading this, wishing that there was something you could do……. well, you know what I’m going to say…….
Smell the coffee, drink it and enjoy. (or tea!)
Don’t be scared.
Click here if you would like a PDF version of this to print and share:
Involvement: An Open Letter to the Extended Families of a Child with FASD