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Carolyn Hax: Parent of a disabled child is tired of pity from friends

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
3 min

Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn! I don’t want to imply that I’m an incredibly special snowflake, but I have a child with a lot of disabilities, and my old friends Do. Not. Get. It.

To the casual observer, my son looks fine, but he is autistic and has struggled with an anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, etc. He has been hospitalized several times, and our life is a revolving door of various professionals trying to help him.

My friends of the past 10 years are great, have their own challenging kids and have provided an amazing community. My friends from college, however, just cannot understand the life I live.

I am feeling torn about staying in touch with these old friends. It is exhausting to explain things to them and watch them react with shock and pity over and over. It is discouraging listening to them go on about their fun family vacations (which we can never take), their children’s amazing academic successes (my idea of success is my kid not throwing things at a teacher), their kids’ brilliant extracurriculars and vibrant social lives (hahahahaha).

At some point, do I just cut my losses and say it’s hurting me to be around these people? Part of me feels as if they need to remember there are families like mine out there — lots of them! — but constantly educating others is a lot. What do you think?

— Special Needs Snowflake

Special Needs Snowflake: I think you have no further obligation to friends who are consistently not serving the purpose friends are supposed to serve. You also have no obligation to educate them on their behalf, yours or the world’s.

And if you want to stay in touch with them anyway, then you have no obligation to explain yourself. You can calmly let them not get it.

People of all kinds move on from friendships of all kinds for all kinds of reasons. It really doesn’t warrant deep analysis if you don’t want it to. You have other support now and warm memories of then. Good enough.

Re: Snowflake: Have you talked to your friends about the pattern of their behavior? (The friends you might want to keep, anyway?) Something like: “I feel as if I’ve explained this to you over and over — this is my kid’s condition, these are his limitations, it’s permanent — yet you seem surprised every time. What’s going on?”

— Anonymous

Anonymous: I like this, thanks — but only if it doesn’t feel like more work atop all the other work.

Dear Carolyn: Is there a good way to navigate a friendship with a person whose significant other is kind of toxic? I do my best to see her just one-on-one, but she invited me to a group event this weekend where he’ll be present. I want to see her, but it almost feels as if going is just enabling the dysfunction between them.

— Enabling?

Enabling?: “Toxic” is a big category.

Are we talking abuse? Then go to to learn how best to support your friend. It’s a fine line: not tacitly endorsing the relationship, but also not helping the abuser isolate your friend. It’s about staying present and close but not chummy with the abuser.

If it’s just that you don’t like the SO, then it’s more a matter of deciding how much couple stuff is necessary to stay close with your friend.

And don’t discount the value of being around to say, “Hey, don’t talk to my friend like that.” Or a private, “I’m here for you, 24/7.”