Hiding the Truth

As I take a walk with my grandson, Charlie, I marvel at how observant he is – how he watches everything from every angle while held back by the straps of his stroller – how he strains to look backward to see the car that just passed, or how he bends over the metal bar to look at the flowers next to him. I think of how lucky he is – how lucky both of my grandsons are – nothing in their development has been called out for examination. They are healthy boys.

Then I think of a recent post on Blogher by Penny Williams -  an article advocating for disclosure when parents confront their child’s diagnosis of ADHD.  From experience I know that the diagnosis of any disability in a young child is a parent’s nightmare; but how the truth of that disability is dealt with determines the quality of life for every family member involved.

My sister was a double footling breech and was brain injured during her birth. Shortly thereafter, my mother suffered a nervous breakdown, and I was sent to Boston to my aunt’s house for a month so my mother could recuperate. Needless to say, she never fully did.

Growing up in the 1950′s, personal information was closely guarded – secrecy was the watchword and my parents, believing they were doing the right thing, subscribed to that philosophy. They thought they were protecting their child.  Sensing my parents’ reluctance to talk about it, I didn’t know what was wrong with my sister until I was 16 and got up the nerve to ask. To this day, at age 61, my sister remains unaware of the cause of her difficulties.

Our family secret has resulted in some sad consequences. Where my sister should have been compensated for life, she is now in serious debt; where she might have acquired more confidence through counseling, she is sadly withdrawn and morbidly obese; and where she should have received a more extensive education, she didn’t get past seventh grade.

As my mother reached old age, I tried to convince her to let me take control of what money would be left to my sister. Still trying to protect her daughter, she refused, saying it would hurt her feelings. Now, because of my sister’s propensity for impulsive buying, she has gone through her inheritance and is in so much debt I have no way to help her.  I have had to make up excuses so that I can convince her to see a credit counselor and let me handle her financial affairs without hurting her feelings. Thankfully, she has not resisted too much.

Although I completely understand the powerful urge to protect one’s child from hard truths, sometimes the harm lies in the protection.  I truly believe that my sister’s life would have been more productive and satisfying if my parents had come to terms with the need to get the truth out.

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