Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

Morning Quickie: “My Family Thinks My Lesbian Relationship is Disgusting”

I am a 49-year-old woman who is, and has been for the past twenty-one years, a full-time caregiver for my now 95-year-old mother and 53-year-old brother with Down’s syndrome. I have seven brothers and sisters who don’t give me any help or support. Seven months ago I met a lovely woman on a gay online dating site. She has been over to visit me on several occasions, but my mother has behaved dreadfully towards her since, without realizing that my mother had no idea I was gay, my girlfriend told her that we were in a relationship. I think this shocked my mother, but, as time went on, I think she forgot this fact and was starting to be civil with my girlfriend and me. Recently my mother has started acting up again!

My other problem is my sister, who is 50 years old and with whom I have never had a good relationship. She is making life as difficult as she can for me and refuses to speak to me now. When she comes to visit my mother, which is in my house, she calls me disgusting and says that she “never thought I would turn out like this” (whatever that means). It is almost ruining my relationship with my girlfriend before it’s had a chance to get started. My mother is worried I am going to leave her and my brother and go off with my girlfriend. I have no intention of doing this, but I feel that my mother is being totally selfish and that my sister is being a bully!

I would appreciate any advice you could give me as my girlfriend is even willing to take on my Down’s syndrome brother as well as me, and yet we are being treated so badly! — Mom’s Full-Time Caregiver

You say your girlfriend of seven months has been over to visit you on “several occasions” which leads me to believe she doesn’t come over often. “Several occasions” in seven months is what — maybe once a month? If that? So . . . one would assume she is not privy to most of what is said in your home and the behavior exhibited. She really only knows what you tell her. So if your sister’s behavior and words are “almost ruining” your relationship with your girlfriend, stop relaying to your girlfriend what your sister says. And if your girlfriend happens to be present when your sister is over, change that. In fact, is there any reason YOU need to be home when one of your siblings comes to visit? If you don’t get along with them and they create such angst for you, take advantage of their visits and use the time to get a break from care-giving. Go over to your girlfriend’s home . . . or go on a date. Minimize the time you spend with the siblings who cause you grief and minimize — or just completely avoid, if possible — ever having your girlfriend over to your home where you are afraid your mother will treat her dreadfully. And if it can’t be avoided, explain to your girlfriend that your mother is a 95-year-old woman who is likely not 100% mentally there and that the things she says should be taken with a big grain of salt.

And you know, if your girlfriend can’t deal with a few crazy things your very old mother says on the “occasional visits” she’s made to your home, I wonder how prepared she really is to “take on your Down’s Syndrome brother” and you (whatever you mean by “taking you on”). I’m not comparing your brother’s needs and behavior to your mother’s, but simply suggesting that both family members are high maintenance and require a certain amount of patience, compassion, and understanding, not to mention acceptance of behavior that might otherwise seem inappropriate from someone else. Regardless, I would spend a lot more time getting to know your girlfriend and forming a bond with her before even beginning to entertain the idea of one day living with her and your brother together and letting her help take care of him. Presumably, this wouldn’t happen until after your mother is no longer with you, right? But maybe you are considering a nursing home or some other alternative living environment for her in her final years, which might not be a bad idea either. Perhaps some of your seven siblings would be willing to help find and pay for such an option. And then you could have a little more privacy in your own home to further develop your relationship with your girlfriend. And your siblings could visit your mother without bothering you.

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

12 comments… add one
  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom January 20, 2015, 9:28 am

    You can set boundaries for how people treat you in your own home. If your sister wants to come into your home you should be able to expect that she won’t be insulting. If she is insulting ask her to leave, immediately, or do like Wendy suggested and leave. Tell her you’ll be back in X hours and say that you expect she’ll stay with mom and brother until you get back. If she continues to be rude you don’t have to answer the door or let her in when she arrives at your house. It is your house. You can determine who comes through the door and who doesn’t. Next time she says something rude to you in your own home you should have a reply ready. Never say what you have to say rudely. Never snap or snarl. Say it simply, clearly and pleasantly. I know it’s harder to say than do but that’s how it needs to be done.

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    • Diablo

      Diablo January 20, 2015, 10:35 am

      Totally. Anyone who doesn’t like who you are in your home is free to leave. I might be gentle and firm with Mom, because she can’t choose to leave at this point, but your sister can get bent if she doesn’t like it. Tell her she can make arrangements to take Mom out for the day, but she won’t be visiting her in your house unless she learns some manners. Alternately, invite gf over anytime sister is there and tongue kiss deeply until she leaves or gets used to it. You are 49 and will never have more power over your own life. Stand your ground. It’s 2015 ffs. Who seriously even cares if people are queer anymore?

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  • avatar

    Laura Hope January 20, 2015, 9:39 am

    You’re 49 years old, have devoted your entire life to an unappreciative family, have been disrespected, unable to pursue your own happiness and even verbally abused. I’m thinking you’re the one who needs to change her behavior (and life).

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  • mylaray

    mylaray January 20, 2015, 10:31 am

    Sometimes one sibling does unfortunately get stuck caring for a family member, but you have two to take care of and that’s a lot of work. Especially when you have so many siblings who could and should help to a degree. Is your brother with Down’s syndrome getting enough socialization outside the family? He may be better off in a group home with people of similar disabilities.
    .
    Did you willingly volunteer to be the full time caretaker for both or is it something that fell to you because no one else was willing? Either way you need to put your foot down and set some boundaries with your family. Whether that’s your siblings helping out financially or not being disrespectful in your house, etc. It wasn’t mentioned but I hope you’re not relying on any sort of income from your mom or brother. When your other family members are being so unappreciative I think you would be better off on your own and finding other ways for your mom and brother to be taken care of. It’s very hard for family to be caretakers and even harder when the burden is on one person.

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  • FireStar

    FireStar January 20, 2015, 10:56 am

    At what age, do you think, that you should stop giving a flying f-ck what others think? Your sister is a bigoted jackass. Bigoted jackasses say ridiculous things. If you want to be kind, your other is an old woman, set in her old fashioned ways who doesn’t have a firm grasp on reality. Your mother’s comments you can just dismiss and your sister’s comments you shut down or leave her to say them to an empty room. You aren’t going to change them – change how you interact with them.

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  • avatar

    bostonpupgal January 20, 2015, 11:30 am

    I agree with a lot of what’s being said here. If you don’t like what your sister has to say, stop listening. The next time she says something hateful while in your home, ask her to leave or leave yourself as Wendy suggested.

    I would also strongly suggest looking at ways to have a bit more independence and your own life. When you’re constantly taking care of 2 extremely needy people, it’s easy to feel isolated and get hung up on small minded people. Facilitate a family meeting and explain to your siblings that you can no longer care for these two entirely on your own. Ask your sister to visit on a regular schedule so that you can get out of the house while she’s there. Join a caregivers support group. Look into social services or medicare/medicaid services. Look into day care for your brother where he can get much needed socialization and you can get time away. It may be time to consider a permanent home (other than yours) for one or both of them. You seem stuck, and maybe you’re a bit afraid of a life that isn’t consumed by being a full time caregiver, though I could be wrong. It’s time for you to start living a fuller life, and you’ll stop worrying so much about your bigoted sister.

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  • avatar

    Sunshine Brite January 20, 2015, 12:50 pm

    Your mother is 95 and apparently has memory problems which means you can count on her behavior to be affected. She will be mean to her and to you and to others at times. You have to let it go or it will affect you negatively.
    .
    It’s a common fear that your caregiver is going to leave. If your mom snaps about you leaving and you don’t have an intention to do so reassure her of that fact.
    .
    Avoid your sister. Demand respect in your house and bring your other brothers and sisters to try and support you as well.
    .
    It doesn’t sound like you have much social support. Don’t let these comments affect your view of yourself or your relationship. Take some time for yourself to build your confidence and practice some self esteem.
    .
    Take things slow with your girlfriend, enjoy her company.
    .
    Depending on your mother and brother’s financial resources you could private pay or look into disability related funding for them to go to adult day services occasionally or personal care assistance. This would give them socialization and give you a break from caregiving. It sounds like you need one.

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  • Lyra

    Lyra January 20, 2015, 12:53 pm

    Well if your sister refuses to speak to you and is going to treat you like crap, you have the right to tell her she can’t come into your home anymore. It’s your house. If she can’t be civil, well then she’s lost the privilege to come visit. End of story. If she complains, calmly explain that she isn’t helping you or offering you support when taking care of your mother and sister and she has no right to treat you the way she is treating you. When she changes her attitude, THEN she can come back to visit.

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    • Lyra

      Lyra January 20, 2015, 1:02 pm

      Also with your brother is there a way to get him into an assisted living facility? Quite honestly that may be your best bet. I don’t think you want to take on being his caregiver for his entire life, and frankly I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t want to take on that responsibility. It’s not that you don’t want to help him and take care of him, but him living more independently might be a better option. Yes it would be a bit more costly, but I think the trade off is worth it.
      .
      My mom’s cousin has a daughter with an extreme case of MS and she was diagnosed at an early age. They knew she would never be able to live on her own, so she has been living in an assisted living home since her early 20’s. She lives with roommates, and a caretaker checks in usually 5-7 times a day with meals, medication, and just to assist with the daily routine. She even was able to get a part time job at Kohl’s through this assisted living facility — they take care of her transportation and they drive her there and back. She usually works 2-4 hours. It’s a really nice set up. Her parents made the decision in order to give her the best opportunity to be somewhat independent and they also knew that it would be next to impossible for them to be her caregivers as they were getting older.

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      • avatar

        Sunshine Brite January 20, 2015, 1:10 pm

        It doesn’t seem that she really wants to give up being a caregiver which is nice when families can do it because it’s not a bit more costly. It gives up power and control to strangers. I would assume her brother has disability funding but if he doesn’t that’s the first step because 24 hour care is usually a couple hundred dollars per day at least.
        .
        It sounds like he hasn’t lived on his own so an assisted living wouldn’t be as beneficial unless it’s run more as a group home so he can get individualized attention. He could get a lot of independence as you described in that setting as most areas have specialized developmental disability services where people of all abilities can go to work during the day.

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom January 20, 2015, 1:23 pm

        Her brother may already go to a program during the day. Many of those with Down Syndrome in our county go to a sheltered industry site during the day, the program includes transportation, and they spend the night at home with their family. The program also has sheltered living cottages where adults can live independent of their families.

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      • Skyblossom

        Skyblossom January 20, 2015, 1:19 pm

        The average life expectancy for someone with Down Syndrome is 55 due to Alzheimer’s. I do think she should look into assisted living for her brother because it is hard to care for two special needs people and her brother’s care will likely become more difficult in the near future as he develops Alzheimer’s, the odds of that run about 100% with Down Syndome. She should also look into it for her mom if and when her care becomes too much for one person to handle. The care of a special needs person can be both physically and emotionally exhausting and with two doubly so.

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