Dear Prudence

My Parents Refuse to Acknowledge That I’m Deaf

I’m living with them to help care for my dad, and I’m miserable.

woman looking sad
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Dear Prudence,

I am partially deaf due to a childhood accident. My parents were devastated. I have painful memories of trying to comfort my weeping mother as an 8-year-old, telling her that it wasn’t so bad and I could hear fine really. My dad made a lot of comments about how painful it was for any parent to have a disabled child, which seriously discouraged me from identifying as disabled for years. I kept it a secret when I utilized some disability support services at college. I’ve never told them that every job I’ve ever had has made accommodations for my disability. My life has actually been so much better since learning sign language and being open about my disability. I have a wonderful boyfriend who learned to sign for me and could not be more supportive.

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The problem now is that I moved back in with my parents during the pandemic, mainly so I could look after my dad, who is in poor health. I had actually forgotten how bad it is to live with people who do not want to acknowledge my deafness. I’m so used to people being OK with me needing things like subtitles on TV and clear speaking habits so that it really upsets me when these things anger my parents now. My boyfriend is here too. He recently got into a huge argument with my dad when my dad yelled at me for “not listening” to him and called me “insufferable” for wanting subtitles on. My boyfriend cooled down when I asked him to, but my parents are both still furious and say they don’t want him in the house anymore if he can’t respect them. I’ve said if he leaves, I’ll go too. I can’t stand the thought of being alone with just my parents.

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Now my mom is guilting me for considering leaving her to look after my dad, as he is in a long process of recovering from surgery right now. I don’t know what to do. On the one hand, I desperately want to go back to my peaceful home with my boyfriend, where no one screams at me and I don’t have to pretend not to be deaf. On the other, I am my parents’ only child, and it will be difficult for my mom to care for Dad alone right now. What should I do, and is there a compromise I’m not seeing?

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—Not Just “Not Listening”

There’s certainly no reasonable compromise that you’re missing, although your parents seem to be missing several. I hesitate, however, to call “acknowledging your deafness” a compromise. (I’m following your lead in not capitalizing the word deaf when you describe yourself.) Your parents are asking you to pretend not to be hard of hearing and to pretend not to need reasonable accommodations that harm no one because of the shame they feel about being the parents of someone with a disability—all while demanding you provide your father with ongoing care due to his short-term disability as he recovers from surgery. This is cruel, dehumanizing, and unreasonable. I don’t wonder that your life has improved immensely since you left your parents’ home, where you were forced as a young child to prioritize their manipulative demands over your own basic physical and emotional needs, and have been able to acknowledge your deafness as a basic component of your identity that informs your everyday life and merits accommodations without accompanying guilt trips or attempts at denial.

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It’s clear that your parents have gone out of their way to play upon your sense of obligation as their only child to put up with whatever demands they wish to make of you, no matter how unreasonable or damaging those demands are to your well-being. If your mother believes she cannot take care of your father without demanding her fellow caretaker pretends not to be deaf, then she does not have a reasonable, safe, or healthy definition of caretaking, and you would be well within your rights to move out. Indeed, I think it is necessary to your own health and safety that you and your boyfriend move out together, and soon. If your mother needs additional help, you can encourage her to contact her husband’s medical team, canvass your other relatives, or even offer to help defray the cost of a professional in-home caretaker. But do not continue to put yourself in harm’s way simply because your parents have always expected you to.

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Help! My Developmentally Delayed Teen Is Suddenly Really Interested in Sex.

Danny M. Lavery is joined by Alexis Coe on this week’s episode of the Dear Prudence podcast.

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Dear Prudence,

I got married young. By the time I turned 30, I already had two marriages and divorces under my belt. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about my part in those relationships’ ends, what I overlooked at the time, and what I want (or don’t want!) for myself and my child now. I’ve been with my current boyfriend for two years. We both said early on we could be together, but we would never marry. Now, we’ve started to talk about marriage, and it freaks me out. It’s not that I don’t love him, but what if it doesn’t work out? I took big financial and personal hits in my divorces. I’m just feeling like I’m in a good place. I know the statistical likelihood of a third marriage working out, and it terrifies me. At the same time, I feel like there is a certain seriousness afforded wedded couples that I miss having. Should I even consider marriage, or should I stick to my original inclination to be happily together but not married?

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—Happily Unmarried

I’m curious about the gap in your letter between “we would never marry” and “we’ve started to talk about marriage.” What changed, aside from the passage of time? Going from “never” to “maybe” is a big shift, and while you’re both entitled to change your minds, I wish I knew more about what prompted this new conversation. If the only reason you’ve started talking about it together now is because you’ve been together for two years and have a vague sense that married couples are afforded “a certain seriousness,” I think the best thing to do is revisit your founding principles as a couple and see if you can’t reaffirm them. Your reasons to postpone or avoid marriage altogether are reasonable, specific, and grounded in practical experience; they have to do with self-sufficiency, debt, not wanting to get tied up in court again, and prioritizing the stability of the home you share with your child. Your reasons for considering marriage are largely unclear, but what you have said about them suggests they have more to do with a fear of how others might perceive you than anything that’s directly relevant to your relationship. Stick to your original inclination, at least for now.

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If in another year you both find your thoughts turning more and more often to marriage, you can always revisit the subject. But don’t rush this! Give yourself time to enjoy being in a good place after years of turmoil. If getting married really is a good idea, it’ll still be a good idea a year from now.

Dear Prudence,

Last year, my sister and I were on a weekend getaway. Our father was turning 88 the following month, and I asked if we should do something and whether she knew what she was getting him. She was evasive. After his birthday, I had to stop at my dad’s, and he mentioned that he and his wife had gone out for dinner with his wife’s daughter and her husband—but that my sister and her husband had also been there! It was clear in talking to my dad that my sister knew about all of this while she and I were on our getaway. I was (and still am) very hurt that my sister didn’t mention the dinner and excluded me. I had the opportunity to bring it up with her and asked how she would have felt if I had excluded her. Her response was, “I’ll do better next time.” I’m trying to make peace with all of this but am having a hard time. Where do I go from here?

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—Sibling Exclusion

Keep trying to make peace with this! You don’t mention whether you and your sister always celebrate your father’s birthday together or with a joint gift, but it’s not at all unusual to send an adult parent an individual gift, and I don’t think you should take it as an automatic slight if your sister declines to go in on a birthday present together. You asked her if she wanted to do something together, and she didn’t commit to anything; later you found out she’d made her own arrangements. That doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to be hurt—you’re entitled to feel whatever you like, and you particularly hoped to do something together with your sister—but you should try to keep those feelings in perspective by reminding yourself that she didn’t lie to you or make promises she didn’t intend to keep. You and your sister got to take a lovely weekend getaway last year that didn’t include some of your other relatives. Later that year she celebrated your father’s birthday with some of his in-laws at a dinner that didn’t include you. Unless there’s a family pattern of excluding you from holidays and birthdays you haven’t mentioned but want to address with your sister, I think you should take her promise to include you in the future to heart and move on.

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More Advice From How to Do It

I’m a straight woman who has a reoccurring problem with new sex partners. I insist on condoms for penetrative sex unless a relationship becomes exclusive, but I’ll engage in oral and light non-penetrative genital-to-genital contact without them. I’m well-aware those activities are not risk-free, but that’s my comfort zone. My partners are generally on board with wrapping it up at the beginning of the act, but sometimes they’ll take the condom off midway through because it diminishes their sensitivity. No one has ever slipped his penis back in pretending it’s still wrapped. The good eggs have accepted stopping for the moment, or engaged in petting or oral instead. But too often my partner has agreed not to enter me unwrapped, but will then rub his penis against me in a way that feels great and is essentially like knocking at the door begging to be let in. I’ve sometimes relented against my better judgment because I’m overcome by desire and I don’t love the feel of condoms either. One guy suggested we just do hand stuff instead, but then once I was really lost in the moment, he slipped his penis in without a word. I went stiff, and stopped it immediately, and never saw him again.

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The culminated effect of these encounters has been to drastically damper my pleasure once the condom comes off. I feel hyper-vigilant about protecting my reasonable boundary, preventing me from letting go. I also feel resentful that it falls to me alone to keep the safe sex practice we originally agreed on, guilty and ashamed that I’m not getting him (and often myself) off, and sexually frustrated because I prefer condom-free sex too and it’s literally being dangled onto me. How do I reinforce this boundary without killing the mood with accusatory forewarnings or by creating an air barrier between our bodies?

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