by Jane Kramer~What about ME, mom? At five years old, my middle daughter did not want us to have a third kid in the worst way. In retrospect, it probably felt like enough to have one offbeat sibling.
I know it is hard to be a Mom or Dad of a child with special needs. What does it feel like to be a sibling? I interviewed my adult child about what it was like for her growing up.
Not easy, she recounted. She felt responsible, sometimes even put upon by us
parents. She said she could never feel like a typical kid.
There were even embarrassing moments. She remembers being a teen and having to tell an excuse about her sister to a teacher in front of her peers that was not true in order to protect her sister.
My husband and I asked her to tell this white lie but not why she had to tell it. Our daughter felt angry and uncomfortable and never told us how she felt until I asked her. A wave of sadness overcame me.
It is truly difficult to be in her shoes, I thought as I listened to her retell her experiences. Holding back feelings of guilt, I tried to rationalize that her experience made her who she is, a giving, assertive, wonderful human being who has chosen a career of non-profit service.
This may be true…but back to her experience as a special needs sibling. There were the tense meals, where her sister’s misunderstood failures were the topic of conversations. This was certainly not the ideal family mealtime where thoughts and feelings are heard peacefully and shared.
Then there were the perceived expectations that she succeed in the areas where her disabled sister struggled. That’s a big burden to carry, I mused. How could I have handled this differently, I wondered? If I had only understood the underlying issues of my special needs child…ADHD, OCD and Bipolar were challenges without many helpful solutions.
Having more solutions might have made it easier on her siblings. Maybe it would have given us more tools to manage our family. Maybe we all would have felt less frustrated and reactive to unusual behaviors because we would have understood what precipitated them. We would have had more positive energy for the compassion all of our children needed more often.
The school administration inadvertently precipitated some of the awkward interactions that both sisters experienced at school since they were only two years apart in age.
Today, my middle daughter often works with special needs children and helps to support parents in their efforts to get help from the schools. When I hear about her experiences, I learn there is more information today but that many challenges remain with the delivery of support in schools.
Today, her relationship with her sister is stronger, but she still finds herself being the supportive sister and swallowing some of the awkward moments, which leave unresolved gut feelings of discomfort. I know that now that she is an adult, she must find her own ways to cope. I am trying to let go of the past and what I must not try to control. I am working on finding balance in my role as the parent of adult children.
What about the baby brother? The six years of separation between him and his middle sister did not hold the two back from being as close as they could be. She was his playmate, teacher and role model.
He does not recall any direct conflict with his special needs sibling being eight years her junior, but he was aware of the household tensions when they arose. He did not spend too much time with her, not because he did not want to. She spent so much time alone in her room.
Not any more! My oldest daughter has found many ways to create more balance and happiness for herself. An amazing new chapter in her life!
It is heartening to witness the wonderful and thoughtful relationships that my adult children share today. They support, love and encourage their special sister and each other as they each have stepped into independent lives.
How lucky we are to have a precious family. It is a gift to be treasured each day.