Parenting siblings of kids with disabilities! Part 1
It all began as an innocent discussion around the kitchen table. There we were, my oldest son who is 8 years old and me. It seemed apparent that the timing was right. This had been a topic that I had wanted to bring up in detail for some time.
I opened up with, “BJ, what’s it like to have a brother with Down syndrome?”
His answer was amazingly mature, “It’s pretty much normal except that Jack takes longer to learn and understand some things.”
I was stunned. Here I was, delving into a discussion that I anticipated would become emotional and heavy. As I continued to honestly and gently probe different aspects about being a sibling to someone with a disability, there were a couple hurts that became apparent that I, as Dad, am responsible for leading to change.
We’ll come back to the story at the end.
In reality, parenting the siblings of our children with disabilities can be just as daunting and overwhelming as parenting a child with a disability. There are many experiences that these kids will go through that I will never experience and most of their friends will never experience.
If you read authors on the subject regarding siblings of people with disabilities, there are multitude of additional emotional issues that siblings deal with that their friends do not experience. Let me add that, unless we (the parents) grew up in a home where there was someone with a disability, we also have not had this experience and therefore we can have trouble bridging the chasm to ensure that our empathy and leadership really connect.
The University of Michigan published an article that lists several issues that are common for these siblings to experience. They include:
- Worry – for their sibling with a disability.
- Jealousy – of the attention their brother/sister receives.
- Anger – that no one pays attention to them.
- Resentment – that they have to explain, support and/or take care of their brother/sister.
- Guilt – for the negative feelings that they may feel toward their sibling OR for not having the same problems.
- Fear – Scared of what might happen to their sibling.
- Pressure – to be or do what their sibling cannot.
There is so much to this topic and since I usually try to keep these blog posts to an easy read, I will spread this discussion out over the next couple weeks. So, stay tuned. I would love your feedback as we go through this journey together.
It is important to remember a principle that we often champion for our child with special needs. Every child is truly unique. It is for this reason that we need to stop and spend some time thinking about our other children who are typically developed. The reason I suggest that we start at the thinking stage is because it will allow us to approach the situation with at least some mental preparation. After that…PRAY. Pray for them.
There is a verse in the Bible that says, “ If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5 ESV)
God is interested in helping us be great parents…not just for our kids with special needs…but for all our kids. I know this because there are other verses in the Bible that say…
- “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (James 6:4 ESV)
- “Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.” (Colossians 3:21)
The goal…to have that solid, meaningful relationship with our typical developed child that transcends the circumstance of having a sibling with a disability.
My encouragement this week is to:
- THINK about your other child/children. Is there tension in the relationship between you and them? Do you see any of the above emotions bubbling to the surface in their life?
- PRAY specifically for that child. Pray specifically for that child and that the right time would come to have a conversation.
- ASK the questions. “What’s it like to have a brother/sister with a disability?
- LISTEN. LISTEN. LISTEN. You will not solve the emotional instability in that 15 minute conversation. But you WILL build the relationship which will pave the way to more openness and healing.
Back to my discussion with BJ, my 8 year old son. There are some glaring issues that I need to figure out how to rectify, which will take much prayer and discernment. However, I do know that my son appreciated me listening, learning and reinforcing his value in our home for who he is…period.