Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Sibling Effect

When you have a special needs kiddo, sometimes the siblings get unintentionally pushed to the side or asked to put their needs on hold. There's a lot of debate about if this makes them better people or what it costs the child. And, there is a lot of guilt on the part of the parents. Here's a piece of our story:

Feisty Girl

I have been getting extremely frustrated with my 2nd born lately. She's 40 inches of pure precociousness and every bit as feisty. She's affectionately referred to as Turbo or Big Trouble and when she's being sweet, she's our K-Bear. We've tried rewards, we've tried consequences, we've tried kindness and sternness, and it doesn't seem to make a change in her behavior for more then five minutes at a time. I find myself being short tempered and extremely impatient with a four-year old, and then I get mad at myself for losing it with said four-year old! So, I took a step back, and tried to perceive our life through her eyes and not my own. What I found was both comforting and eye-opening at the same time.

They really are best friends
K-Bear is our middle child. Her older sister, Little Miss M, is seven and a half years old, but functions at about the four year old level in a lot of ways. Little Miss M cannot dress herself most days, she cannot shower herself or properly clean herself; bottom line is that she needs a lot of assistance throughout the entire day. K-Bear's younger sister is 16 months old and she cannot do anything for herself yet. She needs to be changed, be fed, be bathed and be babied, because she's a baby. So that leaves K-Bear assuming a lot of responsibility. We expect her to dress herself, to take herself to the bathroom, to help set and clear the table, to clean up her toys and to help her sisters with the things they are unable to do. It totally makes sense to me as the parent and adult. The one who can do, should do and the ones who can't get more help. Then I stopped and I looked at this through K-Bear's eyes. What I saw was my sisters getting a lot more attention for day to day tasks, being praised when they pulled their pants up or followed a simple command. What I saw was if I refused to do things or cried about them, Mommy and Daddy would sweep in and help - or would they? There was not clear boundaries for what K-Bear could expect from Daddy or I. Sometimes we help her, sometimes we make her do it herself - she has no idea what to expect, and so she pushes limits and forces our hand. I guess that's something to consciously work on, it wont' be easy, but maybe we can fix it?

Waiting for Little Miss M again
And so my observing continued. Little Miss M has autism as one of her lengthy list of diagnoses. This leaves her unable to play easily with others and often she just plays by herself, within herself. K-Bear will appear to understand it, but then she starts calling her sister repeatedly, and then I realize that she just wants her sister to play with her. K-Bear is searching for a way to connect with Little Miss M and is just finding road blocks. The game that engaged Little Miss M yesterday, is met with defiance and tears the next day. I know that feeling, I carry it with me as a parent. But, to be 4 years old, learning the ins and outs of social protocol yourself and have to navigate the dramatic responses of someone you've known your whole life, it's a heavy burden and one we need to help K-Bear with more.

Another appointment, waiting for the car
It was a long summer of doctor appointments and therapies in our house, most times two or three a week, sometimes more. Most of them for Little Miss M, who's been struggling with an unknown illness on top of her current issues and K-Bear has either been dragged along or left with family members. She has gotten very little time at playgrounds, beaches, swimming pools, or at friend's houses. Little Miss M hasn't felt well enough most of the summer to go outside, and so K-Bear has to make do. K-Bear's also begun to vocalize that she doesn't want to do these things alone, not understanding that Little Miss M cannot do them.

We try, but is it enough?

alone time at the beach with Mom
I know parenting is difficult. There are choices to make, there are paths to lead them along and there are lessons to be learned by them and us. But, this feels tricky. With Little Miss M, I'm worried constantly. Being her Mom is almost equated with being her nurse and her counselor. There is a lot of hands-on stuff needed for Little Miss M and it does take a lot of energy, focus and time. With Z-baby, she's a baby - so everything is exciting and special. Each new word or sign, each new thing she does - it's worth rejoicing. And with K-Bear, I feel like a life guard, constantly watching her to make sure she doesn't go too far and hurt herself. Constantly trying to help her express her emotions through language and not whining. And constantly reminding myself that she is only four and a half years old.

Sassy girl 
I see her seeking attention; she was singing to herself the other day, and when I didn't react, she says, "I'm in my world today, this is Kennedy's world". I see the frustrations as she screams, whines or cries the minute she's told "No". But I also see the love she has and the admiration as she tells people her sister's name, and as she proudly walks beside Little Miss M's stroller - not even noticing the looks we are getting. Really, I think the weight she carries on her shoulders was made clear to me, when she hugged Little Miss M as we hurried off to the hospital one night and said "be ok, I love you". And so, I know she has been made a better person for having a sibling with such specific and special needs, and I know she will do wonderful things with her life. But, I must remember that she needs us as much, if not more then her sisters, because she is special too - in a different way, but definitely special!.


Amanda really does love being a mom, even more than she loves coffee and chocolate!

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