“You love Gia more than me”. Here it comes, the subsequent stab in the heart every parent feels when one of your children states that you love one of their siblings more. Two words- Mom-Guilt.
Immediately, I offer a reflection, “You feel this way because Gia gets so much attention”. Meanwhile, I’m holding my breath, hoping that my son doesn’t roll his eyes in response to what is stating the obvious.
Many families share in this experience. For our family, my son began to express these sentiments after my youngest experienced a significant regression and supportive services began. Not only was our attention and time focused on Gia, our family abilities changed, as well. And Anthony had to adapt.
Just as we, as caregivers allow ourselves permissions to work through our emotions and process, Anthony did too, simply at a very young age. He worked through and vocalized his own anxieties over Gia having meltdowns in public. He talked through his feelings of isolation, as he shared that he was the only kid he knew with a younger sibling with Autism. He needed to speak Autism and know that it’s not scary or bad. Ultimately, he needed permissions to speak his thoughts and feelings without shame. And then he had his time. Time to work through it, to accept the changes that having a uniquely abled family meant for him in his life, and to find his place in ours.
Initially, when my son began to express that he was struggling, my knee jerk reaction was to make extravagant efforts to make up for the lack of attention comparatively that he was getting. We would have mother-son dates and crazy outings, he got extra privileges and gifts. Now, don’t get me wrong; these are all wonderful things and when the opportunity presents itself, we still very much enjoy them. However, this doesn’t work for daily life and is it truly the remedy? For our family, the answer is No. Rather, we exercise and enjoy “time-in”, which is one on one time that happens regularly and with ease. In addition, I make mindful measures, simple gestures, to reaffirm that Anthony feels loved, supported and special. He knows that I don’t love Gia more…or less.
For Anthony as a special need’s sibling, this looks like, integrating Anthony into Gia’s daily routines and rituals when appropriate and at his discretion, empowering him with strategies for Gia and strategies for himself. Creating natural moments for them to bond, in their own way. Our “time-in” often looks like, late night T.V. binging on Disney’s sitcom Jessie, laughing and finding the humor in our day, regardless of the ups and downs.
It became clear to me that the best way I could support my son was by creating an environment where every member of our family thrives. And sometimes that starts with listening…