About the siblings…

3 Oct

I stumbled across an article on Pinterest about growing up with an autistic sibling, which linked to a blog post about parenting a neuro-typical child and a child with autism and how the NT child tends to get the short end of the stick.

Needless to say, they both resonated with me.

I will be honest – I don’t spend a lot of my days wondering if I’m screwing up my older kids because of their youngest sibling.  Once in a blue moon, I am painfully aware of things – like when Mim would say “Do you think Maura will ever become normal?”  (My response was “Oh sweetie – none of us are normal!” – which gets a laugh and a “True – okay, will she be normal-ish?”)

I am aware that I have screwed up my kids.  It’s inevitable.  No one is the perfect parent, you will do something not right, you will screw up your kids at least a little.

But I do also know that when it comes to the older three, we’ve done all we can to ensure their lives continue as normalish as possible.

It’s not because I’m so wise and wonderful and insightful.  It’s because when Maura was a baby, 8 year old Collin (who was that insightful kid) said one day ever-so-matter-of-factly “Maura’s your favorite.”

I looked at him in surprise.  “Why do you say that?”

“Because you pay attention more to her than the rest of us.”

There was truth behind that statement.  Collin wasn’t mad or angry or crying, just stating fact.  So I rounded up the others and said “Do you think I give Maura lots of attention?”   They all nodded.  I said “Well of COURSE I do, she’s the baby!  Miriam, when you were the baby, you got more attention than the boys did.  Sean, when you were the baby, you got more attention than Collin did.  And Collin, when you were the baby, you got ALL the attention because there were no other kids who needed my attention.  Babies just need more attention.  You guys are bigger, you don’t need me to help you with everything.  Maura does.  So yes, she gets more attention.  But that doesn’t mean she’s my favorite.  I have favorite things about all of you.”

And I had three happy understanding kids and they all wanted to know what the favorite things were and for one shining moment I was the Good Parent.

Fast-forward about ten months later, when I was still trying to get a grip on the fact that there was something “wrong” with Maura and no one could tell me what and I was certain that if I just did the right thing, found the right toy, stimulated her brain in the right thing, she could outgrow whatever these delays were.  I was so caught up in trying to make things right, to understand something even doctors couldn’t quite explain to me, to process all that information being thrown at me about how early intervention is crucial if you want your child to become normal…that one day, I looked up from it all and realized I’d been ignoring my older three children.

They weren’t neglected, they weren’t wanting, but they had definitely been pushed to the back burner.  I had gotten blindsided by Maura’s issues, and there they were, being all great kids and great siblings.  Oh, the moments of guilt I had over it!  But then I remembered guilt and regret get you no where, and moved forward, making sure all the kids got the attention and focus they needed – at this point, I’m sure they’d like it if I ignored them a bit more, teenagers they are.

Josh and I have always had the attitude of not letting Maura’s issues hold her or us back.  Okay, Josh more than me had that attitude when she was younger.  Then I learned that Josh was right and wise.  I’d spent years before I had Maura juggling siblings, in a way, it wasn’t hard to add her to the mix.  Kids still got signed up for soccer, got dragged to the grocery store, to band concerts.  Granted, I’ve also had to learn every escape route and always opt for aisle seats so that I can flee with Maura if she gets unhappy, and they’ve learned to find us in the audience by Maura’s shouts of “MIM!  MIIIIIM!” (or whichever sibling isn’t present.)

And I’ll admit – I have sometimes spoiled my kids because of how awesome they are about their sister.  Because they are so very awesome with her.  Collin has this new routine of picking her up and swinging her about to make her stop crying and laugh instead.  Sean will carry her up to bed when she wants a “ride” up the stairs.  Miriam paints her nails, does her hair, and helps get her ready in the morning sometimes without me asking.  They treat her for what she is – their sister.  She annoys them sometimes, as usual with little sisters, but they don’t resent her.  They know she needs extra help and they step in to help.  And in return, we thank them, we acknowledge that it’s not easy to live with her, and how awesome they are about things.

So I spoil them at times.  With my mother-in-law’s approval.  Life isn’t easy for the older three, and they don’t complain.  I sometimes have to ask a lot of them, and they always step up to the plate.  They have yet to disappoint me when it comes to dealing with their sister and in return, I make sure I don’t forget how awesome they are and not take advantage of their big hearts.  So while they’re perfectly capable of taking care of their sister while I go out, I will take said sister with me, to give them a break.  Or when we’re all trying to do something fun and Maura’s melting down, I will be the one to take her to a calmer place so they can still have their fun.  And I try to make sure she doesn’t totally embarrass them in public.   In return, they never really seem embarrassed of her in public.  Bemused, yes.  Embarrassed – not really.

The thing is, there might come a time when my husband and I aren’t here and Maura needs family to take her in.  I want my older three to see her as a beloved sister, not a burden.  I won’t burden them now with her, and I hope they don’t see her as a burden when they’re older.  Maura loves them completely and unconditionally and hopefully when they’re all grown, they will fully appreciate all that she is and her love for them.  Right now, they appreciate her as they appreciate each other – as a sibling.

I don’t blog as much about the older three – not because I favor Maura more, but because I respect their privacies.  Maura could care less about what I post about her.  But the older three might die of embarrassment if I mention certain things about them.  So I am more choosy about what I say about them.  No need to air their dirty laundry (they do a fine job of airing it, all over their bedroom floors!)

The truth is – all my kids are amazing, and for very different reasons.  I never ever forget that, and make a conscious effort to remind them of that.  At the end of the day, they all need their mother and father. Maybe not as much as Maura, but they still need their parents – to help with homework, to solve a teen issue, to give them a hard time over something and make sure they grow up to be self-sufficient adults.

Our lives have been changed irrevocably because of the addition of Maura to our family. It was up to us to see if the changes would be positive or negative.  We have all worked hard to make sure it was a positive change.  And we’ve made sure that in every area possible, our life is as normalish* as we can make it.  At the end of the day, that’s all we can do.

The older three laughing as Maura yells “Ow! My butt!” because she bumped her backside right before this picture was taken. Another Family Photo moment given up on.  (PS, her butt was fine.)


*normalish – the word Miriam coined to describe our family, which will never be truly normal.


16 Responses to “About the siblings…”

  1. mrskelly5 October 3, 2012 at 6:51 am #

    This is a great post! I have two older children who are very helpful with their 6 year old sister, Meghan, who has developmental delays due to a genetic deletion. They are awesome with her. Loved hearing your perspective on this topic. Thank you so much for your posts. I read each one and enjoy them all!

  2. Melanie Ledgerwood October 3, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    I love you blog. Your thoughts on parenting resonate closely to my own. Thanks for being so honest.

  3. Debbie Lareau October 3, 2012 at 8:38 am #

    I love reading your stories! I have a 9-year old Autistic daughter and a 7-year old “normalish” daughter with 4 older siblings. Your comments and humor help me keep things in perspective. Thank you!

  4. Courtney October 3, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    Lovely post! We follow the same ideas regarding parenting and allowing our typical kids to have time without their sister’s needs getting in their way of fun. We’re as honest as we can be regarding her needs and what makes each of them special. I also tell myself that when they’re a parent some day (far, far away) they will understand a bit more about how we did things and why….I hope and pray.

  5. Kate October 3, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Phoebe, I love your blog…. I’m now off to contemplate how I’m screwing my kids up…. lol

    • phoebz4 October 3, 2012 at 10:36 am #

      You’re doing just fine screwing up your kids – you do it with style and grace 🙂

  6. Nancy October 3, 2012 at 10:36 am #

    Truly inspiring. You are doing a great job!

  7. Angie October 3, 2012 at 6:30 pm #

    I love and miss you phoebz!!! Love love love this blog!!!! Now to continue on with messing up my kids!!! 😉

  8. Vicki Lorraway October 4, 2012 at 3:47 am #

    I may have just sent you an email, so sorry! That is what happens when you have a new ipad and touch things randomly :(. I did really love your post and recommended it to several friends. I enjoy all your writing, keep up the great work 🙂 Best wishes Vicki

    Sent from my iPad

  9. Suzanne October 4, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    Your post really resonates with me. We have two older, and now grown and out of the house boys. We tried so hard to be fair to their needs and demands and even went on separate (mom and son only or dad and son only vacations) to try and make them feel special. Went to all their sports practices and games, etc. and I still feel as if I failed them somehow. Both have their own “issues” to deal with as well. Sometimes I feel as if I/We failed them, but realize that is stupid – if we can aim for as “normalish” as possible then we are doing better than we thought.

    Funny thing…my second son joined the army and is headed off for some military training in the state of Washington for the next 35 days. We RARELY ever hear from him, and the last two nights he called and spoke to my husband, his sister and me for at least 20 minutes (each) which is a world record for him. We could barely get him OFF the phone, so I guess he is finally realizing we will always be there for him no matter what.

  10. Anne October 4, 2012 at 9:57 pm #

    Forgive me for being so blunt, but I think it’s time to talk to your “normalish” kids about how they see their responsibilities as adults toward Maura. Will any or all of them assume responsibility for her care? Will they choose their mates dependent upon how they think a possible mate will accept their disabled sibling in their home, or nearby, or as a large part of their lives? Will they assume legal guardianship and all the responsibilities that go along with it? As you and your husband age and can no longer take care of Maura, will you expect one of her siblings to assume responsibility for her care, for your care?
    You may think your children are too young for these questions, but from a sibling’s point of view, I think the sooner you face the future in real terms, the better. I was thirteen when I assumed I would be responsible for my sister. No one told me so, certainly not my parents, but here I am, 54 years later, and that’s how things are. Please confront these questions together, as a family. You might be surprised at the answers. In any case, it will be a good start for the future for all your children.

    • phoebz4 October 5, 2012 at 3:18 am #

      Who says I haven’t discussed these things with them? I conquered that mountain a few years ago, with my therapist’s blessing 😉

  11. Anne October 5, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Great! I wish my parents had!

  12. Bright Side of Life October 7, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    Great post, gotta love the siblings. 😄

  13. Life's Unexpected Blessings October 8, 2012 at 8:28 am #

    Such an important subject and great post. I too am working with my kids to understand why I give Sophie so much more time but the older ones do understand and they are all so loving and great with her. I also try to give them their own time so that they won’t resent her. In reality they have had to give up alot since her birth but I always tell them I would have done the same for any of them. We talk about it often and my two oldest have told me they would never allow Sophie to be placed in a facility if something were to happen to us. But I too do not want her to be a burden in their lives. So far she is just thier sister who needs more than the typical child and I’ll take that. They share her syndrome with thier friends with no shame and I love that about them. I am very lucky!

  14. Goldengirls59 October 12, 2012 at 10:44 am #

    Just read your post “All About Maura”. She is such a beautiful girl! And the picture of your kids with her butt comment is just priceless! Thanks for sharing.

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