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