Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Equal But Different

Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman. Galatians 3:28

Parenting a child with special needs is multi-layered.  Any parent of kids with challenges will solidly affirm this.  Life never happens in a vacuum.  So the entire family experiences a different kind of life together on this journey.

One of the difficulties that repeatedly seems to rear its ugly head in these families is the adjustment of "typical" siblings.  While rivalry is a regular occurrence between any two siblings, there is definitely a whole new issue when one of them has a particular diagnosis.

The added time and attention required by the child with a disability can cause a definite wedge between siblings.  Family relationships can become downright strained as the sibling with no diagnosis is asked to be responsible beyond their years.  We can end up asking this child to forego their needs being met and to offer understanding that they don't have the cognitive maturity to comply with.  It is not unusual for anger and resentment to fester.  Questioning self-value can occur.  At the same time guilt for being healthy or for having negative feelings in the first place can further confuse the healthy sibling.

So, how do we help our children through one of the most difficult parts of living in a family with a child who has special needs?  Several things can help result in a much better outcome.
  1. Start by dealing with your own strong emotions as a parent.  If you're experiencing guilt, get help dealing with it.  Be willing to admit that you may be expecting too much of your typical child while favoring your child with unique needs.  Until you get yourself healthy, it's unreasonable to expect your family to have healthy relationships.
  2. Make time to calmly explain to your other child the difficult position you are in as well as the needs that challenge their brother or sister.  Affirm your love for them and acknowledge how difficult this can be for a healthy sibling.  Be willing to answer questions or just listen without condemnation.
  3. Carve out some special time just for your child who does not have a specific diagnosis.  Do some things that your child has expressed interest in.  One big sore spot in our house was that our son got to go to McDonald's after his long clinic days at the hospital while the others did not.  In my special time with each of the other kids, we went out to eat wherever they wanted.  It doesn't even have to be that big.  Just reading a book together or going to the park offers the time that is so desperately craved.
  4. Never wield the weapon of guilt!  Nothing can be more divisive than clobbering your healthy child over the head with the fact that they don't have any diagnosis to overcome.  When they have a complaint, hardship or injury, take it seriously.  Every human-being needs validation, and life is not a pain contest.
  5. Don't forget to teach what God has to say about siblings.  While we don't want to use God's word to make our children feel bad about their relationship with a brother or sister, it is an important place to find examples of good and bad that has happened in families since the dawn of time.  And stories like that of Joseph and his brothers or of Jacob and Esau can demonstrate to our kids that even in the worst situations, healing between those we're related to is always possible.
  6. Help them form their own good memories together.  In spite of the issues we deal with, we make sure to develop traditions that are ours alone.  Hobbies, trips or family stories are memories that your children can share amongst themselves even when you're not in the picture.  We even sent all three of our kids to a diagnosis-specific camp together for a week this summer.  There, they developed fun memories together that my husband and I will never be privy to.  The ride home was definitely more pleasant than it was on the way there!
  7. Recognize that much of this is typical sibling rivalry.  It gets difficult to tease out what's "normal" and what's not.  Yes, there are differences in your family, but if they weren't there, there may be another reason for the bickering.  Monitor the situation, but don't lay it all at the feet of the special need.
With these few steps, raising a family that loves both typical and not-so-average kids can become much more delightful.  These precious gifts from God are not the same, but they should know that they are equal in the eyes of both their heavenly Father and their earthly parents.

PRAY:  Lord, some days I feel like I'm raising Cain and Abel!  Help me to make these children understand that you have given them one another as a gift.  Lead me to raise well-adjusted kids who thrive in spite of any adversities they may face.

*Join us every Thursday night at 7:30 PM, CST to discuss faith and special needs at http://tweetchat.com/room/spnmin  For more information how TweetChat works, visit our Facebook event announcement at http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=276508309043484 This Thursday's topic will be on "Helping Siblings Work Through Negative Emotions".

1 comment:

  1. I get more complaints from siblings about being unfair. For example, we have a rule that everyone eats what was made for dinner -- no special orders. Our son with Aspergers won't eat melted cheese. This is largely a texture thing, which is common with Aspergers kids. Last night my wife made a casserole that had melted cheese, so we let my son have some leftover soup instead. Two of his sisters were outraged that we were being so unfair. It is very difficult to explain to them that fair means that everyone's needs are being met.