Monday, July 16, 2012

Siblings Rising

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. ~ Proverbs 18:24, NIV

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. ~ Proverbs 17:17, NIV

Over the past decade of ministry, I frequently see one of the persistent topics that brings parents great anguish is the issue of siblings who live with a child that has special needs. The emotional conflict parents carry internally regarding this challenge cannot be underestimated.  Guilt weighs heavily when parents feel unable to offer equal time to all of their children.  Yet, frustration festers that the "typical" child doesn't understand what their sibling with special needs is going through.  It is not uncommon for mothers and fathers to mistakenly make comments to the healthy child like, "How would you like to be going through what your brother/sister is going through?"  This unwittingly demeans and heaps guilt on the child without a diagnosis.

The organization I have the humble privilege of leading has long been a proponent of Don Meyer's Sibling Support Project which serves to deal with this inevitable challenge.  I would hazard a guess that this may even be one of our most used secular resources.  We have consistently held SibShops in conjunction with a local YMCA to meet the need in the families we serve.  And even when parents don't have such workshops available in their area, I frequently recommend the books and resources offered by this organization as excellent comfort to those dealing with the heartache of these issues.

Yet, as much as we seek help in this arena, I often smile to myself seeing what benefits God has brought forth in my children.  Because I have two children with special needs whose diagnoses are completely different, that sibling effect can even occur in my affected kids to the same degree it does in their eldest sister who has no issues.  Learning to live with a brother who has severe hemophilia and anxiety disorder has transformed my son's two sisters.  Seeing him endure IV infusions three times per week, frequent doctor's visits and multiple hospitalizations has made his sisters:
  • Far more compassionate towards those who suffer.
  • Discerning about the seriousness of different illnesses or chronic conditions.
  • Fervent in prayer for those who are battling physical issues.
  • Virtually fearless in approaching anyone in a wheelchair or with a physical disability. 
  • Quick to ask questions in order to gain understanding about the condition.
Learning to live with a little sister who has severe allergies to virtually all antibiotics, some foods, molds, trees and weeds, who has ADHD and sensory processing disorder has made my youngest's older sister and brother:
  • Understand that there is much going on that cannot be seen with the naked eye.
  • Have to develop adaptation skills in dealing with difficult people.
  • Learn that people's actions don't always reflect their heart.
  • Quick to identify and want to get help for those they perceive as having a "special need."
  • Look out for one another because danger can sneak up in the most unexpected ways.
These are just a few of the ways that my kids have been shaped by their sibling's diagnoses.  I have watched them go from resentful and frustrated, to being spoiled by getting to participate in family activities geared towards those with special needs, to becoming sensitive and loving people, and finally, to giving back by volunteering.

There is no doubt that dealing with the issues surrounding brothers and sisters of those with various diagnoses can be immensely stressful.  However, too often we fix our vision on the half-empty part of the glass.  We can grow children of unexpected character who are tomorrow's leaders simply because they grew up with a sibling who had special needs.  My prayer for us all is that we would be neither too harsh nor feel too sorry for these kids as we usher them through their journey to adulthood.

PRAY:  Lord, too often I feel pity for my "typical" child.  There doesn't seem to be enough of me to go around to the point that I can give each of my children the attention they need.  And still, I get so angry with the unreasonable expectations of my unaffected child.  Only by Your help can I work through this dilemma and start to see good come from it.  I put this difficult aspect of raising a child with special needs into Your hands today.

(Pictured above:  Charlie, 12; Lexi, 15; Sophie, 10) 


  1. GREAT observations, Barb! It is SO true that a benefit in a God-honoring family with special needs (which is a broad umbrella indeed)is learning from the inside how to deal with disappointment and difficulty and to learn to care for the family member with "tyranny of the urgent" needs in significant, selfless ways! It's a lesson(s) with life-long ramifications for the Kingdom!

  2. Hi Barb--

    I just saw this blog post. Thank you for the kind words about Sibshops! Sibs are an amazingly deserving and underserved community. I am privileged to be in their service.