Thursday, February 4, 2016

Sibling Love


A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for a time of adversity.

~ Proverbs 17:17, NIV ~

Of all the perennial concerns parents have shared with me over the past thirteen years, the issue of siblings always seems to be one of the most heart-wrenching.  Emotions swing from angst that a typical sibling might be feeling abandoned because of their brother or sister's diagnosis to irritation that the non-affected child doesn't have more understanding for their sibling with a disorder or disability.  Parents are also worried about the notion of a child having to look after their special needs sibling once the parent is no longer alive.  No matter where a parent falls on the range of emotions, the result always seems to be intense stress.

I can remember the years where it felt like the sibling-battles-on-steroids in our home would never end.

"He gets all the attention!"
"He gets all the fame!"
"He get's (fast food) all the time!"
"He's even on Christmas cards and a FLAG on Wisconsin Avenue!" (Yes, things were made worse by his image being used for publicity by his treatment center.)

Oh, how my eldest would rage about her brother when they were younger!

It broke my heart because our decision to have more than one child in our family was based upon the desire that we wanted to build that sense of community that begins within the family structure.  Cooperation, problem-solving, teamwork, and camaraderie are all grown in the incubator of family life.  We wanted our children to have that cherished sense of having someone else who knew their history long after we were gone.

I put every effort into doing right by all three of my children.  I can remember reading all of the professional tips early on.  

One of them who specialized in raising a child with special needs recommended that you not make the typical sibling feel guilty by saying things like, "Well, it could be worse -- You could have _______ like your brother!" or "Well, how would YOU like to go through _______ like your brother?!"  I was always careful to avoid saying those things, although I did hear it slip out of my husband's mouth once or twice.  I knew what it was like to grow up in a house where guilt was wielded like a lethal weapon, and that motivated me to stay away from it as a parent myself.

Another thing that was recommended was that you carve out specific special time for the typical sibling where you have adventures just with them.  I would take my eldest shopping and out for frozen custard in my attempts to assure her that she was just as important as her younger brother.

Even so, there was friction aplenty.

There was, however, something that always became the great revealer of truth in our home -- serious adversity.  When her brother was hospitalized or had a bleed, his sister was his strongest defender.  Her love shone through as she would attempt to comfort him.  If he had a nasty infusion or emotional situation, she was his encourager, offering him compassion and tenderness in his storms.  He had the same for her in any of her life's trials.

Now she is a young adult college student and he is a high schooler.  Their younger sister (who has gone through her own phases of jealousy as well) is finishing intermediate school.  They all laugh at the memories of indignation and injustice that once seemed to shoot out of their pupils.  Genuine friendship, a shared family experience, and a sense of having survived life's storms together have since taken the place of all those negative emotions.  Inside jokes and unique recollections are their common bond.  What a gift!

If you find yourself and your children at that phase where you are wondering if they can ever get past the quarrelsome bitterness, let me assure you that they can.  Just keep doing the next right thing with the precious kids that God has entrusted to your care, being mindful that they are each a unique person deserving of your love, and the Lord will handle the rest.

PRAY:  Father, there is no earthly parent like You.  Guide us to raise faithful children who love You and love one another.  Give us perseverance on the days when we can't see the work You are doing in their hearts.

~ Barb Dittrich

* Recommended Resource:  Don Meyer's Sibling Support Project

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