Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Navigate Life Texas: Resources for kids with disabilities and special needs

Facilitating Relationships between Siblings

08/10/2016 | Published by: Shailen Singh

I have two sons.

My older son is 5 and my younger son is 3. My wife and I made the conscious decision to have them close in age with the hopes that their similar ages would make them better friends.

When my younger son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, I struggled with the thought that my older son wouldn’t have a “typical” sibling experience, and it kind of broke my heart. I thought it was my job to help facilitate that “normal” sibling experience.

I’ve now realized how silly that thought was for a many reasons.

  1. “Normal” is a relative term. My older son’s “normal” is that he has a younger sibling who is nonverbal and might not want to play with him, but rather prefers to play near him. I was trying to force my definition of “normal” onto my sons, which was totally unfair.
  2. My kids didn’t know anything different: I got briefly stuck on the idea that my older son was missing out on something by having a brother who is nonverbal and has mobility issues. How much of a jerk I was! The reality is that neither one of my sons are missing out on anything because they don’t know anything different! That is their reality. And it’s a beautiful one!
  3. The relationship was going to develop regardless of what I did. For all I know, had my son not had cerebral palsy, my two sons could have fought like cats and dogs. There’s no way to predict any of these things, so instead of trying to control them, sometimes you just have to let go and let things happen. Trust your children.

But here’s one thing that my wife and I have done. We might not be able to facilitate a relationship between our sons, but we can create experiences that we know both enjoy that helps them find a common bond.

For example, both of my kids enjoy art. So often we’ll put a canvas down on the floor and let them go to town with paint. My older son uses brushes, my younger son crawls all over and uses his hands. That common experience helps them to develop shared memories.

I might not be able to force them to be friends, but I can certainly give them some cool experiences that they can think about that involved each other.

So much of becoming a parent of a child with special health care needs involves giving up control and shifting expectations. But sometimes, we ourselves fall victim to those expectations—victim in the sense that reality is greater and even cooler than anything we could have expected. But because it’s not what we expected, we get disappointed.

I put my kids’ relationship into that category. It’s not what I thought it was going to be. And that’s fantastic because it’s even better.

It’s more than I could have ever imagined and both of my kids are better for it.

For more information and ideas on siblings on this site, go to Siblings under Family Support.

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