Yesterday’s Speaking of Normal spotlights a reality of having a child with special needs that’s often overlooked – siblings. We’ve got three other boys in the house, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve hurt for them, especially Jackson.
Jack’s the second in birth order, but he carries the responsibilities of the oldest. A wise woman pointed out, back when Jack was still a toddler, he displayed tendencies of first-born and second-born children. Like the boy from in the quote, Jack is often charged with caring for his older brother. Andrew is just beginning to share the responsibility, but it’s all Jack’s ever known.
I’ve talked to him about it multiple times, and I pray specifically for this issue regularly. I’m often torn because I love that the boys are developing a greater sense of compassion, but on the other hand, I don’t want them to become bitter. A couple of years ago we went to the “Jam with Ham” (the annual kickoff for Seminole hoops) and we sat right on the floor. Almost every player came over and gave Caedmon a high-five, a couple gave him T-shirts, but not a single player noticed his three brothers standing by his side. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful those guys reached out to Caedmon, and many of them have been out to help with Miracle Sports – Jack even became friends with Bernard James. I’m not faulting them in any way, but it’s a great illustration of what being the other one feels like.
In a weird form of irony, kids like Jack share a lot in common with the siblings of superstars. They all know the coldness of living in a shadow.
But having a superstar sibling is, in my opinion, easier to navigate. They could ride coat tails, they could be jealous or resentful, or they could feel proud for their siblings accomplishments, but each of those reactions could be understood by the common man.
What if your jealous that your brother gets to go to physical therapy?
What if your resentful that your brother’s in a wheelchair and gets all the attention?
How in the world do you feel appropriately proud?
We might tell LeBron’s brother, “I totally understand. I would feel the same way, but at least you get Heat tickets.”
What would we say to Jack? I’m afraid it would sound more like, “Grow up. Stop being so selfish. Don’t you know he’s got special needs?”
Easy for us to say.
These kids could be struggling with some pretty tormenting thoughts. Almost all of them love their extraordinary siblings more than life itself, and they desperately want them to be happy, but at the same time the “whys” and “what ifs” haunt their minds, racking them with guilt, self loathing, resentment, or who knows what. They need us to love them, in extraordinary ways.
Try to understand. Can I encourage you to get a copy of the book, Being the Other One, by Kate Strohm? It’s a collection of essays, written by people who grew up as “the other one.” The one that always comes to mind was about a guy who purposefully failed athletically because he felt guilty succeeding where his brother could not. I never would have anticipated a reaction like that, but I’ve got my eyes open now. Like G.I. Joe used to say, “knowing is half the battle.”
Open the lines of communication. Encourage the kids to talk about their experiences. You’ve got to be careful not to plant unnecessary seeds, but you need to ask probing questions too. If you notice an overlooked moment, talk to them about it. If there’s a day where the kiddo carries a particularly heavy load, check on their heart. We cannot let momentary troubles fester into lifelong scars.
Give them one on one time. Extraordinary children get inordinate amounts of one on one time with parents. We sometimes don’t think of it that way because it’s trips to the therapist or appointments with specialists, but in the eyes of our little ones it’s alone time with mommy or daddy. We must make this a high priority so our kids never misunderstand medical necessity for preference.
Celebrate their moments. Because reaching benchmarks is so difficult, we often make a big deal about our extraordinary children’s successes. All the while, brother or sister is waving the picture they drew in the air, desperate for a celebration of their own. Again, it’s easy to overlook these moments because “other ones” achieve success easier, but in their eyes it’s all the same. They want us to tell them we’re proud of them, just like we are of their sibling.
Pray like crazy. This is a battle of the heart and mind. We can hug, support, celebrate, and focus with passion and consistency, yet still a wayward idea could take root. We won’t see every moment, and they won’t tell us every thought, so we must pray regularly for them.
Just like being an extraordinary child, being “the other one” isn’t easy, and they didn’t sign up for it. It’s part of their normal, but we must be mindful of their unique needs and struggles. Those little ones will show you feats of love and inclusion well beyond their years, but we cannot take for granted the load they carry. Remember, they’re special too.