Lisa Baker, Editor-in-Chief, with daughters Allison and Julia Editor's Note

A mother should never have to choose between her children. She should never have to decide which one has more important needs than the other. She should never have to suppress the life of one child so that the other will flourish. It’s just not natural. But what if one child has more potential than the other? Is it then okay for a mother to make a choice?

Sibling issues are a major part of raising a child with disabilities. We all know that the child with special needs typically requires a lot of attention, in turn, leaving the sibling to feel jealous and angry. As parents, we try our best to give both children equal amounts of attention, but many times it’s just impossible. While we rationalize intellectually that it’s not the special child’s fault that he or she is so demanding and that we need to meet his or her needs, our "typical" children are unable to draw the same conclusion. They, instead, see their parents making a choice.

For the past couple years, the sibling issues in my family have grown significantly. It started out with my older daughter, Julia, ignoring her sister as a way of coping. However, as time goes on, Julia’s resentment and jealousy continues to grow and she is beginning to shut down emotionally. The solution recommended by many is to do whatever it takes to keep the focus on Julia and off of Allison. In other words, medicate Allison or put her in her room and let her scream and vomit until she stops crying for attention. The idea is to nurture Julia’s emotional needs and shut out Allison’s, to ensure a healthy outcome for Julia’s mental well-being.

The argument to handle my dilemma is a good one. After all, Allison is not at risk of developing any psychological problems if she doesn’t receive loads of attention, nor does she benefit substantially from the attention she receives. Simply put, Allison’s psychological, emotional, and physical needs are much like a baby and the attention she requires is not to enhance her development, but to meet her infantile needs. Julia, on the other hand, is maturing quite rapidly, yet her emotional needs are not being met. For most siblings, when a new baby arrives in the house, there is a difficult adjustment period. The baby receives a lot of attention in the beginning and jealousy is expected. However, as the baby grows, his needs are less demanding and he soon becomes an equal member of the family. The siblings then, theoretically, receive equal amounts of attention from the parents. But what happens if the baby never stops being a baby? What if the baby is trapped in the needy period. What happens to the sibling? When does equality come into play? The answer to the final question is, it doesn’t. It can’t. So imagine for a moment what Julia must be feeling. She has been stuck in this "new baby" phase for six years! What’s worse is, there is no end in sight.

The other side of the coin, however, is that Allison is in almost every way, a baby. I don’t care that she’s 6 years old and 48 pounds. The fact is, her brain is telling her that she’s a baby and it’s not her choice. She is who she is and she has no control over it. So should I fault her for that or punish her by saying that since she is chronologically 6 years old, I will no longer meet her infantile needs because she shouldn’t be acting like a baby? No. I have to accept her and as her mother, I have to give her what she needs.

This argument brings me back to my original comments about making a choice. I don’t want to make a choice, as several individuals have recommended. I understand that Julia shouldn’t have to compete with a baby her entire life. And, I understand that Julia has great potential in many ways. But the fact is, Allison is also my child and I love her just as much as I love Julia. So how can I make a choice? How can I convince myself that Allison is less worth the effort?

I’ve put a lot of thought into this because I need to do what’s fair to both of my children. So here’s my solution. First, I have started working with a behaviorist to help me lessen or eliminate Allison’s needy behaviors. The most important behavior, and the one that affects my family the most, is the tantrums. The tantrums, and my immediate response to them, are what proves that Allie has been running the show. If we can stop them, Julia will no longer feel as if Allie is in charge. Second, I am verbalizing to Julia that Allison’s behavior bothers me too and that I understand how Julia must be feeling. Then, I am encouraging Julia to share her feelings openly with me as well. Third, I am giving my loving and undivided attention to Julia for several periods of the day when Allison is with her nurse. I am making sure that she gets plenty of quality "mommy time."

It’s not an easy situation to be in. It’s so hard to make everyone happy and fill everyone’s needs. But I, like many others, think I am a supermom. So, I’ll do everything I can to try to make peace with all members of my family without hurting anyone else. I think with a little effort... okay, a lot of effort... things will work out in the end.

Lisa Baker
Editor-in-Chief

See something you like or dislike? Need further information on something? Send your questions and comments to Lisa Baker at lbaker@specialchild.com.

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