Sibling Rivalry

  • By CP Dad Springible Contributor
  • Reading Time About 4 minutes
  • PostedApril 13, 2019
  • Category

I shared a few weeks back about the upsides of raising a child with special needs, especially all the time you end up spending together and the extraordinary bond that can create. I feel like that’s almost like splendid compensation for all the additional energy and stress you endure on the journey. But, in my family, we also have a younger son and I’ve started to think about whether all the time and attention we devote to our older son with CP is going to leave our younger son jealous, or wanting for attention.

It’s not really a big concern just yet, as our younger son isn’t even three years old. Also, right now he’s creating enough of a gravitational pull through a monumental case of the “terrible twos” that he’s simply incapable of being deprived of attention just yet. But, all jokes aside, kids are incredibly astute and aware of parental attention on a base level, and they seemingly never miss when a parent favors one child, or showers one child with more attention than another.  He’s hitting the point when it’s going to become quite apparent to him how much extra time I sometimes spend with his older brother. I’m starting to get concerned about that, but I also don’t want to turn a natural situation into some big issue to worry about.

If you’re raising a child with special needs, and have other children, do you have any insight or thoughts?  I’d love to hear from you. I’ve read a few articles about the challenges kids face when their siblings have special needs—everything from having to grow up faster, to serving as backup caregivers, to taking on all kinds of additional responsibilities. And this can lead to resentment, no doubt.  But the articles I’ve read haven’t really focused on the perspective of the parent raising both children. It’s good to be aware of the challenges siblings face, but on its own, that doesn’t really provide much clarity on whether you should adjust or change your approach as a parent.

I’ve been thinking about this and, while I want to be mindful about seeming to favor my older son, I also don’t want to overcompensate and overthink how to be a good father to my younger son. While I’m not yet into the thick of this, I feel like I’m close to the point when I’m going to see this start playing out with clear reactions.

I grew up with siblings, so I’m intimately familiar with sibling rivalry. Kids are going to vie for attention and inform their parents about their brother’s or sister’s many failings, without fail. It’s natural. But special needs adds the element of extra one-on-one time. Going to appointments and therapy, and the time preparing for those visits, that makes it different than the usual sibling comparison situation. I don’t expect most kids make allowances for parents spending additional time with their sibling out of medical necessity. In their minds, it’s just more time and attention on their brother or sister, and not on them. I’m not sure there’s a real solution for that aspect of the challenge.

At the end of the day, special needs or not, as a parent I don’t think you can ever have the exact same relationship with each of your children. People often say they love all their kids the “same.” If they mean they love them equally, as in the same level of “I’d give my life for my kids” type sentiment, then I’m in agreement.  But I don’t think we can love two or more different children completely the same, as in identically, because they’re different people and—even if your level of love is the same—you’re going to have a different relationship with each of your children given their different personalities, strengths, weaknesses, and other unique attributes. In my opinion, that’s perfectly fine and healthy, to love them differently as a natural consequence of them being different people.

Maybe it’s okay to spend more time with one child, especially if that’s necessary due to a special need, where that will nourish that unique relationship. You can love your other child or children equally, even if you have less one-on-time time to spend with them. They’re not the same people, and their needs are different, so it’s not feasible to have the exact same relationship with each one. 

That’s easy to write and think, but I’ll have to see how I handle this in the next few years and whether the difference in time and attention has to be discussed with the two of them. I love them the same, just differently. What do you think?

– CP Dad

Read the next post in this series here!

Resetting Expectations