Tuesday, July 15, 2008

He Ain't Heavy...He's My Brother

I've been thinking a lot about sibling issues lately.

There is such a fine line between sibling responsibility and sibling resentment. Between nurturing and nit-picking. Between admiration and aggravation.

I know this push-pull is true of the siblings in any family, but when one sibling has a disability, the issues are magnified, the stakes are raised, and the balance is slightly off-kilter.

How do I make sure my older kids are allowed to just be KIDS? When one person can't speak up or tattle or properly defend himself, the playing field is unlevel. Sometimes the games my older kids play with Max just do not look like games from my perspective. Even if they are all laughing, I find myself wanting to stop them and lecture about the functionality of it, the respectfulness of it, the social appropriateness of it. But they are having fun together! And if they are simply doing what siblings do, is it really necessary for me to step in? I encourage the older ones to include Max...but then admonish them when they aren't "doing it right".

And, of course, when left to their own devices, they also come up with some great stuff -- stuff that again, I would never think to do. They are working out what's fun for all, and it's a continual process, I'm slowly realizing, because they are all continually changing.

I can say without hesitation that every one of my kids is tenderhearted and sensitive. I witness how kind and patient they can be with each other, and feel a tremendous sense of pride when they have each others' backs or go above and beyond the call of duty...yet is it fair for me to expect them to? To demand that they do?

I know that Max's older siblings are learning a lot about justice, and respect, and unconditional love, and looking out for others, and rooting for the underdog, and the basic worth of a person, and yada yada yada ad infinitum as a result of having him for a brother, and I am pleased they will start out in the real world knowing these things from the very beginning. Some of us don't figure these things out until much later in life. (Some people never do Get It.) I truly believe learning these lessons will make them better people.

But what about the more negative or painful lessons they are also learning? Does the squeaky wheel always get the grease? Should negative behavior be rewarded with more attention? I know life is unfair, but is it necessarily THAT unfair? -- Are we unknowingly teaching them to be helpless and hopeless? Do you ALWAYS put the other person first, even at the cost of losing yourself?

Will they look back on their childhoods as happy? Will they remember our home as a warm and safe place to be? Will they grow to resent parts of this life? Will they grow to resent their brother? That is one of the scariest questions I know, but the one that is even scarier is this: What is the role I play in each of these things?

The Peanut Butter Fiasco triggered the latest round of introspection for me. My older son was supposed to be watching Max when it happened, and he wasn't. But I also know first-hand how quickly this stuff happens, how lowering your guard for one minute can have a fairly hefty consequence. I try not to place them in positions of responsibility that could have lasting repercussions. I don't want An Incident that haunts any of us; I don't want to open a Pandora's Box of Guilt.

But at the same time, I expect a lot. Having the big kids away at camp gave me a glimpse of what life looks like without them. The interesting thing was, in some ways it was so much harder...and in other ways it was so much easier. That break and distance was good; I feel like I need to re-evaluate how we do things around here a bit.

Even before Max came along and put a whole new spin on things, I tried to raise my kids to look out for the other guy, to step in when someone is wronged, to speak up when injustice exists.

But what if I am the one causing it?

A family is a family; we take care of each other, every single member, simply because we exist. But at what cost? How much is too much? When is it time to focus on the whole, rather than on the parts...and when is it time to perform some maintenance on those parts?


Penny L. Richards said...

Hm, in moods like this, I'm inclined to remind myself that a "good" childhood isn't necessarily the same thing as an "easy" one, or an "ordinary" one. "Good" is the goal; easy and ordinary, not so much. (Not that we could necessarily achieve "easy and ordinary," anyway, but "good" has to be more worthwhile.)

So then the job is to define "good." I'll leave that to you!

Jujyfruit said...

Thanks for the gentle reminder, Penny. I guess the problem is that I'm not always sure how to define "good" -- some days we're clearly hitting the target (if not the bulls-eye), but other days I think I'm s little low and to the left...landing in a puddle. I think I mainly need to make the target BIGGER, eh?