The Other Children: Two weeks prior to my fortieth birthday, we had our first child, a son. He was and is the love of my life. I could have stopped there but being one of three children, my husband one of five, I pondered the wisdom of a second go around. I began to gather some data regarding attitudes of oldest and only children, all grown up, to see if they saw any virtue in adding a sibling to one’s life. It was a very random sample, starting with my oldest sister who was clear that having a younger sibling served absolutely no purpose at all (no surprise there). I ignored that data. Her friend, an only, was equally emphatic that life without a sibling worked well for her until “Dad got sick.” Oh the inconvenience of it all.
Who Knew? I think I quizzed a few more folk who mainly stressed the later-in-life advantages of sibling-hood. Deciding that I knew way too many cynics, I returned to my own thoughts. I wanted him to have the fun I had with my middle sister, hours of “yuks” that are only possible in the sibling-hood of life. At least that is what I thought. And I feared we would dote too much on one child, smother him with his mom’s oversized interest and perhaps some loneliness mixed in there too. Who knew!
Loyalty To The First Born: A common concern amongst parents is how life will be for the first-born when número dos arrives on the scene. Perhaps Milton was really writing about sibling-hood when he penned “Paradise Lost.” In our case we were already older parents yet my doctor did not discourage me from attempting a second pregnancy, though with the qualification that this one should be the final one. Our son, verbal, smart and loving, seemed the perfect candidate for sibling-hood. He was fascinated by babies and apparently spent a chunk of his two days at a local daycare in the infant room. When I heard I was to have a girl, we gave her a name and spent the next four months preparing our son for the arrival of his baby sister.
Fairy Tales: Life is any thing but a fairy tale. While still at the hospital, our son seemed to view this “precious package” as the little intruder. He was not quite three. By the time he entered kindergarten, his sister was being evaluated for the special education pre-school in the same wing of his soon to be “new school.” In fact, upon her third birthday she was placed in the classroom next to his own.
What’s The Point Here Mom? Guilt. Twenty-one years and more post the birth of the little sister and I still don’t have the answer to the aforementioned question. Would our son have enjoyed a happier childhood as an only rather than an oldest? Through the tortuous years of sister’s melt downs, disruptions, adjustments and restrictions and her folks limitations, I experienced pain as only a guilty parent can feel. This same sister also made us abandon conventionality and provided hysterical unique and family bonding moments by the hundreds, as did her brother who learned to ride out many crazy interludes by jumping in. Now they are great friends. Do the ends justify the means?
Protecting My First Born: One of the primary motivations to start early to find resources for our daughter’s adulthood was to protect our son. He will spend the rest of his life keeping an eye on his sister. She adores him — who doesn’t? He is number one, the dog number two, when she calls home. Folks assume that our son’s goodness and sensitivity is in some measure the result of being raised with a special needs child. I just think that’s who he is. Folks assume a lot of things. I assume nothing about what went into making our son or many of those other siblings who grow up to be the patient, generous souls that they appear to be at special needs events. What I do know is that the sibling of a special needs child needs to be as much protected in their adulthood as their brother or sister. That I know for sure!!
© Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2011