When growing up with siblings there is usually a jealousy card that gets played, and usually its stems from trying to gain your parents attention. In mentoring many individuals in my career who have a sibling with a disability, I have witnessed intense jealousy associated with the attention their sibling with a disability receives from their parents and others. However, I didn’t experience this as much as I have observed in others.
Jealousy was there just under the surface for me, but not something I remember feeling a lot. I remember when I was younger, everywhere we went whether it was to my softball games, a family gathering, or even school everyone asked me the same question “How is your brother?” They truly were asking because he was either sick, did something extremely funny they wanted to hear, or he wasn’t with us at the time and they missed his presence. Don’t get me wrong I loved that they cared and loved my brother. However, at times I felt I was known as “Nick’s sister” and not me, Amanda (which in hindsight built me into the person I am today, but you can’t tell a young middle school girl going through puberty that this feeling will benefit rather than hinder).
10 situations a parent might never think twice about, but your typical developing child might experience jealousy over:
1. Celebrations over accomplishments and milestones, little things become a big deal
2. The extra physical touch/coddling one might get with lifting, comforting, carrying, and nurturing
3. More one on one time with parents through doctors visits, therapy appointments.
4. The phone calls to family members to share stories of proud moments or funny stories
5. Awareness days in celebration, some may go all out. Trying to make every moment special.
6. More time helping and supporting because it takes the sibling longer and they need more one one one supports to accomplish. They may think their sibling has it easy.
7. Receiving special equipment or special presents to support learning
8. Tend to be “babied” longer, while other siblings grow up faster because they are needed for supervision and care
9. Family members/friends tend to go out of their way to support the sibling with a disability or notice them first, than the “typical” developing sibling
10. The attention and the amount of people their sibling might know from just being them
This feeling of jealousy I have mentioned above is usually in those who are younger and haven’t fully developed the understanding of disabilities.
I’m not going to lie, when I was in Elementary school my jealousy came from what I thought was Nick getting the “easy way out card”. His work was easier, mom helped him more, he didn’t receive the same punishments, and they didn’t expect as much from him as they did from me.
I am sure I speak for all siblings when I say we fight the feeling of jealousy, and know how stupid it may feel at times, because in fact we understand our sibling has a disability and can not help the fact they need more attention. However, it’s there and we process it or hide behind it because if we voice this feeling aloud we feel it will make us look like a bad person who is not being supportive. In some cases we don’t want to say it to our parents, because we don’t want to add another stress to their plate. Our problems seem so minor compared to the bigger picture, but the fact is we still feel them.
In all my experiences, when a sibling finds themselves feeling jealous one of the other emotions ( previously discussed in another blog post of mine) follows…guilt. Guilty of feeling jealous.
Parents’ Takeaway: It’s a balancing act for sure. Good news I think the jealousy occurs more during your typical developing child’s development years and pre-puberty years. Honestly, take a step back and look at your Facebook feed is there the same amount of pictures posted of all your kids? What are you advocating for to others? What are you bringing awareness about? Please don’t shoot the messenger, because I am not judging. For some parents it probably felt like I just slapped you in the face, but I am just trying to make you aware of a deeper feeling that your child may be experiencing. How do you help? Even the times you are completely worn out and exhausted, take a minute to do a special routine with the typical developing child. Again, I can’t state it enough never minimize your child’s feelings of jealousy if you happen to see it exhibited or they voice it to you. They are just trying to learn that love and care can and has to be expressed in different ways. Never tell them NOT to say, (for example: I wish I didn’t walk so you would carry me, or I wish I couldn’t talk so I could have an IPAD all the time, or I wish I was sick so I could go to the doctor with you). If they are saying these things it’s because they are needing something from you. Find it, discover it with them, talk about it, but help them to navigate that life will never be fair or balanced because we are all different. Remind them you love them just as much, but never tell them to NOT say how they feel. They are processing…just help them to process it. As a parent read between the lines of what they are not saying, and give them what they really are seeking. Fight as hard for them as you do for the one with the disability to make them as happy and as independent as possible, that is what they want and need. And I understand it will be hard, but they will grow out of it (or adapt as they mature to the understanding of disabilities) around late middle school years, so find comfort this phase won’t last forever.
Teacher Takeaway: Now that you’re aware this could be an emotion that your student who has a sibling with a disability could be feeling, be intentional for them. Show them extra attention when appropriate. Find a way to highlight and praise their accomplishments and definitely share with their families. Sharing with their families could be a reminder to the parent how awesome their kids are even with the sacrifices they are forced to make daily.
Community Member Takeaway: Be aware. Help to provide an outlet for them. Try not to connect to them through asking about their family life first, but maybe about their school, grades, what have they been doing for fun.