Our beautiful firstborn, Erin, turned 28 this month and what a bout of nostalgia these celebrations brought. I was catapulted back almost 3 decades, thinking about how Russell and I always felt that raising Chaeli was not going to be our main challenge: we worried about raising Erin to be a well-balanced, fulfilled young woman who did not have hang-ups about having a disabled sister. For any one of a myriad reasons.
We worried about Erin not getting enough time and attention. When she turned eleven and started squabbling with her sister we worried about the arguments and fighting: was it because Chaeli was disabled? Erin was a 24-7 team player and supporter: would she resent this as an adult? And would she blame us as parents and Chaeli (and her disability) as a reason for sacrifices she had to make as the older, non-disabled sister? Would she know, and more importantly, feel equally loved and valued? Would she feel that she was the ‘unseen’ sister?
It turns out the most important rules to combat these questions are all trite clichés that are quite obvious and often end up meaning the same thing:
Don’t overthink things
Keep it simple
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Everything is ‘normal’ because this is the only sibling dynamic they have ever experienced
For the longest time I fretted: Can I be fair to my girls – can I love them equally? And over time I gave myself permission to put into practice the rules mentioned above and eventually come to the realisation that I will not always be able to be fair to my girls – not both of them at the same time. And no, I should not love them equally. They are different in so many ways and the way in which I love them needs to reflect this. A lot of the time it comes down to the priority of who needs what at any given moment. And then the child whose need is not paramount at that time needs to learn patience, the word ‘No’ and the life skill of waiting for her turn. There’s only one mom to go around and she can’t be everywhere at once.
It took me a long time to shrug off the guilt of making time for my needs too – a critical lesson for our children to learn. Not everything is about you, kids! If mom runs on empty then there’s nothing to give you – so make space for my needs too.
So the lessons learnt through all my guilt and paranoia about the dynamics of raising Erin to ‘be seen’ was the realisation that each one of us needs to be seen, be valued. Sometimes together, sometimes individually. And when it’s not your turn, be patient. Wait.
Your turn will come.