My eldest son and bigger bruv to PDA’er is an amazing boy. He’s often only referred to in my blog when I am referencing an issue I am working on with littlest babybear and it is this that I have been reflecting over for some weeks now. Firstly let me point out that, it is not that I have overlooked him altogether and by no means have I not been attending to his needs as a little lad but I have come to recognise that he has a tiny frame but has unwittingly become a young man. A young man who has through no choice of his own had to develop broad shoulders in the metaphorical sense as puberty has not yet allowed him to physically do so. He has in the past six months witnessed trauma and emotional breakdown of the people closest to him. He has been scared and vulnerable and at times alone with nobody available to attend to him and he’s felt responsibility that he shouldn’t have. He’s been let down.
I am not writing this blog to berate myself nor encourage others to do so, I am merely acknowledging that whilst our PDA’er has struggled in recent months and I’ve been very aware of the impact this has had on us as his parents, I have not been in the optimum place to deal with the fact that this too has had an impact on bigger bruv.
He’s been a bigger bruv for 8 years. That part is not new. And much like other elder siblings, there are some parts of acquiring a brother that didn’t sit well with him, such as having to share and learning to tolerate that another smaller being would now occupy a lot of mummagrizzlybear’s attention. It’s true too, that we have bundles of happy memories of brotherhood and being a family unit of four. Mostly we work. We are a good team. That said, he has encountered traumatic events that have changed him. They’d change anyone. As an adult needing to continue to function, I had to file those traumatic experiences and work through them at a safe time. I tended to bigger bruvs immediate reaction to the trauma with metaphorical plasters, to cover up the wounds, hoping that with time, he’d heal and through good old childhood resilience, he’d bounce back. He’d been amazing through so much so far, it hadn’t crossed my mind that he wouldn’t overcome this just as smoothly.
That’s the thing about my biggest baby bear, he’s always been smooth. As a newborn he was pretty text book and made becoming a parent a joy. He affectionately attached to me in his early years and much like boys do, he then looked up to his role model of daddybear. He sailed through his preschool years and demonstrated his much loved sociability and obvious sense of self. He knows what he likes and developed a early sense of independence which I encouraged. In primary he found the value of his peers and I believe he is right on track in terms of his development. He’s driving me potty, pushing boundaries and becoming a pre-teen before my eyes. All normal stuff. But we have an added skeleton in the cupboard. I call it resentment. He terms it differently. He’s desperate to feel ‘normal’ and blames babybear for him not being so. He’s stuck on this diagnosis of his brothers and seems incapable at the moment of accepting it. He understands it. He gets it. If anything, he’s a ruddy expert on it, but in his eyes this makes him anything but normal.
Resentment eats any of us up, much like any negative emotion carried for too long. It’s only function is to keep us low. I am not for one second disregarding where this resentment may have come from. Like I said, I know what he has seen and I accept that there is probably a whole load of stuff that I have missed in terms of what it has been like from his perspective. I don’t want to rake up the horrible stuff but to give this some context, bigger bruv has at times been physically assaulted by babybear, beyond the ordinary realms of sibling play fighting. He’s witnessed his parents be physically attacked. He’s watched as we’ve clutched hold of baby bear attempting to throw himself from upstairs windows in the middle of meltdowns. He’s physically intervened when a knife was being used as a weapon. He’s been the one to call for help when mummagrizzlybear has been hurt. He’s watched as his brother has been restrained and injured by staff in a school. He’s been the one sat in school wondering where it is that his brother has been sent. He gives in when he can see a meltdown about to ensue. He walks away when he wishes he could stay and argue. He has had to learn to take care of himself because let’s face it, at times I just haven’t been available to do it for him. Anyone would experience resentment right?
Take tuesday this week for instance. An unexpected meltdown was upon us prior to the school runs. Despite my best efforts I was sucked in and dealing with babybear who needed significant support to get out the door to his taxi for school. Flustered I turned my attention to my biggest babybear, who just like any 9 year old boy has a habit at the moment of not focusing on the things that need doing before school and instead being consumed by gaming or messaging a mate. But not Tuesday. He’d sussed out what was needed. He had my back. He’d packed his lunch, he’d gathered his things, brushed his teeth and had his shoes on and was patiently awaiting his lift to school and as I walked back in the door delivered a very well timed gentle hug and dash of humour by summing up the morning with ‘well that was tricky for him wasn’t it mum’. What a bloody star. He’s learnt not just what has to be done on a practical level, but also how to offer appropriate emotional responses of support and all at the same time as learning to understand PDA, the triggers, the meltdowns and the best approaches to living with this condition.
I’m quick to clamp down on him and feel like I’m always on his back. He’s my neurotypical kiddy and with this comes some unnecessary added pressure. I want so much for him. I expect so much from him. But I am so so thankful for him. I tell him often, but he rejects me, mostly, because it’s so uncool but also because he’s angry with me. He won’t say it in so many words but all behaviour is communicating something. He kicks off with me because in his eyes, I am the one who has let him down. I was the one too busy dealing with babybear. I was the one pushing him to one side, expecting him to know better, begging him to support me and make life easier. I am who he is angry with and I get it. He has his moments with daddybear but he still holds him in this light that says he must be some kind of god. He aspires to be like daddybear. Who wouldn’t? Daddybear gets to leave for work far more often than I do!
And so we have a resentful sibling. I’m not implying all siblings in similar situations will definitely feel the same, but it’s worth considering just what they put up with, above and beyond the role of ‘normal’ big bruv stuff. I’m guilty of complaining that he always has a habit of pushing babybears buttons. He knows his triggers and can be a right wind up. However I’m equally guilty of not intervening when babybear is behaving in a way that I know frustrates bigger bruv. Bigger bruv gets embarrassed. I’ve seen him pretend he is not with us when babybear is kicking off publicly. We have to carefully time opportunities where bigger bruv can have friends over and on one occasion a parent actually declined a sleep over invite for fear that her son would not be safe at our house and my eldest has to deal with this too. Forgiving his misdemeanours is easy when I can create a list as long as my arm about all the wonderful things he does, and mostly he does this for his bruv. Sure, sometimes it’s for an easy life or simply because there doesn’t seem like there is any other option but for that I shall always respect him for being an amazingly caring young man, whether he’s willing to acknowledge that he is a young-carer or not.
My amazing little trouper has finally been able to talk about the scary things that are stuck in his head (I suspect this will lead us to the route of his resentment). He’s engaging with support workers and opening up. He’s been referred for some specialist support to help him overcome some of the scary things that have gone on. At some stage I hope we will be offered support together to rebuild the trust and reinforce the love and gratitude I have for him. I work on this daily without support but like anything emotionally charged with our kids it’s not easy. I’m aware that it can become manipulative in the sense that as I feel guilt, I could let him walk all over me and get away with things by means of compensating. But I’m not like that. I’ll show my love and respect for him by my maintaining of boundaries and he will push and push to see if I’ll crack. I hate upsetting him. It’s hard to discipline a child that you know is acting out as a result of things I should have protected him from. But I focus on the man he might become. Right now I have an angry child who needs reassurance, love and to know where he stands. I can only hope that I can support him to once again feel safe and taken care of. He’s in a place right now, where he perceives this as over protectedness and strictness. Which makes me wonder how we will survive the teenage years! Haha. Bottom line is, I will not give up. I will get him the specialist support he might need just as I have for babybear. I’ve learnt a great deal about my capabilities as a mum over the recent months and I’ve re-evaluated my priorities. Working less, I had said, was about being available to care for babybear but in actual fact it has also been about ensuring I am not so tired and strained and therefore having nothing left to give to biggest bruv! This has set me free from my feelings of resentment about having to give up some of my work.
Biggest bruv and I have more in common than I first realised. This gives me hope. I’m often told that I have an amazing appproach to parenting our little PDA’er but my eldest is amazing with him too. His fears and anxieties are similar to the things that run through my head. He once asked me “mum, will I have him forever?” And I recall sniggering to myself that it had crossed my mind that I too may have babybear with me far longer than a ‘normal’ parent anticipates when you start planning babies! I laugh too at the amount of times I refer to ‘normal’ families, much like the aspiration my eldest has…. to just be normal. If I have learnt to accept and adjust I believe others can too, including mr resentful. He will grow. All shit experiences provide a learning opportunity. I’ve learnt just how much harder I need to work on my eldest feeling safe so that he doesn’t ask us to pack him off to boarding school, again anytime soon! Any of us can implement change at anytime. We have found time to fit in much needed one to one time. We have written a safety plan of action. We will keep talking and learning and growing.
I hope one day he will read this blog and know just how proud I am of the young man he has become. He is a comfort to babybear that I could never replace. He is funny and witty and amazingly brave. He’s outspoken but giving and a passionate friend. He’s loyal and loving and fiercely driven. He’s going to encounter his fair share of mischief as he just can’t help being involved but he’s already capable of such mature reflection that I’ve no doubt he will become one of life’s best ‘learn from the consequences’ candidates. He is a carer there’s no doubt about it. He’s forgiving and compassionate with a firey side reminding me he’ll always be a huge asset to our family team. I couldn’t love him more if I tried. Even when I’m mad!
Top tips if you find yourself with a resentful sibling, might include,
- making time for each other, each day, find even just ten minutes that is reserved just for them
- keep talking, despite a disgruntled pre teen response, keeping at it, shows you are committed
- respect what they might be finding difficult, it could be similar to the things you find just as tough
- Listen, even if it doesn’t make sense to you
- Engage specialist support to help demonstrate that we can all reach out for support
- Empathise. As parents we didn’t choose to become carers but neither did the sibling.
- Teach appropriate ways to express anger and frustration
- Manintain healthy boundaries and model respectful behaviour
- Recognise, reward and be thankful for the ‘good stuff’, the stuff that went well instead of giving focus to the bits that go wrong
- Factor in respite for the siblings too. Time when they can see mates or family without their sibling
- Reinforce positive relations as often as possible, hep them see why they love one another
- Reflect over the ‘positives’ that having a sibling with a disability brings (fast track at theme parks!?)
- Be open about how hard you experience things sometimes so as to help normalise the tricky feelings
- Encourage diplomacy, no matter how hard things are nobody should be subjected to burden or blame
- In the face of challenging behaviour, love harder. Give that last ounce of energy you have to seeing the world through their eyes.
- Laugh together, enjoy each other, bring happiness in the moments you steal together.