Sister Sister

With so much attention on the child who is anxious and depressed, other siblings can miss out, I think. Despite parents’ best intentions, and even with extreme effort, non-depressed siblings sometimes don’t get all the enthusiasm, attention, or engagement that they might otherwise.

I know parents try. We do our utmost to make sure that youngest gets the time and attention she needs. Parents often go to extreme lengths to ensure that siblings don’t feel deprived, left out, or otherwise shorted. But I also know that sometimes it just isn’t possible to make it perfect.

Not only does that add to my feelings of guilt and worry, it can sometimes make youngest feel resentful. On the other hand, I think that sometimes, being the sibling of a depressed teenager forces kids to grow up in ways that they otherwise might delay. That isn’t always a negative.

Siblings take on a huge chunk of the care for depressed and anxious children. Huge. Often without being asked, siblings will sometimes do extra chores, help their depressed siblings with daily tasks like making lunches, and sometimes most helpful of all, will simply stay out of trouble. That’s monumental. As well, I’ve noticed that youngest child has developed a fairly strong sense of responsibility. She can (and does) take on caregiving tasks, making sure she gets to where she needs to be ready and on time, and really helps the family to function more smoothly. These are all really good things.

But what about the little things they miss out on? When the Drama-of-the-Day is all about oldest daughter, and when some days my heart is in my knees because I worry about what oldest is doing, feeling, thinking, about to do, has done, etc., sometimes it’s all I can do to ask youngest how her day was.

I’m not going to get into fair / not fair — life isn’t “fair.” It’s up to parents to make sure we’re doing the best we can for our kids, and even if it isn’t “equal” all the time, I know that in general, parents are likely doing all they can.

But other siblings must miss out, and that makes me sad.

Our youngest does feel taken advantage of at times, and often simply refuses to ever do another thing ever in the world for her sister, and for that, I applaud her. She stands up for herself. She gets pushed around (figuratively) when oldest is frequently rude or ungrateful or demanding. She pushes back, and that makes both of them better people, frankly.

But for every morning that sees disruption because oldest can’t find the one shirt she just has to wear, and for every morning where oldest threatens to skip school because she doesn’t have time to make her lunch, or for every time that we worry that oldest is going to hurt herself, youngest is there in some way, simply not making it worse, and often stepping in to ease the pressure.

I just sometimes feel like that’s not right.

At the same time, I am so, so grateful.

There is SO much in those two lines, it could take me weeks to lay it all out. Suffice to say, I feel a lot of guilt that her mornings often start with upheaval. I feel a lot of guilt that even if she gets the praise, recognition, enthusiasm and attention she needs and deserves, sometimes there’s a shadow of worry on my mind that means I’m not 100% focused. I feel a lot of guilt that sometimes she will see me in tears, either because I’m worried, or angry, or just plain tired.

I wish I could give both of my kids the perfect childhoods, whatever that may be.

This morning I read a brief news article called, “Disruptive Children Do Not Inspire Similar Behaviour in Their Siblings.” It was all about how often, non-“disruptive” siblings learn “how not to behave.” At the very end, was the line, “The researchers are currently examining the role of siblings in the development of childhood depression and anxiety.”

First of all, they didn’t define “disruptive,” so that could mean anything from talking excessively in class to drug abuse. And I have a problem with the assumptions that are loaded into the term “behaviour” when applied to the non-defined term of “disruptive.” Because I know for a fact that when oldest is rude, or gets angry with us when she feels we don’t understand her, or when she’s simply trying to make herself feel better — yeah, that can be disruptive to the rest of us, but it’s not … it’s not … she’s not doing it to purposely upset us. She’s not doing it because she wants to hurt us, and she’s not purposely manipulative. So technically she could be said to be “misbehaving,” and as I’ve said, youngest often works hard to smooth it out, however she can.

All that aside, though, I’m most interested in that last line. Siblings really do take on a whole lot for kids who are anxious and / or depressed. It may not be enough to “study” those roles. Somehow they deserve more, only I don’t know what “more” is, and I, as a parent, just don’t know how to make it so. That, too, makes me sad.



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