What about sibling relationships?

In the “Ask a question” thread over at the Downsyn.com book discussion, Monica was wondering what I’d noticed regarding the impact of DS on sibling relationships.  I thought the question was an excellent one, and I wanted to share my answer here, too. 

This is what I said in my reply:

I know that was a recurring theme in my book, the worry I had about how Avery’s life would impact the lives of the other boys. And now, nearly six years into this journey, I can say it’s been very positive. Avery is the heart of our family (we all love him so much!) and I think he really brings out our best qualities.

The other day when we all were out and about, a man stopped me and wanted to talk about Avery (you know what I mean, how sometimes people catch your eye or stop you and you can tell they want to talk about DS). He was kind, and curious, and I had plenty of time, so we talked a while, and at the end of the conversation he said, “You won’t have to worry about Avery joining a gang, or getting into drugs, or any of that.”

I thought about what he said, and agreed, it was probably true. I added, “I think Avery will help his brothers avoid those things, too. I think they are already developing an appreciation for the gifts they have, things many kids take for granted.”

And finally, I don’t think my family is particularly unique in feeling that the sibling relationships have been positive. I had the opportunity to attend a sibling workshop presented by Brian Skotko in Boston last summer at the NDSC. He cited research that indicated these same conclusions–that siblings of kids with DS can find the experience to be a good one, one that teaches compassion and empathy and responsibility. Here’s a link to his website, and some of the papers he’s published including one on sibling relationships.

And I’m wondering, what have been your experiences with sibling relationships?  Have you found the same things to be true, for your own family?


10 thoughts on “What about sibling relationships?

  1. Thank you, Jennifer, and all of you for your wonderful responses. If it’s not too late, I’d like to jump in since I originated the question. Your comments bring so much hope for our future. Our little John Michael is only 15 months old and is definitely the “heart” of our home. All hearts converge when we’re with him. My other kids, 11, 9, and almost 4 adore him and I can see their compassion for all people has increased tenfold. At prayertime, they’re all fighting for whose bed John Michael will sit on. In the beginning, my 11 year old son was sad because his brother wouldn’t be able to play Legos with him and do “boy” things. John Michael loves to push Lego cars around and crawl after them. My 9 year old daughter wished he hadn’t been born when she first learned of his diagnosis and wanted him to go away. It was a very difficult and emotional time for me, but I knew her heart would grow. I recently found a journal entry she wrote at school about her little brother and it melted my heart. I posted it on my blog (February 12, 2009) if you’d like to read it (it’s short) (http://monicacrumley.blogspot.com/). My almost 4 year old is probably the biggest influence on John Michael because she likes to play ball and rough and tumble with him a bit. She’s very patient with him and builds towers for him to knock over. She also teaches him some signs. It’s amazing what a difference a year makes. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I have a large family – 6 kids – which is somewhat of an oddity in this day and age. I love that my kids have so many of each other though. I firmly believe that they have enriched each other’s lives far more than any sacrifices they’ve had to make just because of the sheer number of them.

    Finnian has, in some ways, added a new dimension to the sibling relationships in our home. The younger kids really still just see him as a baby, no different than any other baby. They are becoming aware of the term “Down syndrome” but don’t yet have a good understanding of it. Kevin, my oldest, however, is very aware. Not that Finn really is so much different at this point – he’s not. But at 12, Kevin’s just more cognizant of what it all means. And he’s become quite an outspoken advocate. Really, this kid has just made my heart burst in so many ways with how much he loves his brother and is willing to speak out. Recently he was recognized at his middle school as an Author of the Month for an essayhe wrote about “The Greatest Person in My World,” and that person was Finnian, his 7-month old brother. Here’s a link to my posting about it if you’re interested: http://finniansjourney.blogspot.com/2009/02/finnian-and-kevin.html

  3. I’m happy with just one child, DS or not, just me personally but it is at times a regret that my daughter doesn’t have a sibling since she is such a purely social being. Our neighbor’s daughter has DS and a brother and the brother is clearly a wonderful kid with that extra dimension. Of course, good parenting is part of it as well!

  4. I must agree. I heard a group of adult siblings speak at a DS conference in St. Louis a year or so ago. What they said enters my mind frequently. They all were different ages and lived in different generations. Some were from big families, some small. It was so evident how much they loved their brother/sister with DS. It was so wonderful to hear them talk about their successes, they had such pride in their voices, like they really had a part in making that brother/sister the success that they were.

    The ONE thing they ALL said and said more than once, though was that their parents didn’t expect nearly as much out of their sibling with DS as they should have. Excusses were made for them when they shouldn’t have been. This really hit home with me. My son with DS is 13 and my daughter is 9. I expect a lot from both of them. As they get older, I try to remember that I need to expect more.

  5. I don’t know whether Han is the ‘heart’ of our family or not – her twin has his father’s tendancy toward being ‘high maintenance’ but I definitely agree that there is no way that marvellous little girl does’t earn her way in our family. Sometimes someone will comment on how lucky she is to have the example of a twin – they are right – whe learns a lot from Kit and he is generally wonderful with her – but so is she with him. The other day she took it upon herself to piggyback her dolly to preschool – Kit did the same. At dinner time, her fork is armed with peas and her smile is big, so is her brother’s…

  6. I haven’t been on downsyn in a while but coincidentally posted a little about this last week. I didn’t elaborate on Wil’s impact as much as relay a conversation with my oldest about Wil that, for me, revealed so much about Wil’s impact on Luke. Rather than trying to sum it up here I will give the link if you are interested. http://waldenhouse.blogspot.com/2009/02/big-brother.html

    I really resonate with your summary. Wil is definitely the heartbeat of our family. Everyone seems to orbit around him. His presence has really made an amazing difference in our lives and he pulls the softer sides from us all. The occasional exception to this is with his younger brother, Timothy, who gets easily aggravated with him. This is even heartwarming to me though.

  7. My kids are 19, 17 and 15. My 15 year old has Down syndrome. My older kids are great–they are way better at accommodating their sister without babying her than I have ever been. They are kind compassionate kids who look out for underdogs in all sorts of situations. They refused sibling support when they were younger because it took whole Saturdays (it didn’t, but that was their feeling!) They assured me that if there was a problem they would let me know. My oldest is now in college to become a music therapist… Siblings in many ways have been the best part of my youngest daughter’s journey–and my older children’s as well. I am sure that it doesn’t always go that way, but it has been very positive at our house.

  8. Our older two children are 11 and 8 years older than Mayson but It doesnt seem to matter. She is the light of their lives. They would do anything for her. She has opened their eyes much wider to the world of disabilities too. Jayden has volunteered in the summer school special needs program for 3 summers now. Rylee started her own candle and soap business to help support awareness. Not only does Mayson look up to them but the older two look up to her as well! Even though there is a huge age gap, there is no gap in their relationships!

  9. I know you are not suppose to label your children, and I have never said this to them or anyone else. In my mind, Aidan, my oldest, is my soulmate- he is so much like me it’s like looking into a mirror. Eleanor, my youngest, is my dreams- the daughter I longed for and never thought I’d have. Sean, our middle child with Down syndrome, is my heart- the child that brings so much love into our lives and feels me with such joy.

    They each bring such wonderful parts to their sibling relationships.

  10. E is the heart of our family as well. All things in our world revolve around her. My children revel in her accomplishments as if they were their own. Their is so much joy in my little girl’s heart–so much joy. I’m not using this in the stereotypical sense that causes so many people to growl. She does have bad days, sometimes two in a row, but all and all the emotional connection each of my children share with E is stronger than with any other sibling relationship in our family.

    The sun rises and sets in E’s eyes. Truly it does.

    We are so thankful to have such an amazing girl in our lives.

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