There are few bonds in life as strong as that of a parent and child. One of the only bonds that comes close to this is the sibling bond. Siblings are built in best friends, your first taste of competition, sweater thieves, a source of stress and everything in between. While siblings hopefully become one of your biggest support systems and the only people on earth who share a lot of the same experiences as you; the relationship between siblings can get rocky at times. When one or more children in a family has a social, emotional, behavioral, or mental health challenge it can cause strain in the relationship between siblings, especially when they are younger. We at PA Parent and Family Alliance sat down with Jackie Quinn, a young Pennsylvania mother who grew up with a sister with Autism. Quinn shed some light on how her and her sister's relationship has evolved through their lives, what she wishes she could have told her young self when she was struggling to get along with her sister, and how she hopes her children's relationship will develop as they grow up.
"You share that maternal womb together, you have the same experiences, come up in the same household and it creates this incredible closeness," said Quinn about her sister. While she and her sister have a good relationship now it has not always been that way. Her sister was 5 when she was diagnosed with Aspergers, and Quinn was 7 at the time. At the age of 7, Quinn was too young to wrap her head around the fact that her sister's sometimes aggressive behavior and tantrums were related to her autism and not just her trying to embarrass Quinn. "I remember thinking; 'I just want a normal sister,' that thought now is embarrassing to me but also shows how young and naive I was to not see how amazing my sister is, just how she is," she said.
The main thing that made Quinn start to resent her younger sister was the amount of attention that she got. Especially right after her diagnosis, but also throughout her whole childhood. Once she grew up and became a mother she realized that her parents were just being good parents for her sister, but as a child resentment started to grow. "I can remember being at the mall and having to leave before we got to the stores I wanted to go in, or the time I was in my middle school play and my dad had to take my sister into the hallway and missed the second half. In those moments I thought I hated my sister," said Quinn. She can remember feeling like her sister ran the whole house.
In her young mind, she thought that her parents loved her sister more than they loved her. Quinn saw that her parents spent more time with her sister's teachers than hers, that they talked about and planned more of her after school and summer plans than hers. She didn't realize that her sister needed the extra support and attention, not that they loved her more. This feeling of unfairness caused a strain in the relationship for the sisters. Quinn and her sister would fight like cats and dogs, sometimes Quinn doing it just to get the attention of her parents. All siblings fight, but Quinn mentioned that having a sister with Aspergers made the fights worse. Not because of her sister's Aspergers, but because of the resentment associated with the support her sister needed. It was a never-ending cycle of sibling jealousy and competitiveness. They both fought ruthlessly and for a period of time, they could barely even be in the same room as each other.
It wasn't until Quinn got older that she started to understand why her sister needed the extra attention. She slowly started to understand that her mom was extra worried about her sister because she was making sure her sister was okay and she had the tools she needed to thrive. It started in high school when Quinn sought independence from her parents on her own. She began to see that people outside of their family saw her sister differently. It was at this moment that Quinn became one of her sisters' biggest advocates. It was finally understood why her parents were so protective of her sister, and while they protected her at home; Quinn took it upon herself to protect her sister at school. While her sister may have been annoying at times, like any sister, she was family and Quinn was going to watch out for her.
Today the sisters are very close, and Quinn's sister is an incredible aunt to her three young children. The bond they share is stronger than ever and they have a very special relationship. Quinn remembers what it was like to resent her sister and the attention she got, but now as a mother, she is able to recognize how her parents were doing the best they could to get their children what they needed, and they are both grateful for that.
When asked for advice for parents that are struggling to make all of their children feel like they are getting equal attention she said; "First and foremost give yourself some grace. You are doing great, parenting is the hardest, and often times one of the most thankless jobs on earth." Secondly, Quinn recommends setting aside time for each of your children every day to connect with them. Even if it is 10 minutes of listening to them tell you a story from school, or walking the dog together. Just one moment of every day that is just for you and that child. This can be easier said than done when you are up to your ears in IEP paperwork and dentist appointments but making your one on one time a priority can make your child's day.
As for siblings, they are just going to fight. There is not one pair of siblings in the world that have not had their fair share of ruthless fights. What Quinn wants for her children is for them to recognize that while their brothers and sisters might drive them nuts, they will always be there for each other. They are the only people in the world who will be able to laugh about the time dad burnt the Thanksgiving turkey, or miss the smell of grandma's lasagna. Siblings are the people you travel through life with; you don't get to pick them, but you also wouldn't trade them for the world.
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