Saturday, March 22, 2014

Siblings of children with disabilities: can we foster love?

Emma and Teddy
There is an impressive video clip, "My Brother Teddy", posted last week on the NYTimes site. Adapted from the documentary "Softening", a prize-winner in the shorts competition at the 2013 DOC NYC festival,  it conveys the love of a six year old girl, Emma,  for her severely disabled younger brother, Teddy.

Their mother, the filmmaker, employed techniques that may annoy some - my hubby was so unimpressed by its black and white, 1920's look he didn't even refer me to it. I only discovered it myself yesterday during a routine Google scavenge - and I actually liked the old-fashioned touch. (No, we don't agree on everything.)

I found the film's content poignant but also troubling. Emma genuinely adores Teddy. At one point, after listing his many limitations, she gushes: "I love him, though, a lot."

My own children, on the other hand, I can safely say, do not adore C. They are wonderful, amazing, caring, loving, sensitive, intelligent and hard-working children but simply do not have any feelings for her.

This film left me wondering whether I am to blame for my other children's attitudes toward C.

When they were young, I  never urged them to interact with her; never criticized them for their apparent indifference to her. The fact that C.'s disabilities demanded enormous sacrifices from the entire family seemed to me enough of a burden for them. I also presumed that loving a sibling with such profound disabilities is a challenge that most children were not up to.

But was I wrong? Should I have pro-actively fostered a relationship among my other children and C. Or would that have been unfair? Might it have made them resentful? Is it possible that C.'s disabilities - even more profound than Teddy's - really made loving her impossible for most children?

I'm grappling with this new facet of our angst. Your thoughts would be welcome.


Anonymous said...

I discovered your blog through the NY Times' Motherlode.

I think parents of "normal" children have little influence in whether their kids love each other or are close. They're all individuals, after all. How much more of a roll of the dice is this for children with profoundly disabled siblings?

Personally, I've always been skeptical of parents who insist that their normal children adore their disabled sibling and wonder how much of that is that the children have learned that anything less than appearing to deeply love and not resent the sibling will be met with disapproval.

The Sound of the Silent said...

Thank you for your reassuring comment. I'm glad that we weren't alone in taking a hands-off approach to our children's relationships with C. At least they are close with one another and distanced only from C. Because, let's face it, loving our profoundly disabled children is a challenge. And your suspicion that some declarations of sibling love are disingenuous is probably accurate...