In Part 3 of the series, “Every Family Has a Story,” Darla Johnson reminds us to be proactive in helping our kids feel loved and accepted.
Click here for previous posts in this series.
We’ve all been left out before in one instance or another. Maybe you were cut from the team. Perhaps you were overlooked for first chair in your concert band section. Or your co-workers made plans to go out together after work and they didn’t invite you. Or after a long day at work, you helped your wife all evening with the kids and household chores, then later she went to bed without so much as saying, “goodnight.”
Being left out hurts. There are instances when this kind of rejection, whether or not it was intentional, is remembered for a lifetime. It can leave permanent emotional scars. It can alter a person’s behavior and attitude toward the one who performed the offense. To put it succinctly, “it sucks.”
When a family has a member they care for that has special needs of some kind, it’s easy to focus all the time and attention on the one who needs care, but place on the back burner the ones who don’t need all of that one-on-one. My husband and I have two children with special needs and one without. So we have to be mindful of this on a daily basis. We have to be intentional about making sure we don’t forget about her needs as well.
How do we go about doing this? Since the one without disability in our family is fourteen years old, we can just ask her how she’s doing with it all and what she needs. She’s used to this procedure, so she will just tell us what’s on her mind. And usually, it’s one of two things: either she needs to be included with her siblings or she wants an escape.
Why would she want to be included with her siblings? I think part of it is to have a sense of normalcy in the family structure and interaction, even though she’s too young to really comprehend that dynamic of her actions. When it comes to being included in the care of her older sister, and we need go to St. Louis for appointments, she wants to go along because we generally need to stop somewhere on the way home to eat (and she’s all about eating out!). That sounds really simple, but to a fourteen-year-old it’s fun. At times she just wants to be included in information and decisions, just to be “in the know.”
When she wants to be included in caring for her little brother, it’s generally because she genuinely loves him and wants the best for him. She desires to be an active part of his therapies in order to watch him flourish. She wants to be one of his greatest cheerleaders. She likes to add to the discussion in her child development class at school, because she understands first-hand what it’s like to raise a child with delays.
But what about when she’s had her fill of her siblings (and maybe even her parents)? That might be the opportunity to spend the night with a friend or with grandparents. She has activities that she participates in which don’t include either her sister or brother, and she needs that. Because of their age difference (ten years apart), she often times gets “stuck” watching her little brother, especially after school until one of us parents gets home from work. So we try to keep that in mind and stick to minimum additional times we ask her to watch her brother. She’s very creative and needs time to just draw, sing, dance, try a new recipe, rearrange her room (again) or whatever strikes her at the time to act as an escape valve. My husband is good at one-on-one time with her. Sometimes he’ll take her out for lunch during a school day (her high school has open campus). Or maybe they’ll sneak away one evening to go get ice cream.
It doesn’t need to be big, elaborate or expensive. It just needs to be tailor-made to suit her needs, so that she’s not left out. Forgotten. Hurt. Protecting her feelings has to be intentional; it’s not going to accidentally happen. Is it extra work? You bet it is! But the dividends of having a middle child without special needs fit in and feel loved is always worth any effort on our parts as parents.
We don’t always get it right, and there have been plenty of times that she’s had to act out in an undesirable manner in order to get our attention and make us understand that under all of the unspoken frustration is a little girl who feels forgotten.
So whether this specific dynamic is the same in your family, or the roles play out a little differently, you can still see where the principles of inclusion or focused-attention are significant for someone in your life who may be feeling left out or forgotten. When you do recognize this, take steps to do better and do the work necessary to remedy it, because, as I’ve said before, we were never meant to walk alone.
Oh, one last thing. What if you’re the one who is feeling forgotten? I’d be willing to bet that it would be worth bringing up in a gentle conversation to let the others know your feelings (and not to accuse; that kind of language only picks a fight), and then also be ready to give examples of how you can be included, how you can contribute to the situation. Doing this may open up a whole other level of relationship that the others don’t realize they’re missing out on.
Photo: Getty Images