Ashley Lynch-Mahoney on raising boys who will offer one another life-long support.
My husband and I were recently told that the little boy we are expecting in August has an increased risk of Down syndrome. Along with many responses I would expect, I had an almost immediate response that deeply surprises and challenges me. I thought: He will need a sister because he will need someone to take care of him when we are gone.
Never mind that he will have two older brothers. Never mind that I know I am DONE at three. Never mind that we have a small house and an even smaller bank account that will be stretched to the limit by our family of five. Here I was thinking that we should probably have a fourth child so that he might have a sister to take care of him.
There is a lot to question about that response but the question that tugs at me most is: What does that say about how I view my two older sons?
A while back, I heard the story of a young man who was MIA in Vietnam. His brother wandered the country searching for him and any evidence of what had happened to him. He could not rest until he found him, and he was known simply as “the brother” by many of the locals he encountered.
I remember thinking that this is who I want my boys to be — brothers who go to the ends of the earth to find each other, to bring each other home. Yet my automatic thought that a sister was needed for long-term care makes me wonder what I expect of my boys at home, day in and day out, through the inevitable celebrations and disappointments of an ordinary life.
Sure, I see brothers venturing to far off lands to rescue each other. And yes, I see them scrapping on the playground to defend each other. I also see them going to a ballgame together after a rough week at work.
But do I expect them to call each other when they are sad, scared, alone? Do I expect them to bring over a meal and do the laundry when their new niece or nephew is born? Do I expect one to say, “Come stay with me and I will take care of you for as long as you need me to,” when another has nowhere to go? I don’t know if I expected these things before, but I want to now. I want this ethic of care to be one of the things I teach and encourage in my boys.
Down syndrome or not, my sons will encounter difficulties in their lives. They will need to be comforted, supported, cared for, and I want each brother to be able to look at the others and know that they will be there when they are needed, for however long they are needed.
Changing my own thinking, and what I suspect is common thinking in the culture my boys are growing up in, will be a process. My biases are deeper than I knew. But my hope is that someday, whatever challenges life brings my boys — not making the team, break-ups, loss of a dream, illness, job failure, or just a regular old bad day — my response will not be: I wish they had a sister to take care of them. Instead it will be: I am so grateful they have each other.
Photo: Juhan Sonin/Flickr