Going for Perfection: Siblings of Kids with Learning Disabilitiies

Lisa sat quietly playing with dolls. It was after school and she had already done her homework. She was feeling sad. Her best friend at school had gone off to play with some other kids today at recess and Lisa was all alone, just as she was now. She felt lonely and rejected. She was doing her best to be quiet and play, not wanting to be a problem. At 8 and in the third grade she was a big girl, but really she wished she was in her mother’s lap.

Just then her mother came out of her brother’s room. They had been at homework for a long time. Homework with her brother was almost always difficult, full of yelling and frustration. Lisa just tried to disappear, stay out of the way and do what was expected so she wasn’t a problem for her parents. Mom was already stressed after helping her brother…..

Mom took one look at Lisa and bent down, motioned for Lisa to come into her waiting arms. Lisa leaped at the chance. Finally, with a little cajoling, Lisa shared her day and how sad and rejected she felt. 15 minutes later, after she had cried, they had talked and Lisa felt better, Mom said, “You know, Lisa, you are just as important as your brother. Your problems and your joys are just as important as his. We love you very much. You are not a bother. We are your parents too, and we are glad to be parents to both of you kids.”

In spite of her parents obvious love and awareness of the difficulties Lisa faces being the sibling of one with learning disabilities, Lisa still exhibits very typical behavior of just such a sibling. Trying to disappear, be “good” or “not a problem” can go to the extreme and be detrimental to this child’s development and self-esteem. It is so easy to want at least one child to behave, not have issues, problems, or any kind of outburst. But of course, this is unrealistic. And most of us know that. We ALL have issues and situations in our lives that need attention. Drama, outbursts, hurts, difficulties understanding something; these are part of life – not a sign of anything being ‘wrong’ with us – just a natural part of life.

As parents it is very important that we remember this with all of our kids. They all have gifts, and difficulties. Each one has wins and joys. What can we do to nurture each one individually and still have time and energy left for our relationships, jobs and ourselves? Well, it is simpler than you might think.

  • Accept your children, each one, for who they are and where they are at in life. That means really accept that they are in the perfect place for them, right now. If you can truly do this, it takes so much of the pain and anguish away from trying to get them to be “right,” and feeling guilty that there is “something wrong with them.”It also removes the need for anyone to be a particular way to be “okay.”
  • Acknowledge your children’s gifts, their strengths, as valuable contributions to you, your family and their community. Be sure they really experience, as much as possible the usefulness of their unique gifts, not as better or worse than anyone else, just as a valuable contribution in their distinctive way of sharing it.
  • The areas where they struggle are areas to work with and see how to make easier or smoother or whatever. They are not in the way of them being okay. This is subtle, but really important. If a child struggles with math, they don’t need to make it easier to be good, just so life is easier and they have more time and energy to play, share and express themselves in the world.

Your family is comprised of each person sharing their gifts and their struggles. No one child is the good one and the other the problem child. Some struggle while it is easier for others. This can be frustrating for everyone. I am not denying the time, energy and challenges that go into parenting a child with learning or behavioral difficulties. I am addressing the power and importance of the attitude we hold (at least most of the time) that these struggles, or the lack of them, does not define our kids. As parents we can encourage our kids to see the strength in each of our lives and the gifts we each share, regardless of the difficulties. From this place, joys and challenges alike are not the definition of who we are, but instead accepted as part of life. Siblings learn that they can be themselves, whether or not they have learning disabilities.

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