For whatever reason, the letter to Abby that I posted about yesterday really touched a chord with me, and got me very riled up on behalf of the daughters. After conferring with a friend, who is herself the older sister of a boy with developmental challenges (and engaging in a lunch hour facebook chat debate with SK), I decided not just to blog about it, but to write in to Abby. (Vive la revolucion!)
I tried to condense my post from yesterday, and to be really specific and non-rambly. I think my letter's still on the long side, but we'll see what happens! So, sorry if this post seems redundant--it clearly is. Just want to track a submission so we can see if it goes anywhere!
I think you really missed the mark with your response to "Challenged Mom" (March 5), whose two daughters felt that she favored her son, who has "some social and developmental issues." Although the girls had been informed about the details of their brother's needs by a psychologist, they still felt "slighted."
Although I agree with the actions you suggested, I have a real problem with your reasoning. For example, you suggested that the daughters could be more involved in their brother's care, which I think is really important and valuable. But you didn't recommend this as a way to spend time with their mom or know their brother better, but instead to understand more fully how overwhelming and difficult their mother's life is.
Essentially, you advised that the mother convey to two of her children that if they only really understood what an exhausting burden the third one is, they wouldn't ask for more of her time and energy.
The mom asked you for advice on how to assure her children that they're all loved and valued equally. You gave her the tools and the permission to logically and rationally explain to her daughters why she simply doesn't have the energy or the time to love them equally.
You also implied that the daughters either don't fully understand or don't respect their brother's needs, or they wouldn't be raising this issue in the first place. The sisters have most likely been raised right alongside their brother, and witnessed his development their whole lives. Who could know his situation better?
I think it's entirely likely that they do both understand and appreciate his needs, and don' t begrudge him those--but are still hurt that he is always the center of attention.
I was surprised that you didn't at least suggest that when the daughters raise this issue, the mom respond to them with love (not by sending them to the brother's psychologist, though family therapy might indeed be useful). I think a lot could be gained by a loving response--reassuring the daughter of her value, and assessing when she feels most slighted, and making a fair attempt to adjust all of their lifestyles to lessen that.
The son may always need more hours of the mom's time and more intense attention and care than the daughters, but that doesn't mean that at every moment those needs must be prioritized above his sisters' equally valid ones.
A reassuring remark, an open mind, a listening ear and a flexible spirit might be what the daughters need more than anything, and if the mom is not able to hear them out and make some adjustments so that they feel loved and valued, then she IS favoring her son. Not by spending more hours of the day on his needs, which most likely all of them understand and accept, but by prioritizing him, as a whole person, above her daughters.
Finally, the idea that the mother seek some outside care for the brother in order to spend some alone time with each daughter each month is an excellent one, but only as a supplement to real lifestyle change. If the daughters don't feel valued and heard at home, every day, even with their brother, then the afternoon out will feel like it's all they get--that they're allotted 4 hours a month of mom's time, while the rest goes to the brother.
Both the letter from the mom and your response to it were fairly short but they had undertones that the daughters were automatically in the wrong for seeking more attention. While this mother is certainly in an overwhelming and challenging situation, well, her daughters are too. And she's still their mom. Attempting to divide her time equally among them would be an impossibility. But responding to "I feel that Billy gets all the attention in this house" with "Here's a list of all the reasons I can't focus on you," is not only cold, it reinforces that the daughter's complaint is completely justified.
Hmm...OK, yep, it is indeed really long. Oh well! That's what she has editors for. Hopefully it will annoy her enough to rise to the top of the virtual pile.