The Life of a Glass Child
I just learned the term “glass child” in the last year. It’s the name given to siblings of kids with special needs. They are called glass because they feel see-through.
Alicia Arenas grew up as a glass child, and indeed, did feel see through to her parents and community.
Watch this video where she describes growing up as a glass child and offers advice to parents and the broader community on how to best support the siblings of kids with special needs.
If you are the parent of a child with special needs and you have other children too, I don’t think it’s possible to watch this video without crying and feeling punched in the gut.
Her story and seeing how her childhood role manifested the type of adult she became is heart-wrenching. And thinking of all the ways we may be messing up our own children is unbearable.
The Extra Layers of Parenting
When our kids were young, my husband and I attended a local conference for parents of children with special needs. One of the sessions we attended was a panel of young people who all had a sibling with disabilities.
It was an extremely powerful session.
There were 4 or 5 siblings on the panel and all but one went down the line declaring their love for their sibling. They explained how they are a better person because of their sibling with special needs. They said they understood why only one parent can ever attend any of their school or sporting events and that it didn’t bother them.
But, the last panelist, a teenage girl, wasn’t as cheerful.
She bravely told this audience that she felt differently. She said she resents not getting enough attention. She was angry for not having the support of both of her parents at her big moments in life. Of course, she loves her sibling, but she was raw and honest about the pain it has caused her.
I stood up immediately and thanked her for sharing her story and told her how much I appreciated her honesty. We wanted to know how to be the best parents we can be for all our children.
After that workshop, my husband and I talked about how we would have to:
1. be sure we go on whole family outings, including Taylor. It is important that both she and her siblings know she is a valued member of the family.
2. do family things without Taylor. Her sisters need experiences that other kids have but Taylor can’t participate in due to her disabilities.
3. give her siblings 1:1 time so they felt they were equally as important and special. Their needs are put second to Taylor’s so often. We knew we had to find ways to put them first.
We have tried hard to do all three of these things as they have grown up. But it is not easy.
There is never enough time. Caring for Taylor and managing all her medical and developmental needs takes so much more of that time than anything else.
We strive to give them individual attention but have been reminded many times that they want to go on a date with just us, keep us snuggled in their bed at night, or to play with us.
I am always pulled the other direction for Taylor’s needs and it’s a knife through my heart knowing I’m sometimes not all they need me to be.
The Trauma of Siblings
I have wondered if growing up with Taylor as a big sister has left our other children with any trauma.
I know that we are an extremely loving household. They are well adjusted, kind and intelligent girls.
But I also know that they have tried to do their homework through screaming and blaring rap music too many times to count. I know that Taylor has pulled their hair out by the handfuls or clawed them when they were trying to hug or kiss her.
I have seen the betrayal, hurt, and anger on their faces when they are being loving to Taylor and her mood changes like a flash and she lashes out.
It’s so hard for them not to take it personally. It’s difficult for a child to understand what it means for a sensory system to be so disorganized that even a loving touch can feel painful. It’s hard to know that because she is non-verbal, her only way to express that she has pain is through pinches.
It’s hard for me to take sometimes. Putting that expectation on a young child is too much.
But, we have no choice.
Have those things left a legacy of trauma? Can those things be undone by all the love we pour into them?
I have another layer of grief for my typically developing children and the normal childhood they have missed. I grieve that they don’t have a big sister who can drive them to school, take them for donuts, and be a confidant as they grow.
What did you think of this video? What have you done to try to support your typically developing children? If you are a sibling, did you feel see-through growing up? What advice would you give to parents? I would love to hear your thoughts and perspective as a parent or a sibling. Please comment below on this blog post and share your experience. We need to help each other through these difficult topics.