Years ago when my kids were young, my schedule was greatly based around Nava’s after-school appointments. She had the speech therapist for stuttering, the gym for physical therapy, numerous doctor appointments, socialization groups at the Y, swimming at the Y, among others.
The reality is that when there’s a child, or any member of the family for that matter, with any kind of problem, a lot of time, attention and overall energy goes into that person. Therefore, there’s less given to the others.
But it is crucial to make or find the time to give good attention to the other children. I specify ‘good’ because it is all too easy to dole out the negative attention. High maintenance and high demands of a child with special needs, can yield high stress and low frustration levels for a parent; thereby causing more frequent yelling and scolding of the others.
Couple that with being a redhead, and I was certainly guilty of that. But I tried real hard to be cognizant of the good and build in lots of fun times.
I always felt bad that my younger daughter, Penina, had to be the “shlep” along since she was too young to stay home alone. (My older daughter was in high school then and busy with her after-school activities.) My mindset became that when Nava was in her session, we would have our fun together. I wanted to create good times and good memories. I wanted to minimize the resentment and the feelings that everything revolved around her sister with the problems.
We went outside and made leaf piles and jumped in.
We went to the park.
We played out in the snow.
We read books together in the waiting room.
We sat on the floor and played with toys.
We went to the library.
We got ice cream.
And we talked, about Her. And what would make it more enjoyable when she came along on these outings.
Fast forward about 9 years when Nava was in the hospital hooked up to every conceivable life-saving machine. After being by her bedside constantly for weeks, one of the ICU doctors called me in to have an important talk, as he called it. I assumed it was about Nava’s condition. But it was about Penina, who had just started her first year of high school.
He told me to start spending time with Penina and not neglect her. He said that Nava wouldn’t know the difference (since she was in an induced coma) and my being there wouldn’t be a help to her at this point. But Penina would obviously feel the lack and she’s the one who would benefit from having me now. And so he recommended I spend less time at the hospital and more quality time with her.
I have to say, I was blown away by this doctor’s words of advice. He was truly looking at the whole family’s well-being and at the effect this could have on my youngest child. (My oldest daughter was married and living abroad.)
Needless to say, it was obviously very difficult to go gallivanting around while Nava lay hooked up to a respirator. But I heeded this very wise doctor’s words.
We went apple picking and brought back gorgeous red delicious apples and gave them out to the nurses.
We went to the movies.
We went shopping in the mall.
We went out to eat.
And we talked, about Her. And what I could do for her in light of what was going on.
We must carve out good times for all our children. They don’t need to have problems to warrant our attention. This is a tremendous balancing act, but well worth the emotional energy it entails.
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