"Don't Forget About ME!" Siblings Without Diabetes
|Have you ever heard your child without diabetes say…
“I wish I had diabetes”…?
Surprisingly, it happens. But before you break out with finger sticks to give her/him a real dose of diabetes, think about why your child might be saying this. Most likely, it’s a case of DSS – “Diabetes Sibling Syndrome.” (Can we coin that term??)
According to PEP Squad mentor and DRI Adjunct Professor Dr. Wendy Satin Rapaport, no matter what their age difference, sibling relationships can be complex and are often filled with rivalry, jealousy, power struggles or anger. Now, add diabetes. Tick…tick…tick. You can’t live your life side-stepping time bombs. However, after taking care of diabetes, making equal time for all of your children can be a challenge.
Firstly, sibling rivalry is normal. There is natural competition for parents’ attention and for each other’s approval. It’s not always about diabetes. Secondly, rivalry can have positive effects, too: self-control, experience in competition, assertiveness, and a sense of knowing your limits. Sometimes the child without diabetes feels that there is not enough love to go around. They feel neglected and may act out, directing their anger at either their sibling or their parents. Rivalry gone astray can do damage…to everyone in the family.
The child without diabetes may feel anger or fear about implied responsibility for “looking out” for their sibling with diabetes. They may worry about their own health. Will they get diabetes too? They may feel guilt for not having diabetes.
Feelings of jealousy or being left out do not only occur in the child without diabetes. Children with diabetes can be envious of their sibling’s “wellness,” spontaneity, and freedom to eat whatever they want without other people always watching and judging what they do.
Some children without diabetes look for appreciation by not taking up their parents’ time, which may help them be self-sufficient in self-care but doesn’t get adequate acknowledgment for their needs. Others may try to compensate for an imbalance of attention by demonstrating disruptive behavior or by trying to be perfect…a burden for a young person either way.
The important thing is communication. Make sure that the child without diabetes feels free to express their feelings. It is not selfish of them to want the same attention that the child with diabetes gets. Diabetes is not all about emergencies and crises. Allow all of the family members to be part of decision-making…like food choices, for example.
The feelings and interactions within the family will range over a wide spectrum, depending upon personalities, age, or even the size of the family. It is critical after everyone gets in touch with feelings, and expresses them, that you accept them and try to understand them.
Siblings have to find a balance between too much detachment, healthy detachment (caring and respect for each other), and intrusion (trying to take control). Each family member achieves this balance in their individual ways.
One way to preserve family balance is to provide one-on-one time for each individual in addition to some form of family meeting together. Family meetings are a time for clarifying and prioritizing needs and goals. You can address problems that need to be solved. It is especially important to take the time to communicate regularly, because diabetes brings more responsibility to each member of the family. The idea of meeting regularly allows the family to recognize and work on negative cycles or patterns that aren’t working and find positive ways of relating to each other on issues. Everyone in the family should be able to talk about their feelings. Someone may be upset at first, but take the time to think about what is said and discuss how to deal with those issues. Above all, respect everyone’s feelings and allow them the chance to express them without fear of reprisal.
Diabetes is hard…and it affects the whole family. Recognizing and dealing with this in an effective, positive way may take time, but it’s worth the effort. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional. Objective observations can be very helpful in clarifying issues and suggesting solutions.
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SOURCE: "When Diabetes Hits Home" by Wendy Satin Rapaport, LCSW, PsyD