Sibling Relations: Why It’s Impossible to Find Balance in a Special Needs Family

I’m going to be completely honest with you and you may not like what I’m going to share.

I don’t think it’s possible to give equal attention to your children when one, or more of them have special needs.

I’ll take a step further and declare it to be impossible.

I’ve tried for years to balance the additional needs of my son, Gilbert (albinism, autism, anxiety), and my eldest daughter, Matilda (autism, anxiety), with the equally important needs of their younger sister, Delilah.

But it’s simply not possible.

The very nature of having special or additional needs means that more attention will need to be paid to addressing those needs. That can’t be sugar coated, ignored or avoided. That’s the truth.

And, since I haven’t yet come up with a time machine, time turner or any other way to magically create extra time, it’s inevitable that the extra time needed to address their additional needs has to come from somewhere else.

Which is usually time I would otherwise spend with my husband, on my own needs or with my other children.

There are only 24 hours in each and every day, after all…

Sibling Relations -

Yes, I feel guilty about spending more time with Gilbert and Matilda. 

But, I’d feel equally guilty if I didn’t spend the time required to address their needs. On balance, I think it’s more important to give Gilbert and Matilda the time and attention they need now, so they can develop the skills and independence they need for the future. I make special time for Delilah, as much as I can, but there are some days where the needs of her siblings have to come first and I’ve had to accept that.

Yes, I do worry that Delilah doesn’t get enough attention.

However, she’s grown up knowing no different. In fact, she’s found unique ways to entertain herself (her imaginary play is gorgeous to watch). Plus, she’s no slouch when claiming our attention when she needs it (she can be VERY demanding when she wants to be!) In many areas, she’s far more independent and skilled than her older siblings may ever be, which gives me comfort that she is coming along despite those days when our attention is less forthcoming.

Yes, I do my best to cultivate loving relationships between my kids.

It can be hard to manage the feelings and needs of all three but I’m always mindful of their interactions with each other. Delilah has lovely relationships with Gilbert and Matilda (although the two girls tend to bicker as much as they share similar interests). Of all the sibling relationships, it’s the one between my autistic kids which I worry about most. Gilbert and Matilda have never gotten along and I can’t see that changing anytime soon!

Yes, jealousy does rear it’s ugly head sometimes.

That’s a reality in any family. Interestingly, Delilah isn’t the one who complains about not having enough time with us. Well, she complains that we don’t “play” with her enough (but if we said yes every time, it’d be Barbie 24/7 at our place!) In fact, it’s her siblings who do that, the ones who get most of our daily attention!

I try to have one-on-one time with each of the kids each day and do my best to even up outing opportunities where possible. I make a conscious effort to value them individually and to tell them so, wherever possible.

I don’t always get it right, but I’m always trying…

Yes, I hold concerns for the future and the level of care Delilah may carry.

My husband and I considered this when we were first expecting Delilah. At that stage we did not know that Matilda was on the spectrum so we hoped the girls would be able to support each other should they be required to care for Gilbert. Matilda’s diagnosis has obviously changed the equation for Delilah.

We expect Matilda to be fully independent but we are still not sure about Gilbert. So, it does concern us that Delilah may inherit the bulk of the caring responsibilities one day. But, that’s another reason why we’re focusing our efforts on her siblings, to give them the tools they need to live as independently as possible.

Managing sibling relations in a special needs family is tough. It’s impossible to evenly balance out attention across all members of the family, regardless of how hard you try.

However, over time, you can make it work if you let go of that expectation. Accept that your special needs kids require more of your attention and start to let go of the guilt.

You may find that once you’re free of the guilt, you’ll be in a better position to take advantage of the opportunities to bond one-on-one with each of your kids, as they come your way.

Remember, it’s the quality, not the quantity of time, that counts x


This post is part of a Parenting a Child with Special Needs blog hop where myself and other special needs bloggers share our thoughts on a set theme each month. This month’s theme is “sibling relations.” I’d love for you to check out all the other posts linked up for this month!

Parenting Children with Special Needs

Reactive Attachment Disorder and Sibling Relations | Every Star is Different

Sibling Relations: Why It’s Impossible to Find Balance as a Special Needs Family | My Home Truths

When Being a Special Needs Sibling is too Hard | Life Over C’s

5 Things All Siblings of Special Needs Kids Need | The Chaos and The Clutter

5 Ways to Encourage a Loving Relationship with a Special Needs Sibling | Kori at Home

The Shadow World of Special Needs Sibling | 3 Dinosaurs

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29 Responses

  1. Deborah says:

    I think that all you can do is your best and if your kids understand why one’s being given extra attention it probably helps. A friend of mine said her daughter grew up as a more caring person (than some of her friends) because of her older brother (who’s autistic). She said she was always very patient with him. #teamlovinlife
    Deborah recently posted..Stepping WAY outside of my comfort zone

    • Kirsty says:

      I’ve seen this action with many families we associate with. I know my girls are more kind and understanding than some of their peers and most other siblings we know are too. It’s definitely a positive to hold onto x

  2. When you think about it, it doesn’t really come down to equal time spent with each child. Because they have different needs, equity is more important than equality. And you’re right- it’s the quality that matters. Even in non-SN families. My 4 year old, for example, needs more of my time than my 14 year old. But if I am making sure their needs are met, as best I can, then hopefully no one is feeling neglected. Great post!

  3. You’re right in what you say Kirsty. It’s important to try and equip a special needs child with the ability and strategies to live as independently as possible in the future. I have one Asperger’s child and he did require more of my attention but I did my best to ensure the other two got my time also and that’s all you can do really – try your best. I also have had the issue of my twin boys not getting along (one Aspergers) – still to this day. I tried everything to change this but to no avail. It used to get me down but I have had to accept it for my own peace of mind. They are two very different personalities and perhaps with time and maturity things will improve there? Loving the direction your blog is going in. Such a great resource for special needs parents! 🙂 #TeamLovinLife
    Min@WriteoftheMiddle recently posted..My Bucket List – the first 15

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks for your words of wisdom and lived experience Min. It’s quite possible my eldest two will never truly get along but I hope they at least start to respect each other a little more than they do now – and we haven’t even officially hit the teenage years yet!!!!

  4. Jo Tracey says:

    Yet another thoughtful & insightful post. My daughter is nearly 19 so I’m absolutely not your target market, but I do have friends struggling with similar questions now so look forward to reading your posts each week.

  5. Giving equal attention is a juggling act in every family (you just have a few more balls in the air!) I don’t think we ever get it perfectly right, but we do the best we can and I think our kids understand that. My kids are adults now and I think they survived fairly unscathed!

  6. Thank you for sharing your insights, Kirsty. I think finding the balance is a common issue to all of us parents only the challenges are different for each of us. I’m a single mum who only works part time but I worry about the ‘quality’ of time I spend with my son and whether he has enough male role models around him. I think being aware of possible issues does make me more proactive and focused in what I do each day as a parent.

    SSG xxx

    • Kirsty says:

      I agree SSG, we all have our own balancing act with our kids. Definitely facing these challenges and being ready to meet them makes us more proactive and more likely to do the right thing by our kids x

  7. I struggled with this too Kirsty, even without special needs being part of the big picture. Miss 20 is naturally more outgoing, chatty and demanding which meant we had to pay attention to her a lot more, I had to make a point of making sure I kept an eye on Mr 22 who was quite happy to go his own way …
    Janet Camilleri aka Middle Aged Mama recently posted..Advice for Mums Returning to Work

  8. Cassie says:

    I love that you point out how they need to be independent. You have so many great points in your post. I also hear you about the jealousy!
    Cassie recently posted..No Prep Printable: Number & Shape Trace & Sort

    • Kirsty says:

      Developing independence is our biggest challenge right now. As an involved parent I’m trying to balance being supportive but not doing everything for them. It’s such a fine line!!!!

  9. I love the line on that photo “every star is different”. Love it.
    Just as a side issue, your kids have THE BEST names.
    Leanne @ Deep Fried Fruit recently posted..Day 2689 – Sheet Pan Vegetables

  10. Lydia C. Lee says:

    I think this is a very difficult post to address, and must have been quite hard to write. The thing, as kids get older, you realise there is no magical ‘right’ parenting. You just do your best, or what you think is best, and only time can tell how it works out.

    • Kirsty says:

      I’m starting to see that myself – I just hope I’m doing enough right now for all of them (I’m not very patient naturally so it’s hard to wait and see how it all goes…)

  11. inthegoodbooksblog says:

    Great post. I love your honesty and the points you make.

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks for that – it’s all honesty around here (although some days i wish I had a bit more wriggle room with my name!!!)

  12. I think it’s hard to make time for siblings equally most of the time so I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like when kids have special needs. I’ve seen things go different ways where sometimes a sibling without issues might resent the one with mental health issues because they get all the ‘attention’ but I always hope that once they are older and mature, they will understand anyway. You’re doing a fab job Kirsty! As you said, there’s only 24 hours in a day.
    Sanchie @ Living my Imperfect Life recently posted..Week 3 of #12WBT February 2017

  13. I echo what everyone has said. You are doing the absolute best for all of the kids based on needs and age…and over time, it will work out. As the older two become teens, then you may find time pans out more for your youngest child. She is also learning to be her own company too and that is something that cannot be overrated. Thanks for sharing such a raw and brave post. Thanks for linking up for #lifethisweek 9/52. Next week: Must Watch TV.
    Denyse Whelan Blogs recently posted..School Kids’ Progress T1. 2017.34.

  14. thankyou for sharing you thoughts on this! I can only imagine the juggling act you have going on, trying to meet everyone’s needs. I am positive you are trying your best, doing all that you can to share your time and love around. Us mums are always second guessing ourselves, when all in all we are all doing a great job!

  15. My girls fight like pro boxers at times and they don’t have special needs issues! Hopefully if and when the time comes that Delilah does take on a caring role, she knows about all the resources and organisations she can go to for help and respite. I am delving into this at the moment with my situation and how I can help my son.
    Alicia O’Brien recently posted..Never boring

  16. Rebekah says:

    What an honest post. It’s so true in our house that the child who gets the most attention wants even more attention. It’s an insatiable need for attention. I think part of that may be stemming from separation anxiety and attachment issues due to adoption. If I had a ton of extra money, I would hire a full time nanny in a heart beat so I would be better able to provide more one on one attention to all my kids.

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