Looking for a stable job with benefits? “Mommy’s little helper” is a position that has always been filled by either my sister or me. We are the eldest and youngest of four children; in between is our special sister and our only brother. A few weekends ago we represented the California Siblings Leadership Network at A Special Needs Wellness Fair For Parents and Professionals who take care of those with special needs presented by Offerings (www.gloalofferings.org). My youngest sister and I have had very little bonding time. Between balancing a wonderful husband, energetic toddler and commute to an amazing job, I have paused our relationship. Honestly, our relationship is probably stuck in a time warp around 1998 when I last lived at home. She was 9 and I was 17- bound for college. Back then I would boss her around, as the eldest sibling often does, to help me with all the daily chores. Today, we are in two completely different stages of life. My youngest sister lives at home, is eager to complete her Associates degree and spends her free time with her friends. We are worlds away.
On our 40-mile journey to the event, I started to ask my sister the hard questions that typically call for a defensive response, but this time it was different. “So tell me Pat, what do you really do all day?” I waited for standard response of, “ Leave me alone!” But instead, since it was just the two of us, she shared. “I dress Natalie, bathe her, prepare her meals, feed her, walk her for exercise and run errands for mom.” “Wow!” I thought to myself, this is exactly what I did too when I was at home! The amount of responsibility a sibling has to their family, when there is a special needs brother or sister, is great. Our mother looked to us, for her sanity’s sake, to pitch in so she could keep the house running and keep everyone happy. I asked my sister if she was happy and she said yes, but deep down, I could see that she was not. It was time for us to strengthen our sisterly bond and discuss her additional role as the“ family caretaker.” On one hand, we both understood the importance of being there for our mother, as it was instilled in us at an early age by our maternal grandparents, God bless their souls, but on the other hand, you can only give so much before you burn out. You need to refuel.
Before we arrived at our destination, I quickly realized that it would be of the upmost importance for my sister and I to spend more time together. At the fair we learned about how important it is to have fun, smile and make time for ourselves, as a caretaker exerts a lot of energy giving their attention and needs to refill their tank on a regular basis. In the morning session we got silly and sang a song with the group which made us smile. In the afternoon we practiced yoga, as well as heard a few mothers speak about their struggle with balancing self-care and caring for their special needs child. They shared their stories, which involved triumph and struggles, probably similar to our mother’s though she never shared them with us.
A few weeks later, we did our first Yin yoga class together. It was a quiet, bonding experience and it felt good to know that we both allowed our souls to be filled with a quiet supportive energy. We were refueling our tanks. Since then, we have made every effort to get together one night a week to be “carefree.”