I’m conscious that I often write blogs about my two eldest children as they have experienced the most trauma and have the day-to-day challenges that comes with that. However, I do have a youngest son. He is now nineteen years old and whilst I’ve been writing blogs about his siblings he has been saying “what about me?”. In more ways than one that is a great question.
When you take a sibling group of any number you must keep an open mind to how they might have experienced their past and how their attachment needs might present themselves. Whatever age a child is taken into care there are always chances of trauma, even as tiny babies. Being separated from your birth parents is a trauma, being in the care system can be traumatic and the constant uncertainty can take its toll. Even though our youngest was about 18 months when he went into care, he did experience loss and trauma. Of course, no-one really knows as we weren’t there in the home, but the chances are the home environment was chaotic. With three under the age of five years old that would be hard for anyone. Then throw in relationship challenges, mental health issues and lack of support and parenting capacity – it can lead to chaos.
Whilst our youngest cannot remember a lot of his early months, his body does. There are times when he reacts to things in a way that suggests hypervigilance. He came to us at four years old and up until he was about thirteen, he presented as immature and emotionally behind his peers – understandably so.
As he went through adolescence though he has caught up with his peers in many ways. Now at nineteen he is like many other nineteen-year-old lads – impulsive, clueless sometimes, directionless, and testing his independence. The gap between him and his brother and sister has grown as he’s been able to navigate some of the challenges of this age less scathed. His mental health generally is stronger, his friendships have been consistent and long lasting and above all else he has some realistic aspirations for his future.
I asked him to talk to me about his experiences over the years and whether he could give others any advice on living with siblings through trauma. This was his response: –
When I was younger…
My older brother seemed to get away with everything as people tiptoed around him, because he struggled so much. When he did something wrong, he wasn’t told off as much but when I did the same thing I was!
It often felt like Mum spent more time with him as he needed more so I spent more time with Dad.
It felt like more expectation was put on me to achieve things that my siblings didn’t. For example, at primary school my SATs felt like it was all down to me as the others hadn’t done well. At secondary school I felt the pressure of having to do better with my work and this made me annoyed and upset sometimes. In year nine I felt like I really had to grow up, but I wasn’t ready to. I started to change physically and emotionally, along with my friends.
When I would come home though I had to be careful how I interacted with my siblings to not cause them any more stress. I learnt over time to keep out of things and to just let them get on with it.
My parents would tell me to leave my brother alone when he wasn’t doing well but I ignored them and would try and resolve the situation myself. This would lead to arguments and my brother hurting me in the end.
I wanted to be with other family members and other adults like my neighbours as at home so much was geared towards my siblings as they seemed to need more, but I wanted to be with adults too.
How I feel now…
I understand more about my brother and his challenges. I try to hang out with him more when he is in a good mood and give him space when he isn’t.
Now I can tell more when either of my siblings are not doing well and won’t question them – just leave them alone.
Now since my parents divorced, I am spending more time with my Mum and since we have got older, I am able to spend time on my own and enjoy that too.
I can help and support my siblings sometimes now too. When my sister has struggled with her anxiety and leaving the house, I go with her to help her. I try to understand how they are both feeling and that it might be different to how I feel but that’s ok.
My advice to others…
Listen to your parents when they try and explain what is going on with your siblings, even if you don’t understand it fully.
When there are good moments with your siblings take that as that they want to be with you and enjoy those moments. When it goes sideways don’t take it personally as they can’t control their actions in that moment.
Find your own way of making your life work. I have good friends I’ve had since school, and I also am trying to find a job and pass my driving test. I know that we are all different – we will always be brothers and sister and hopefully will support each other when we get older too.
As their adoptive Mum I am very proud of them all for how they are processing their early history and trying to move on with their lives. They are all different, need different approaches, and I know will have different lives to each other. I just hope that they choose to see each other in the future, even when they don’t have to, as well as coming to visit their old Mother on occasion!