My daughter Olivia does not have a big brother who will bring cute boys home for her to daydream about, or even have the ability to offer her dating advice. Her brother won’t be able to cue her in on the social secrets of high school. She cannot relate to and confide in him when only a sibling will do.
What she does have is a big brother who doesn’t understand personal space or the worst possible time to invade it. Her brother, without inhibition, will embarrass her in wildly inappropriate ways. His maturity level is not equal to her own. She has a big brother who’s needs demand constant attention, leaving her to feel like she’s living in his shadow.
Olivia undeniably loves her brother. Their relationship has cultivated genuine compassion. But this comes with a price. The scale of attention is tipped in my son’s favor. Jealousy, resentment, and embarrassment are things she’s had to deal with too often in her 12 years of life.
What about me? The scale of imbalance
When I asked Olivia for ideas to write about, her immediate answer was “ME!” This little word is iconic of her need to occupy the limelight sometimes too. She is certainly justified in this need. Her needs and accomplishments are no less important than her brother’s.
I must go the extra mile to instill this confidence in her. Insecurity can manifest itself in her lack of confidence as a casualty from the scale of imbalance. She is outwardly fearless and ferociously independent, masking her vulnerabilities. I never let this delude me into thinking that she needs me any less than her brother does.
She has been dragged to countless appointments for her brother when there was any other place she would rather be. It is paramount that she gets her own ‘me’ time, so she can just be.
She needs opportunities to discover and nurture her own hidden talents. We need time together without her brother, so she can let her hair down, let me in, and enjoy her very own limelight. She needs me to foster her limitless potential that sometimes eludes her living in her brother’s shadow.
So do we achieve balance?
Realistically, no. What we do is acknowledge it. Olivia already knows how she feels. She sometimes lets this slip in little moments of weakness when she lashes out at her brother for just being ‘him’. This is when I am reminded that she has every right to get fed up and frustrated occasionally. I acknowledge and validate her feelings too. It won’t change the way things are, but it is better than leaving her to wonder if I even notice the collateral damage.
This really hit home when I had to tell her there may not be any presents at Christmas due to a costly accident caused by her brother. It wasn’t the superficiality that got to me. It was the continual collateral damage that snatched my daughter’s ability to just be a kid.
She handled the situation with such dignity and maturity, it was never more evident to me that her childhood innocence was long gone. It was prematurely snuffed out by her need to adapt to circumstances that are sometimes completely unfair.
I am extraordinarily proud that Olivia embraces acceptance and understanding for her own well being, even bringing her genuine compassion to others. This drives me to wear her heart on my sleeve, lest I lose sight of how fragile and special her needs are too.