The Sibling Effect – by Jenny Foster


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From the outside, looking into the circle, he watched as his big brother learned a new way of life, surrounded by people looking after him, giving him advice, cuddles and high fives. For a while, the little boy watched in wonder and amazed silence but, as time ticked by he broke his stare and exploded in a torrent of emotion…
So, who needs me more? Ewan, my 9 year-old-son who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and coeliac Disease in 2010 or Kai, my 7 year-old-son who watched?

Kai was taking it all in when Ewan was learning to deal with his new conditions. Trying so hard to join in the discussions with the nurses and dieticians, he was so proud of his big brother. But, the pressure inevitably began to show and he struggled to handle the amount of attention showered over Ewan and the obvious lack of it that was coming his way.

It is easy to forget that Kai was only 6 when we rushed Ewan up to hospital and he was ushered to his aunties for what would be the first day of five, while Ewan was prodded and poked in hospital. What would have been going through his little mind… Was his big brother going to die? Was he going to see him again? Or maybe more innocently – what was all the fuss about?

No-one but Kai really knows what he was thinking, but what I wish I had realised at the time was that this diagnosis was going to be as big a landmark in the life of Kai as it was sure to become in the life of Ewan.
As a young boy Ewan has coped impeccably with his condition, adjusting to life like a pro – injecting, testing and carb- counting like he was born to do it, we couldn’t have been prouder and we made sure he knew it! But no matter how hard we tried, constantly searching for more of our attention with questionable behaviour was our little cherub Kai, a textbook case right there for Super Nanny!

The 18 months that have passed since our ‘D-Day’ (the day Ewan was diagnosed) Kai has become a walking time bomb, at any given second he could explode. Looking back, he has always been what I have liked to refer to as a ‘tinker’ so the added dimension of an overwhelming need for attention in the past year or so has opened the doors to a whole new world of behaviours that we were not prepared for.

As parents our instinct will always be to protect our children from harm, so when one of them becomes ill it is only natural we focus our attention that way. However, you cannot underestimate the effect this can have.
Ewan now successfully manages his diabetes with very little input from us. Kai however, demands more of our time than ever, needing constant reassurance and guidance to keep his emotions in check. It doesn’t seem right somehow but that is exactly where we find ourselves. There’s no-one to blame, but right now I wish I had a bit of hindsight and a crystal ball – so I could deal with the past year more effectively and see if how we’ve handled it works out in the future!

Eventually things are sure to even out and the boys will hopefully grow-up as well-rounded individuals with a healthy knowledge of all things diabetes, plus a natural ability to deal with what life throws at them.

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Like every parent Jenny I think we give ourselves a harder time than what we should. You are doing everything you can to keep normality in your lives. I don’t think your boys could have wished for a better loving family together with the family and friends you have around you. Well done for coping over the last 18 months Sam xxx

Thanks for all the comments. It’s amazing how many people this blog has touched. I am glad that it was a story worth telling! Keep up the good work parents, and siblings continue doing what you do coz we wouldn’t want you any other way!!!

I touched on this very topic this week in my blog. I too wish I would have handled things differently with my n0n-d daughter but I did exactly what you did and went into survival mode to protect and care for the child that was sick. Thanks for sharing!

After reading this Jenny i have realised i may have been focusing most of my time with my daughter who is 11 and just been diagnosed, and not spending enough time with my 15 year old son who is going through prelim exams at school and maybe needs me just as much. Thanks for opening my eyes!

You are so right about this. I have 2 girls who had to get used to their little brother having type 1. They’ve taken it really well and have both been interested in reading about it. I know it’s tough on them too and that they miss out on a lot of attention. I try to make sure I let them know this and how much I appreciate their patience. Thanks for sharing your story.

Thanks for your comments guys!

It’s easy for us to be hard on ourselves but like I said in my blog our instinct is to protect, we just need to balance out our protection. Just because there’s a child in the family without diabetes, it doesn’t mean they don’t need the same level of support and protection!

At least we are all honest enough to not ignore the signs and hopefully we are all tough enough to deal with it! GOOD LUCK and thanks for reading!

Jen xxx

Thank you for being so honest. I do worry what effect it has on a sibling.
I was pregnant with Anya when Levi was diagnosed. but she is now 2 Levi 6 but as with most children when starting school the winter brings germs and that brings uncontrolled diabetes. How do I cope with a poorly Levi yet still find time for Anya it’s so hard, constantly feel guilt and also fear for her too.
I hope like you by the time they grow up things will even out. Thanks again

I so relate to this. One of my identical twin girls was dx at 8yrs and we’ve had more problems with her non-diabetic sister, mainly from the fall-out/fear/change in identity. We cannot underestimate the effect that diagnosis has on the helpless siblings. Like Jenny I wish I’d known and given more care to my other daughter’s emotional needs while tending her twin’s physical and emotional ones.