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Let's Be Real: Sometimes It's Impossible to Give Your Kids Equal Attention

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My daughter is away at camp, and if you ask my son whether he misses her he will say, unhesitatingly, “NO!” He loves having me and my husband to himself. As much as I miss Sabrina, it’s good to be able to give Max all our attention, guilt-free: I often struggle with making sure each of my kids gets enough of me.

In any family with more than one kid, it’s always a balancing act. Some days, some months, some years, one kid needs or demands more of you than the other. Sibling rivalry for parents’ affection is natural, too. But in a family in which one child is needier 365 days a year, making sure the other feels equally important can be a real challenge.

Max’s cerebral palsy means that he needs more help with basic life skills — getting dressed, drinking from a cup, using the bathroom, taking a bath. When we’re out and about, if he gets scared of loud noises (a sensory thing) and loses it, it’s all hands on deck as my husband and I try to calm him down. Even when our family is just driving around, he’ll commandeer the conversation because Dave and I are doing our best to understand what he’s saying. Max has a speech app that speaks words for him but he prefers to talk, and sometimes it’s hard to discern the words. Guess What Max Is Saying is a game we all join in on.

Max also tends to go through consuming obsessions. Over the years, we’ve been through the car wash phase (our minivan was the cleanest one in the neighborhood); the purple phase in which he only wanted to wear and own purple stuff and talk about — wait for it — purple; the Lightning McQueen phase; and most recently, the fireman phase that entails wearing a plastic firefighter hat at all times (him, not me) and weekly visits to the local firehouse. Max likes to talk endlessly about his passions. Countless times during the day, he will ask you to acknowledge that, yes, he is going to be a fireman when he grows up.

Sabrina puts up with his obsessions and endures all of the attention Max gets. She’s come to understand (more or less) what it means to have cerebral palsy and, on a certain level, she gets it. In a recent letter home from camp to us, she wrote a note to Max at the bottom of the page that read “Hi Fireman Max” (as he likes to be called). “I miss you so much.” And yet, there are times when she resents the care he needs. She’s been known to blurt, “You love Max more than me!” Ooof. Ouch. Dagger right to the heart.

My husband and I make concerted efforts to really show Sabrina the love. We have Daddy Day and Mommy Day, in which one of us takes her on a weekend outing of her choice. (Daddy Day is more like Sucker Day, because inevitably Sabrina bamboozles him into a trip to the mall to buy clothes.) At night, I tuck Max in first and then spend time with her, talking about the day, reading together or just cuddling. Three years ago, I started a Girl Scout troop in our community; I needed one that met in the evening because I work and couldn’t take Sabrina after school. She’s always asking me if I’m going to keep being a leader — she knows it’s something I do just for her. The day that we ironed her “My Mom Is a Leader” patch onto her Brownie vest, she was so excited.

Meanwhile, I need to give myself a “Doing The Best I Can” badge and ease up on the guilt. I may not always perfectly succeed at juggling my kids, but I’m doing the best I can — which is a generally good parenting motto to live by. I’m making sure that, every single day, both of them feel nurtured, supported and appreciated. As for kisses and hugs, well, there’s more than enough to go around.

 

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