Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The rest of the family

An incident that happened at my sixth-grader's school last fall prompted me to write a piece about the effects of eating disorders on the rest of the family, which appeared in yesterday's New York Times. (Sorry, I can't do links when I'm blogging remotely, and right now I'm sitting at the airport waiting for a flight that's been delayed 6 hours.) The URL is

But truly, this kind of fallout is true whenever one child in a family is desperately ill, particularly if the illness has a chronic or potentially lethal component. Having a sibling with cancer, diabetes, autism, developmental delays, and other conditions always creates a difficult situation for the other sibling.

I was an other sibling when I was growing up. Today, no doubt, our family would have wound up in family therapy, but back then my sister was the one who got the diagnosis "emotionally troubled," whatever that was supposed to mean. I now understand that she was most visibly acting out many of the feelings swirling around our little family. Even so, her behaviors and condition dominated the household.

I remember what it was like to have to stuff my feelings so as not to upset the teetering balance of our family dynamic; to resent the attention she got even though it was mostly negative attention, and clearly she was miserable; to wish that her problems, whatever they were, would just go away. This perspective was much on my mind last year and now as I watch my younger daughter struggle with the fallout from her sister's illness.

I have enormous respect for both my daughters, for the pain and difficulties they have both suffered, as well as for all children living with chronic illnesses, whatever they are. And I'm grateful that we now understand a lot more about how illnesses like these change the family, and what to do about it: Get the best medical care possible and then love the heck out of our children, and ourselves.

Maybe that's not so different from what our parents did.