My two boys are about seven years apart in age. That’s far enough that they never had typical sibling rivalries. They didn’t compete for friends, for instance. But they both have different needs and they did compete for my attention.
What I was doing
My youngest son has attention issues. When he was in preschool, some days it seemed like he never stopped talking. I spend a lot of time redirecting him and telling him to wait his turn. That got in the way when I wanted to focus on his older brother, who was in middle school.
My older son has executive functioning issues and sensory processing issues. He tended to get overwhelmed by sensory input and feel frustrated when things didn’t go as expected. That got in the way, too.
The result was that my husband and I often had to decide between equally undesirable options. When one of our boys had a school event, was it more disappointing for him if we had to sneak out of the auditorium with his overwhelmed (or overwhelming) brother or if only one of his parents attended to begin with?
This is not the way I wanted things to be. I used to spend a lot of time feeling angry. Not at anybody, but at the circumstances that made me feel like I wasn’t the kind of mom I wanted to be. I didn’t want to feel pulled in so many directions or to be so irritable.
It was always easy to see what I was doing wrong. But it wasn’t so easy to see what I was doing right.
What I wish I’d known sooner
One day I had an epiphany. I’d snapped at my younger son, “Can you please just stop talking? This has to stop before you get to kindergarten! I cannot deal with explaining this to another teacher.”
As soon as I said it, I was ashamed of myself. I realized that I’d been so angry about how hard life was that it had gotten in the way of my understanding that this amazing little boy just wanted to talk to me. There’s nothing wrong with him. His enthusiasm for life is wonderful.
I wish I’d known sooner that being angry is just exhausting and unproductive. I realized that day that all the energy I’d spent worrying about everything I wasn’t doing well was energy I could use to enjoy what was going well.
From then on, my husband and I worked to find new ways to manage our boys’ needs. We tag-teamed our way through many of our days. While I helped with middle school homework, my husband occupied our preschooler so he wouldn't interrupt. We found good babysitters so we could both go to school functions and neither boy felt ignored.
Finding these new ways to cope helped me see my boys in a different light. To this day, my then-preschooler has never stopped talking. But the things he says are amazing. He’s inquisitive, quirky, and really funny. Yes, my older son still gets overwhelmed in social situations. But when we stay home together, that’s time we can spend getting to know each other instead of decompressing from sensory overload.
Anyone who has more than one child knows that making sure everyone gets what they need is always going to be a juggling act. And you have to accept that some of those balls are going to fall — especially when you have kids with learning and thinking differences.
I probably still juggle too many balls. But at least now I’m better at focusing on the ones that are still up in the air instead of just feeling angry about the ones that drop.
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.