Friday, March 19, 2010

Sibling Rivalry & Brotherly Love

All siblings fight, it’s a fact of life. But in our home, it escalates to a whole new level. When our son is irritable, he’s a challenge to be around. He’s mean, impatient, bossy and abusive. His younger brothers, age 5 and 7, have to deal with the brunt of this.

Now trust me, we try very hard to minimize this. But when one child has a mood disorder, things get out of control fast. One minute they’re all playing, then the next minute our son has bitten one of his brothers. During rages, he typically abuses his parents, but sometimes, especially in the beginning, he may target one of his brothers. When he’s not using his fists, he uses his words. There have been many times when our son has been locked in his room during a timeout, screaming at his little brother, “When I get out, I’m going to kill you”. To a 5 year old, this is a very scary situation.

My boys have had to master the art of “walking on eggshells”. They’ve learned early on that they have to be careful with their brother when he becomes upset, I’ve even seen them flinch as their brother stomps by.

Not only are the boys targeted from an emotional and physical standpoint, but the boys suffer from having their personal property destroyed. During a rage, our son will grab his brother’s toys and books, tearing them apart or smashing them to pieces. I can’t imagine what this must feel like for my boys, to feel so out of control and to suffer so much pain as a child.

Our boys have suffered socially. They’ve had play dates turn bad when their brother begins to rage and have lost friendships because their friends don’t like to play with their big brother. The boys have had special family outings cut short because their brother is overcome with anxiety in a public place and are unable to eat in certain restaurants because of their brother’s sensitivity to loud noises. At school, they have faced rumors about their brother because of his bad impulses and have had shopping experiences turn bad when their brother has become overwhelmed with stress over purchase decisions.

Then there’s the fact that they don’t always get the attention when they need it. I clearly remember a day when my son was raging for 3 hours straight. Now during those three hours, I was working to protect each of us, as well as property, while trying to calm their brother. In the meantime, the boys patiently played in the playroom, helping themselves to snacks. I felt so bad for them, it had been a long summer of rages and they had to endure so much already, but to also have to wait for the storm to pass to have my full attention was just another impact on their life.

Then you have the disturbing fact that my little boys have seen their parents abused by their big brother. They’ve seen the people that are suppose to protect them cry out in pain, bleed and be bruised by their brother. I can’t pretend to imagine what that must feel like for them, how frightening that must be. It really breaks my heart that this is their reality.

I also will never forget the day when my 7 year old was running through his brother’s room, hiding all the scissors that were left after a project, because he was afraid his big brother was going to use them to kill himself when his medication (Seroquel) made him depressed. This is a moment that I wish my child never had to experience, I wish I could erase it from his memory, instead, I hugged him and we cried in each other’s arms, as I reassured him that I wasn’t going to let his brother kill himself.

We’ve made a tremendous effort to help our boys cope with their brother’s illness. We’ve aimed to protect them by taking all the abuse during a rage. We’ve strived to protect their stuff, collecting it when he’s upset, to keep it safe. We’ve turned up music to hush the sounds of their brother’s screams and offered hugs and encouraging words to help them feel safe when they’re scared.

Socially we’ve tried to “split the herd” so to speak. We’ve started “Daddy dates” and “Mommy dates” where each boy gets a day away from the family and the stress of their brother. We also have started inviting the grandparents to have a day with our sick son, giving the other boys a break at home.

In addition, we’ve taken the time to express how sorry we are that they have to go through such hard times and have listened to their questions and concerns, we’ve heard their voice and acknowledge their feelings.

I know that we will never be able to undo all that they’ve had to go through and I know that this is so unfair that they have to live like this, but they do love their brother and pray that he will be healed. Our 7 year old prays regularly for his brother and he’s the first to defend him when his brother acts out saying, “It’s not his fault, it’s his brain that isn’t working right!” I believe that they will become more compassionate and patient people in the world. My prayer is that God will use this situation in their life to encourage them to do good in the world, to love unselfishly as they have already learned to do.


  1. Hi there, I found your blog from taz's Mama, and I really enjoyed reading through it. We have a lot in comming with our son's. Mine is 10 years old with BP, ADHD, Anxiety and ODD.
    The wasy you describe different situations - it could have been me talking about my life. Sending good thoughts your way and I look forward to following your posts.

  2. Thank you for your web page. I am a 47 year old single mother with a 14 year old with Autism Spectrum Disorder and a 12 year old with Bipolar Disorder, both girls (raging hormones) dx in 2008. Since no one really understands our heartbreak without experiencing it first hand, I appreciate your sharing as it helps to know that I am not the only one living in a "foreign life." Their father is semi-diagnosed untreated bipolar and hasn't been in their lives for over nine years (divorced twice more after our divorce) I understand your exhaustion as my nerves are so shot that I shake any time that I actually get a chance to rest (myoclonic jerks). It is only by my faith in a loving, merciful God and his promised new system where all imperfections will be healed that keeps me going. Take care and again thank you for your posts.

  3. Oh thank you so much for your post above 47 yr. old mom. I agree that God is what will get us through it.

  4. we hav the same probs 2! my poor boy was assaulted bad last wk afta her 1/2 hr standoff scratchin my car with a stone, she wanted to sit in the front she bashed him about terrible.
    He is 9 i always hav discussed openly her difficulties with him and that she is different and has extra needs.
    he has an understanding that sometimes we have to wait for the right moment, sad i know but it kinda protects him too.
    we hav special times where i do things individually with them. i also visit great grandparents seperately with them if im not with hubbie
    talking openly helps a lot with us

  5. Anonymous- That is fantastic that you do things special with him. I have heard that in the end this makes a big difference.

  6. This is all so familiar. I'm constantly worried about safety and it breaks my heart that our 2 and 4 year old are so vulnerable to her (our 8 year olds) outbursts and violence. She is insanely jealous of anytime I spend with them and it is maddening. But one on one she can be quite kind. I always think that if she could just have her own apartment she'd probably be fine, it is other people that trigger everything for her.

    1. I couldn't agree more, I wondered too if my son lived on his own if his rages could've been avoided all together since he wouldn't have any triggers!