I was speaking with a friend tonight and shared with her a term and concept I had recently learned about, and it reminded me that I wanted to share it with you.
The concept was that of glass children, and I became aware of this by watching a TED presentation called Recognizing Glass Children: What it means to be the sibling of a special needs child. Though special needs children are referenced, I believe that the concept has wider applications than just to the special needs world.
First of all, what are glass children? No, it’s not children who are fragile and breakable. They are actually appear strong (note that I said they appear strong, not that they are strong). Glass children are children who are growing up in a home with a sibling who takes up a disproportionate amount of parental energy. This can be a child with an obvious physical or emotional disability, it can be a child with an addiction, a serious illness, or significant behavioral issues.
The siblings of this child are called glass children because their overwhelmed parents look at them and rather than see their needs…. look right through them.
You might be thinking that there aren’t that many glass children out there, but as I watched this presentation, I thought to myself how many families I can think of who would qualify.
The purpose of the presentation was to raise awareness of the needs of the glass children, and give some tips to parents and those in the community about how to help them. Glass children see the difficulties their parents are experiencing with their sibling, and their role is to be good and not make more problems. So they are. But this role comes at a heavy price, as they grow up having to cope with their needs themselves, feeling pushed aside in favor of their needy sibling.
As a parent in this situation, it can be very overwhelming to be told that your child who looks like they’re coping well – “Thank goodness so and so is doing well” – really needs help. After all, it’s because they’re maxxed out in the first place that they aren’t available for that child. So what can you ask of them? What these parents can do is recognize the reality that their child needs support, and if they can’t provide, find others who can – friends, professionals, family members. Don’t look at their competent facade and assume everything is okay – it’s not.
We all think that our lives are busy, but there are families who are living close to crisis all the time. You may feel busy, but they are constantly living on the edge of their abilities. Look around at families who are struggling with high need children. Can you invite the glass children for play dates, on trips with you, spend time with them? Everyone is caught up with the needs of their sibling, but they need to be recognized, too. This doesn’t have to be something you do all the time. Every small action can make a big difference in the life of a glass child.