Big Brother Blues

It is tough being a big brother.  And it’s especially tough being the big brother to two special-needs siblings.

Elliot is a great big brother.  God has given him extra grace and patience and kindness far above what seems normal for a boy his age.  God has equipped him for his special job of being the big brother in our family.

But sometimes his patience wears thin.  Sometimes his grace for Zach seems to disappear for a season.  Sometimes his kindness is difficult to spy in his interactions with his little brother.

Now, I must add here that Zach is the most extreme “little brother” I’ve ever seen.  If you picture the stereotypical annoying little brother, you have to multiply that picture by 97 to get the true picture of the little brother who lives at our house.  I admit that Elliot lives with a difficult and exhausting brother.

For the past month or more, Elliot has been impatient with Zach.  While normally Elliot uses a kind voice when asking Zippy to stop doing whatever annoying behavior he is inflicting on Elliot, lately his voice has been harsh, impatient, and mean.

Like a typical little brother, Zach loves to see Elliot frustrated and irritated.  The more Elliot reacts angrily, the more Zach’s annoyances thrive.  The more Elliot runs off tattling desperately on Zach, the more Zach laughs and tortures him.

You see, there is a vicious and ugly cycle taking place under our roof.  And in our van.  And in the driveway.  And at restaurants.  The cycle of annoying little brother purposely fueling the irritation of big brother who explodes with emotion which fuels little brother’s annoying behavior which explodes the emotions of big brother . . . .  And so on.  And so on.  And so on.

Well, today when Elliot exploded and came running in to tattle on Zippy’s latest act, I took the opportunity to talk to Elliot a minute about his responses to his brother.  I pointed out that lately he has been using a terrible voice with Zach and was prepared to go into my whole speech about the cycle and choices and patience.  But I was interrupted by Elliot’s wails.

He burst into tears and talked about how hard it is to be the big brother.  “Zippy is so annoying all the time! It is so hard to make the right choice!  It is so hard to be kind!  He makes me so mad!  He is so annoying!  I don’t like to be the big brother!  I wish I were the little brother!  You don’t understand how hard it is!  You don’t understand!  It is so hard to have a brother with special needs!  I wish I could be all done being the big brother!  I don’t want to be the big brother!  Why do I have to be the big brother?”  And so on.  And so on.  And so on.  Heartfelt, painful confessions from a pained and tired ten-year-old little boy.

The mom in me wanted to hold him and stroke his hair and tell him that it’s okay.  But I didn’t.  I just sat quietly beside him on the couch and let him talk.  It was important for my role to be just listening.  So that he could get it all out.  So that he could say it all.  So that he could cry.  So that he could purge.

When he finally stopped, I gave him a quick, gentle reminder of what a special job he has and what a special place he has in our family.  Then, whispering, I quickly explained the cycle, trying to convince him that he has the power to stop (or at least weaken) the cycle by not reacting to Zippy’s tactics.

I gave the example of how Chloe and Zippy are in a very similar cycle:  Chloe grabs onto Zippy’s legs with a death grip; Zippy freaks out screaming and flailing; Chloe hangs on tighter, laughing at Zippy’s reaction; Zippy gets madder and madder and louder and louder; Chloe holds on tighter and laughs more . . . .  you get the picture.  Again, an ugly cycle.

Elliot laughed as he pictured the very familiar, daily struggle between his brother and sister.  I explained that if Zippy was calm and kind when Chloe grabbed onto him, Chloe would be unamused and would stop her ankle hold on him pretty quickly.  But right now, she has a tactic that really pushes his buttons — and she loves it!

So will our chat make a difference?  Will there soon be more peace in our household with more patient response from the big brother?  Will the cycle (at least the one between the boys!) come to an end?

Who knows.  We will wait and see.  It’s all part of the ride!


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by dad on February 6, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    wow! looks like the ride is tough at the time , Our GOD gave you and Paul these special children as agift for the two of you and our whole family…these hard “bumps” are difficult ,my prayer for you is that GOD will hold you close and love you in a special way just as you do for your chickens , and that you find a hiding place just as your children do .


  2. Oh dear. We have the EXACT SAME cycle going on at our house. Only I have a tendency to make things worse by yelling at the older brother for not using a nicer voice! Thanks for the inspiration, Kelly. This was exactly the post I needed to read today!


  3. Kelly, I see this same cycle with my two girls and have told Lauren at least a billion times that she has the power to change the situation by her choice in how to respond. It’s so hard for her to understand that it takes TWO people to keep an argument going. And it’s true, my voice is not always nice or gentle when I’m telling them to knock it off already. May God give all of us moms more patience when dealing with our children through all circumstances. It doesn’t make it easier to know that my brother and I did the same thing to our poor mother.


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