themighty logo

Why Special Needs Moms Shouldn’t Feel Guilty About Their ‘Typical’ Children


Do siblings of children with special needs turn out OK?

I’ve asked myself that question many times in the last 28 years. In our family, there’s certainly enough love to go around, but do Katie and James, our healthy children, feel slighted and left out? Will they move far away as adults to get away from all the medical chaos that goes on at our house daily? Or will they feel overwhelming guilt because they were the healthy ones? Maybe they will act out to get attention. After all, negative attention is better than no attention. All of these questions can go through the minds of parents of children with differing needs.

Maybe they will be on the other end of the spectrum and be loving and compassionate caretakers of their siblings. Or maybe they will just quietly accept all the attention their siblings need. While this sounds great on the surface, I wouldn’t want my “typical” kids to ever experience caregiver stress or quiet depression. I know those feelings too well.

Juggling different needs within a family can be hard. These days, we go on vacation without MaryEllen and Kevin, whose medical needs are far too complex to care for away from home. While the rational side of me knows that they are much more comfortable and happy, the guilty mom side of me nags at me constantly. How could I go away and have fun with half of my children at home? On the other side of the coin, how can I ever be forgiven for missing softball games, baseball games, class trips and college tours for Katie and James?

No matter how much I think about it and try to do my best, it always ends up the same. I feel guilty. A mother is supposed to be there for all her children. I constantly ask myself, “Did I do enough?” Would Katie and James’ childhood memories be ambulances and hospitals or Little League and ice cream? Would MaryEllen and Kevin remember Mommy always running out with the other kids? Will everyone grow up and be OK? Do “normal” moms have the same guilty thoughts? Maybe it’s just a mom thing.

Through the years, I heard over and over, “You never have time for me!” and “How come you’re always taking care of MaryEllen and Kevin and not me?”

What are their thoughts now that they’re adults? Do Katie and James feel slighted in any way? I was surprised by their similar answers. They didn’t mention ambulances or hospitals at all. Although they may have missed out on some things, they’re happy overall because they have compassion and empathy towards people with disabilities. And because they were exposed to so much growing up, they feel better prepared to handle overwhelming situations.

As relieved as I was with their replies, I do feel guilty about missing important events throughout their lives. But looking back, I can say that a solid, loving foundation for all the kids does work. It may not feel like it 99 percent of the time, but as everyone grows up and matures, I believe children with siblings who have special needs do fare well. Better than I ever imagined, even. So moms, let’s unite and not feel guilty. Don’t waste time wondering if you are ruining your kids forever. They will be OK. I promise.

How do I know? Here’s a video of James reminding me:

Follow this journey on The Heartful Mom.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about a time someone went out of his or her way to make you and/or your child feel included or not included. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.