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5 Reasons Why I Celebrate My 'Typical' Child

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Often, when families have a child with additional needs or a disability, people applaud the strength of the parents in supporting them. Yet siblings are rarely recognized for the incredible part they play and for the impact that having a sibling who requires more care and attention can have on them. My neurotypical son, Oliver, may have different needs from his brother, Harry, but they’re not always addressed as quickly (and sometimes, not at all, which makes me sad even to acknowledge and admit).

So here are five reasons why I believe Oliver is the superhero of our story.

1. He is incredibly patient and accepting.

Oliver has learned that for a huge portion of the time — rightly or wrongly — he comes second. This is because Harry’s needs are often immediate, whereas Oliver’s can wait. Usually, he wants to show me something on his phone, update me on events at school or share some essential life hack from YouTube, but I am in the midst of actively caring or supporting his brother. Conversations often happen while I am multitasking and we “chat” over or around Harry, so although the conversation happens, it’s not always with the focus and attention I would like to give unless we have some time together, just us.

Sometimes, I have to be away from home for days or even longer when Harry has his surgeries and I know Oliver misses me terribly (as I do him), but he never ever complains. He never sulks. He accepts this is our life and that coming second never means he is loved less. It simply means that when you are part of a family like ours, we all have a vital role, none more or less important than the others, but some more demanding on our time. Oliver never had the luxury of those natural egocentric years where the world revolved around him as a toddler. He has always had to share his world (being Harry’s twin also means he never had time as a single baby with me either) but he loves his brother and so he never questions it. He simply accepts that this is our life.

2. He has amazing empathy and maturity.

Some adults struggle to sympathise with others, let alone empathise. The difference being sympathy is the feeling of compassion for someone else, whereas empathy is the ability to step into someone’s shoes for a while and really know their journey. Oliver has this ability. He totally “gets” the struggles that other children feel. Not necessarily as young carers like him, but day-to-day ordinary challenges of being a pre-teen in the 21st century. His teacher told me about Oliver’s efforts to include everyone in practical lessons, even the new boy who people were struggling to accept due to his “quirky” ways. Oliver understands inclusion and demonstrates it without even knowing it. Over the half-term holiday, his friend’s parents gushed about what wonderful company and role model he was and I can guarantee that whenever I take him anywhere we have compliments about his conduct and manners. He is considerate and thoughtful. When he wanted to attend a martial arts class a few years ago, we had to take Harry along with us to the taster session and Harry (and I) had a really hard time. We never went back on Oliver’s request. He said he hadn’t enjoyed the class anyway, but a part of me wonders if he said that to avoid the trauma for his brother every week. He was putting me and Harry before himself, something that even many adults struggle to do and one of the reasons I believe he’ll make an amazing father in the future.

3. He constantly demonstrates understanding and forgiveness.

There have been countless times when we have gone out as a trio and had to return home early because Harry simply couldn’t cope and had a meltdown (not a tantrum, they are not the same thing). Harry and Oliver have had conflict, and although Harry has been physical, Oliver has never hit Harry back. Oliver, in frustration and anger, has said how hard it can be to love a boy who hits him so much. But moments later, they can be holding hands. Oliver knows Harry’s punches aren’t a sign that he doesn’t like him, as it would be if anyone else did it. He know sometimes Harry’s over excited expression of affection can turn physical and though it doesn’t make it right, Oliver understands and in no time Harry is forgiven. Time and time again we have returned early from utings or not gone out at all. I’m not saying that Oliver doesn’t find that hard, and I worry sometimes that a simmering resentment is being buried within him only to corrode his happiness, but he assures me that he understands and I always make sure we talk through anything that happens.

4. He communicates well.

One thing Oliver and I can do incredibly well is talk. We are both incessant chatter boxes, and from a very early age, I encouraged Oliver to recognise a variety of emotions. As such, he has incredible emotional intelligence and is very aware of his own feelings and those of others. Everyone we meet comments on the quality and confidence of his conversations and his eloquence in talking about life with Harry, like on the interview we did with Special Books by Special Kids.

He will talk openly with me about his feelings, worries and fears. We discuss strategies to deal with the stares, whispers and questions that we get when we are out and about and self-reflect on what went well and what we could have done better when there has been a situation with Harry. In many ways, he talks like a grown up, and I have to remind myself that he is still a child so that I don’t unfairly burden him with the responsibilities of adulthood, but I love that he speaks so freely with me and can express himself so well. You will never hear me dismissing his concerns or telling him to “man up” when it comes to sharing his emotions because I really do believe that good communication is the key to positive mental health and I want my big boy (three minutes older really does matter when you’re a twin) to know that his voice is always valid and valued.

5. He’s incredibly protective.

Without a doubt, Oliver is Harry’s most fierce protector. When they were much younger, Oliver didn’t notice the grimaced faces and pointing fingers, but as the boys got older and he saw it, it used to enrage him. He has asked for permission more than once to punch children who are being mean to his brother, and although my head said, “Sure son, go for it,” I tried to explain why it was more important to educate people than simply punish them for a lack of understanding (and basic manners).

When Harry had his big reconstruction surgeries, Oliver cried that he didn’t want his brother hurt. He still has a real fear (not without good cause but that’s another story) that Harry will escape from the house and run off, so he’s constantly checking the doors to put his mind at rest that the house is secure and his brother is safe.

Oliver talks about what he will do with his life, travelling and having a family of his own one day. But he always reassures me that he’ll be here for Harry. He tells me that looking out for his brother is something he wants to do as much as feels he should. I hope that’s true, as I am sure that even the most heartfelt of intentions can be influenced by some essence of responsibility.

For all of these reasons and more, Oliver is the hero of our story. He has grown up with a brother who has never been a friend or a playmate like you see with most twins. For about the first eight years of their life, Harry preferred to play on his own and only just tolerated other children in his personal space. I can’t imagine how Oliver must have felt on the days when he wanted a brother to play with, to moan at or laugh with, to even fall out and make up with.

Although I may not have the life I expected, I have two boys I could have never dreamed of. Harry with his purity of soul, my sunshine boy who radiates love (and mischief) and Oliver, who is wiser and braver than his years, who accepts that our life is different to that of his friends but embraces it regardless. He shows me every day what love means and on the days when I question myself as a mother, when I feel like I’m getting it all wrong, I only have to look at him to know how much I have got right.

In the interview we did with Chris Ulmer, my 12-year-old son explained it better than I’ve ever heard from an adult. He said, “Love is an action. It’s not something you say, it’s something you do.” My boy may not have to perform the action of putting on his cape, but he is a superhero in my eyes and I am beyond proud to be his mum.

Follow this journey at Our Altered Life.

Originally published: April 11, 2019
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