Ernest Hemingway once said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

As a mother, your wish is for your children to connect, love each other, and thrive together. Some days the exact opposite is true between Grace and Ian, and it makes my heart hurt. The kind of hurt you feel deep in your body, that takes your breath away.

What hurts is that sometimes Ian can be so mean to Grace that she just can’t take it anymore. I must admit, I don’t blame her. She ends up slamming her door and staying in her room, because of him.  This feels like a punishment to us, as we inevitably lose precious time we could spend with her.  

What hurts is leaving a friends’ house after a wonderful evening, and Ian causing everyone to be upset, simply because he refuses to leave. It culminates with Grace walking home, none of us speaking, and Chad having to physically drag Ian down the hall into his room.  An evening that may have ended in us talking and laughing, instead lands us as a house divided.

What hurts is watching an interaction when Grace is trying to have a conversation with Ian, yet he won’t even look at her, or acknowledge that she is talking to him.  

What hurts is the fact that in some ways Ian causes Grace to wish she was anyplace but home.  This breaks my heart into a million pieces.  Her home and her room should be her sanctuary from life, yet she is pushed to want to escape. 

I do not truly know, or remember, what an actual sibling relationship looks like. My sisters were much older when I was young, so they were more caretakers for me than playmates or sibling peers. I never truly learned to navigate with a sibling like Grace does.  I always wonder what percent of their relationship is just working through normal sibling stuff – as there is a 4 year age gap – and what part is caused by Ian’s disability.  This is the messy part that makes my ‘black and white’ mind go a bit nuts.

I find myself trying to keep Grace in a bubble, safe from Ian, and what strife he might cause in her life. I want her to be happy, no matter what.  Having a brother with Down syndrome is difficult enough, so I buffer situations to lessen the effect on her.  I often go to great lengths to keep the peace between them. Through the years, simple things such as Grace having friends over, or going somewhere as a family, become challenging. For example, we might distract Ian so she can escape with friends, without him bothering her or wanting to tag along.  We have been known to hide people’s shoes, so Ian doesn’t know a friend is even in the house. Of course that is all crazy.  

I have FINALLY learned that I do not need to step in when it gets difficult to protect that bond. Life is not always easy. Period. All siblings are going to argue and disagree, whether they have disabilities or not.  Allowing the friction and discomfort is where the learning begins. Grace has become more patient, tolerant, and forgiving having Ian as a brother; and there is no doubt that she is his biggest advocate.

I had the chance to read Grace’s college essay about Ian.  The timing was perfect amidst my feelings and worries about their relationship.  Her beautiful and truthful words assure me of the unwavering bond they indeed have, despite the daily challenges. She reminds me to always look for the wonderful blessings Ian brings.

What hurts now is watching them say good-bye, as she goes back to college; but this kind of hurt doesn’t take my breath away – it’s their love that does.

A Note from Grace: 

When my freshman English professor revealed that our first writing assignment was to be a personal memoir, it did not take me long to land on a topic. Our goal for the assignment was to write something raw and sincere – two qualities that are hardly avoidable when it comes to my relationship with my brother, Ian. Since Ian is a complex person who I do not fully understand, the task became more difficult the deeper I dove in. In reality, I have known him for fourteen years, yet still get flustered when he is being himself. This essay is my window into life with Ian. 



I’d love to hear about the sibling relationships your kids experience.  What’s hard and stressful about them?  What relationship blessings do you witness in your own home?

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1 reply
  1. Sue Bauerschmidt
    Sue Bauerschmidt says:

    Lisa, I never really fully realized how hurtful it has been for you to deal with Ian and Grace. It certainly has created
    so much stress for you. Your are caught between a rock and a hard place. You are amazing and have been such
    a super Mom. Never forget how much YOU have done to make life easier for everyone. I am concerned about your
    well being and certainly health. You make me so very Proud. You make me hopeful and open to many things. You make
    me Happy knowing how well you are handling everything. Keep up your good work- and most certainly writing. You are so loved. Mom


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