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In the Caregiver’s Shadow

June 14, 2010

Recently, I was at a dear friend’s home celebrating yet another incredible life cycle event with her. I was seeing some of her out-of-town family for the first time since the last momentous occasion, and they were asking how my boys have been doing. Not two minutes after I told them that at least three times a week I get asked if they are twins, someone who had not met my kids before walked by and asked — yep, you guessed it — “Are they twins?”

This is how the rest of the conversation typically goes …

Me: No, they’re not. But I get asked that all the time.
Inquiring Mind: How far apart are they?
Me: Three years.
Inquiring Mind:

I see the wheels turning. The age difference is not computing. They were expecting to hear one year, 18 months tops. I always find the question bemusing, especially because my boys — one 7, one 4 — look nothing alike. One dark brown hair, one sandy. One olive-toned, one pale. One skinny, one solid. One tall for his age, and one, well, not so tall.

Instinctively, my heart goes out to my older son, the one who has an unidentified genetic syndrome. “Already?” I think. “Does he already have to be in the shadow of his little brother?”

Then I think, is it really his younger brother’s shadow I need to worry about? Maybe it’s the one *I* cast over him.

I think this is a trap caregivers can easily fall into. We feel so responsible for these people we love. We want to protect them, make sure nothing can harm them. We do whatever we can to ensure their comfort. But it is this very protectiveness that can backfire, making the care recipient less willing to take risks, less independent, less comfortable with embracing the wonder and the weirdness of life.

So I think the next time I’m asked if my boys are twins, I would be wise to take a few steps back and let my older son come out of my shadow.

p.s. Anyone have any ideas for a fun yet respectful response? I’d especially love one that I could give him to use.

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  1. AmyMec permalink

    I think you can preempt the multiple questions by answering them all at once: “No, they’re not twins, ____ is 7 and _____ is 4. ______ is pretty small for his age.” That might lead to more questions, of course, but it wouldn’t be as painful a process of the questioner putting it together.
    But the larger question is how do you shift responsibility for answering these questions from you to your older son. Have you discussed with him if he’s heard these questions and if he has any answers to give? He might have some amazing responses you haven’t thought of.
    I remember seeing a documentary about a white woman and black man who were married and had two daughters. The mother, during an interview, said that she wishes she had prepared her daughters for what they would face as being half white and half black out in the world that doesn’t readily accept that. One daughter looked at her mother with incredulity, and said, “what would you have told us? You have no idea what we would face.” So you want to protect your son from what he might face out there but what can you tell him? He will know much better than you. And he’ll do great, because he’s got fabulous parents.

    • Michelle Buzgon permalink

      Thank you, Amy. I love what you’re saying here. In fact, now that you’ve said it, it seem so obvious. Duh! It makes so much sense to slowly start shifting the responsibility to him. Knowing him, once he gets over his shyness and discomfort, he’ll probably get a kick out of responding. And as his confidence grows, he’ll get that cute little smile each time he responds that shows he’s just pleased as punch with himself.

      And then I can only hope these small confidence-building steps will serve him as he faces whatever he’s going to face as he gets older. The daughter in the documentary was right: I have no idea what he’ll face.

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