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See Through

By Dr Debra Bartholomew

I’ve been silent… contemplating the way forward through this challenging time of parenthood.

Yesterday, Laura Escayg of Cause An Effect shared an article with me on ‘Glass Children’. It described my younger son to a tee. ‘Glass child’ is a term that refers to someone who grew up in a home with a sibling who had a disability or high support needs.

This can be a child with an obvious physical, cognitive, or emotional disability; it can also be a child with an addiction, a serious illness, or significant behavioral issues.

“Typically, as the disabled child takes up a disproportionate amount of parental energy, the needs of the ‘glass child’ aren’t prioritised. As this child’s needs are less severe, they can easily be overlooked or ignored.”

The term ‘glass child’ doesn’t refer to the fragility of glass but rather its transparent quality. That is, the parents “look right through” the child as their needs become almost hidden.

According to a 2022 study by the Canterbury Christ Church University (CCCU) Research Space Repository: “Glass children can often take on adult-like responsibilities within their families from an early age as they attempt to support their parents and their sibling. As a result, they can grow up and become more mature much quicker than their peers.”

The child experiences emotional neglect, which carries a range of negative impacts such as low self-esteem and perfectionism.

The term ‘glass child’ was made famous by a 2010 TEDx talk by Alicia Maples that took place in San Antonio, Texas, entitled ‘Recognizing Glass Children’.

Maples claimed glass children become the “caretaker of the family” and, when someone asks how they’re doing, the answer is always: “I’m doing fine.”

In the talk, she appeals to parents not to take any of their children’s emotional health for granted and ensure they have a safe space to discuss their experience such as a support group or counseling session. Maples herself was a glass child.

The sad thing is, even though I’ve carved out time for him, even when I’m trying to take care of him, he’s still trying to take care of everyone else.

Coupled with this, or maybe even more prominently, is my son’s need as a young man to bond with his dad. I’ve tried my hardest to surround him with positive male role models, as his father, for whatever reason, didn’t make forging a relationship with his sons a priority.

It often struck me as Mr Baron, a History teacher at school, became my son’s support, mentor and confidante, loving my son and filling a role he didn’t have to but felt moved to do from day one.

As more male role models like Linton Veronus Gaston and Brian Harry stepped forward to give him guidance, I saw him finally start to see his worth.

But what remained as a constant reminder of his father’s absence was I felt the full brunt of his resentment from time to time and in anger, I told his father to take him for two weeks intending for them to repair what was broken.

His father insisted that to avoid a disruptive environment that he stay with him until after exams….four months.

The day he left, I cried. His brother has not been the same since. The first day when my son traveled home, all the way to Arima, we were upset…but none more than his brother. He had up till then never traveled alone.

Yesterday, I picked my son up from school so that he could spend part of the weekend with us. Rather than be happy to see us he seemed resentful again, and I had to convince myself to let my baby go. This wasn’t about me but to keep our relationship healthy, I had to allow him to walk his journey.

I think this has been one of the most difficult experiences for me as a parent. I’m often chastised for not “loving my younger son” enough, and I was totally lost as to what else I should do. I am a fully hands on mom, and my boys are my life.

So, I let him be for a bit, and then he comes to me and says, “Mommy, I just got my Science SBA marks. 12/15 and 15/20”. And the smile slowly returns as I let out a huge squeal and give him a huge hug.

My son’s not gone anywhere, he just needs to walk his path with me walking beside for support.

Here endeth the lesson.