"Make sure you spend time with all your children equally" Great advice but clearly the person who said it had never had a child with additional needs to consider.
As parents, we know that we need to spend time with the siblings of our child that takes so much of our attention. We see the cost of being needed so intensely by one child over another. We feel the pain of not being able to split ourselves in two pieces or more.
The reality, for me at least is that even if I am not with Harry, I am worrying about him. Even when I am physically with Oliver (shown above), my head is elsewhere. It's not fair but its a truth that makes me sad.
Its been much easier for me to have weekends away with Oliver where Harry has been with his Dad rather than the odd hour here or there. The downside of that is that it's irregular and not always enough time. The advantage is that it is intense, quality time where we are making memories together and I am able to focus on Oliver completely.
Looking back with hindsight here are five things that I did, or wish I'd have done, to give Oliver the time he deserved.
Stagger bedtimes - Harry has never slept well but I was able to put him in his bedroom for half an hour to spend time reading to Oliver before bed. I was crap at doing this consistently. If I could go back in time, I would designate two nights a week at least to story time.
Days out where we can - In some ways I am lucky to be separated as I can usually leave Harry with his Dad if I want to take Oliver away. When he was just 4 years old we went to the Manchester Museum for the day and met 'Stan the T-Rex'. Oliver doesn't really remember it now which brings me to my next point...
Take loads of photos - Because Olivers memories of our times together are hazy (particularly when he was young), I have loads of photographs to remind him of our times together, to prove that he matters too. In the moments when my attention is so very much on Harry, I want a visual way of reminding Oliver that he is just as important. If I had been more creative, I would have created an adventure wall of photos through his life of just us together. If I tried it now he would probably cringe and replace them with Japanese manga anyway
** inserts eye rolling emoji**
Social media - I dont know about you but I am a bugger for multi tasking. I chat and text all the time. After a parenting session that I joined run by a family coach, I now try to put my phone down when Oliver is talking to me. I try to signal that he is my priority in that moment and I am grateful that he cant read my mind as I mentally wizz through my to-do list as he chats.
Develop a mantra - Oliver was 4 years old when he asked me why I said that Harry was special but he wasn't. I died inside. I said special meaning different, disfigured, unusual. Oliver heard it as precious and important. From that day on, when I asked him "What are you?" He replied "The greatest thing you ever did". We still say it now and I love it. A special phrase, just between us. (You can read more about this in my book)
As you read this, Oliver and I are in London for his 16th birthday following Harrys 16th birthday trip to Nottingham. As they have got older, it has become easier to spend time with them separately so if your children are still young, have faith that it will get a little easier with time. Until then, I'd love to know what you do to make time for all of your children and if any of the ideas above help you to remind them that they are also the greatest thing you ever did.
With love from Our Altered Life to yours, Charlie xx