The question posed to me was, “How did your sister's illness affect your childhood?” I could have been asked, “How did having blonde hair affect your childhood?” It would be an equally hard question to answer. First, I have to try and separate my perspective from reality. This is like asking your soul a question and trying to leave your emotions and brains out of the conversation. Second, I would have to figure out how my sisters’ condition separated my childhood from the norm, or more precisely, separated it even further from the norm.
My sister grew up with arthritis. In short, she came out with her body attacking her joints. Some days she had a hard time moving. Some days there didn't seem to be a problem. Some days she had a knee the size of a grapefruit. Some days she would beat the tar out of me. When my parents heard her beating the tar out of me, inevitably, I would be told to knock it off. So like a good son I would try, but somehow her head always remained attached.
One thing my sister's illness didn't affect was our need for attention. Like all children, my sister and I wanted attention and if we didn't get it we would devise schemes. The schemes could be as simple as acting out in the supermarket, or as complicated as asking my parents for attention in some adult fashion. (Though most adults I know still use the act out approach.)
The only thing that made us want attention more than not getting it, was getting negative attention. Now I liken negative attention to a sugar high. If hungry children receive sugar instead of food they will have plenty of energy until the crash, but no ability to be constructive. If children in search of attention get negative attention instead of support and affirmation, they will have plenty of energy until the crash, but no ability to be constructive.
My sister's illness was an attention hound. It would sniff it out, chase it, and tree it. Just like a hound is bred to do, and it will do it just as sure as its master will blame the hound for human flatulence. This of course would start the whole “scheme – sugar high” cycle.
So on the bad days of the illness I would run around (at high speeds) looking for attention. My parents would oscillate between being tired of giving and tired of not getting attention. And my sister would wonder if anything about herself, besides her illness, was worth attention.
So that's how the whole illness deal affected me. I have a feeling that you might want a solution or a path to better parenting. This is awful tempting for a righteous person like myself. I could preach about making sure you take care of yourself first (or you won't have the energy for your kids). Or I could tell you that it takes less energy to listen to children than to command them. But if I'm not reminding the converted, then I have a feeling that I'm preaching to myself.
All I can say, is if you are having trouble with the attention predicament, it is a lot like trying to have enough money and enough time in modern day America. Most people can't strike the balance, and those who have, didn't give up. I guess it's parenting children is a work in progress.
Thanks for visiting...Joe
Fleitas, Ed.D., R.N.
Associate Professor of Nursing, Lehman College, CUNY
Bronx, New York 10468
Last updated: November 14, 2004