Over the years, I’ve received many heart breaking phone calls and e-mails regarding siblings whose parents commissioned them with the task of taking in their mentally challenged sibling.  While brothers and sisters are usually willing to take in their sibling, it seldom works in the long run.

There are several factors that are working against this arrangement.  First, the mentally challenged person has lost his/her parent.  Now s/he is being up-rooted.  S/he is loosing her room,  privacy and routine.  Meals are different.  Face it, normal people who are cognitively able to sort through the machinations of this situation would be unhappy.  People with developmental disabilities find it even more impossible.  S/he is sad, angry and grieving.  S/he grieves for more than their lost parent.  S/he grieves for the loss of a lifestyle.

Second,  the person must be moved into someone else’s home.  That person is now a permanent guest in a home where he loves his family members but things are different, very different.

Third, plopping another adult into a family situation is almost always a recipe for disaster.  Why would we think that it’s a good idea with a person who is intellectually delayed?  In fact this person is probably middle-aged, set in her ways, and may even be a bit spoiled by her parents.

Fourth, no family, even the most giving and gracious, can be prepared for this invasion of their privacy and assault on their way of life.  Throw is a great deal of guilt on the part of the hosting family; and you have a perfect recipe for resentment, pain, distrust and maybe even disaster. 

Of course, we must fact into the equation the miraculous power of the Holy Spirit to heal and help.  Yet, there are times when deeply, dedicated Christian men and women are not able to work through difficult situations. 

What is the answer?  It may be allowing a person with a disability to move away from home into a group home, before the time of great grief when a parent has died.  If the person is able to live in his own apartment, the parent can give oversight during the months and years of their final time here on earth.  Parents can rate better than a partial social worker, if independent living arrangements will work for their child.

One wise mother allowed a one week trial period for her two disabled and middle-aged sons to test moving in with their younger brothers’ family.  Later, it was a month.  Then for three months her sons lived with their brother and his wife.  Slowly, the family was able to absorb the men whose habits and concerns were set in stone.  However, the mother and the family wisely realized that this wasn’t a workable solutions for the two disabled men.  As a family they are now looking for an alternate solution. 

Many family members assume that a sibling is the best solution for a person with disabilities when parents die.  Be aware.  This could be the worst solution for everyone involved.  Perhaps a better solution is for the brother/sister sibling to become an active advocate for his brother while s/he is living in a group home.

What do you think?  Do siblings make better surrogate parents or better advocates?  What is the proper role of a sibling?

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