A Sibshops Special Update: Thank you for valuing Sibshops. Thank you for valuing Sibs.



Hi there! If you’re reading this I’m assuming you are a parent who has a child in the Sibshops program, someone who supports the Sibshops program, or a parent who is considering the Sibshops program for their child. Or maybe you are none of those things! Regardless of your positionally to the Sibshops program, I wanted to share this important reflection here to express my gratitude to you for valuing the sibling experience… and to thank you for supporting intentional spaces for the siblings (or “Sibs”) of children with Disabilities.

Recently, we were very fortunate to have such a special guest join us in Sibshops. An older, adult Sib of one of our Breakthrough clients named Rich, who frequently is in our office has been curious about Sibshops for a while. As a Sib myself, we would sometimes chat about our experiences and I shared with him what an incredible space the Sibshops program is. We agree how important, yet overlooked, sibling issues are and both had grown up without ever having a program like Sibshops. After a couple months of chatting about the program, Rich agreed to come and share his story with our Sibs. It reminded me a lot of how nerve-wracking it was for me when I was getting ready to come and speak at Sibshops for the first time!

Nonetheless, Rich bravely shared a little bit about his experiences growing up with his brother, Michael. They are 4 years apart and were fortunate to be able to experience so many milestones together! He showed us pictures from Michael’s prom and from Rich’s wedding where Michael was the Best Man. Michael is an amazing uncle to Rich’s 2 beautiful children. It was so beautiful to see and hear about another “atypical” sibling relationship that has had so many years full of love, experience, and joy. Our Sibs need to see relationships just like the ones they have with their siblings celebrated, shared, and recognized! The challenges are unique – but it was also apparent through Rich sharing his story that the joy is also unique.

Our Sibs had some questions for Rich after he shared his story. They had questions about Michael and Michael’s Disability. They also had questions about how old Rich was, trying to calculate and perhaps envision themselves in his shoes years down the line. Sometimes when we think about the future, it’s full of scary thoughts and anxiety – but it can also be filled with joy and milestones, too. Thank you, Rich, for showing us that. We also had another important question for Rich, in which we asked him, “If he could go back in time to give himself advice or support, what does he think he would say? What did he need to hear?”. Rich had one point in his reflection that I think hit home for a lot of our Sibs. He mentioned how being a Sib really makes you a better person and helps bring a lot of good people to your life, too. It’s a good judge of character when you are meeting and making friends, growing up. And although it can have some pretty painful feelings attached to it in those moments, it is something you that can be overwhelmingly positive. You ultimately have a circle of really supportive, amazing people around you. One of our Sibs also jumped in to share a time that they had lost a friend because of their friend’s inability to have empathy and ultimately treat their sibling like a person. They spoke about the pain of that experience, but ultimately the growth and the gratitude for that growth opportunity.

I wanted to take a moment to commend all of the Sibshops parents for recognizing the value in this program. Even participating as an adult, this experience has been truly life-changing for me. I know some of the Breakthrough parents are already aware of my story with Sibshops, but I wanted to take a moment to share again for some who may not know – because I think after having an adult Sib with us this past week who shared their story, it could be a relevant reflection.

Of course all children grow up in different spaces based on a lot of different factors. Although I was very fortunate to have safe, healthy, loving spaces to learn and grow in.. I also grew up in spaces where Disability and Mental Illness were not spoken about matter of factly. I also wasn’t encouraged to speak about my feelings surrounding my two brothers’ challenges with their Mental Health and Disabilities – let alone develop skills to work through those feelings. Like many other Sibs (of course not all), I internalized a lot of those feelings and ignored them for years. They manifested themselves in a lot of harmful ways, and I had a lot of subsequent anxiety. Later in life, I began to unpack some of my childhood and recognize patterns in my behavior and thinking that were linked to a lot of my experiences as a Sib. I was also very, very fortunate to make a close friend later in life who was also an adult Sib, and who was also having similar reflections. We found commonalities and differences in our experiences, but a lot of the overarching themes were similar. We felt a need to be “perfect”, we found ourselves undermining and minimizing our feelings in all of our relationships (especially more personal ones), we found ourselves with anxiety about the future, and we felt shame and guilt for any negative feelings towards our siblings or their situations. There are absolutely more, but those were the most prominent for us. As we reflected together, we did some research on Sib-related issues and realized there was a whole community out there! We also stumbled upon Christine’s Sibshops program at Breakthrough. Terrified and overwhelmed at the idea of being vulnerable, we decided to come and share our story with the Sibs anyway. Words can’t even describe how cathartic and meaningful of an experience it was. To this day, I feel it was one of the most meaningful things I have ever done in my life and it healed me in ways I didn’t even know that I needed to be healed. I now feel been so fortunate to have stumbled into a position here at Breakthrough where I can not only participate, but directly support the Sibshops program. I am truly humbled each and every week by the incredible children at Sibshops…

With that being said, in case you ever doubt it – this program is so valuable. You are providing the Sibs with an opportunity to explore and express things that will help them not only throughout these key, developmental years, but throughout their whole lives. I will say again that every child’s experience is completely unique and each child brings in and takes away different perspectives from the program. My experience is just one in our group of now over 20; however, I hope that my example and Rich’s example can be a source of validation and encouragement that you are doing the right thing to value this space for your child. They deserve it.

If you are a current Sibshops parent, please share this post with any families that you feel can benefit from learning about the program! If you are a parent interested in signing your Sib up for the Sibshops program, please contact us!

Phone: 631-348-0959. E-mail: info@breakthroughptli.com

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Jess Kruger