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Olivia – “My mother and I had joint counselling. I’d recommend it”

My sibling situation that brings me here to Sibs is that my youngest sister has Down’s Syndrome.  Like most of us it’s not that simple. There are many other facets to my identity associated with my family. My sibling to sibling relationship is probably the most simplest part of it. The most complex is my relationship with my mother, which is something I’ve found in common with other siblings.

I love my mother to bits. I adore, admire and accept her. Unconditional love. And yet I found myself at a place where I couldn’t stand to have one more conversation about what she thought about my sister’s situation and what was to blame and what we all needed to do about it.


My relationship with my mother got more difficult than I could manage alone

We’d always pride ourselves on being a close family. We got a lot of companionship and laughter out of each other. We love each other so deeply. Others would comment on how close we all were. At the same time there was always an underlying disagreement about what was best for my sister and how to plan for the future. I was sick of having the same conversations that felt like groundhog day. Nothing changed. We’d each rant, then talk to each other about the rants and then cool off. A few months would pass and it would happen again. This was the worst with my mother.  I love her with all my might, but I needed to start loving myself more. Up until lockdown, I could manage. It felt like 95% of family life was healthy, fun and loving, with the odd 5% being rants. That changed in 2020.


We had joint counselling

My mother and I had the type of relationship where we spoke about everything and anything. We’d sometimes judge others we thought were struggling…”oh they need therapy, it’s so obvious”. Well you know who needed therapy the most? We did.  Looking back, I can see the dysfunction. But at the time I wasn’t aware. I thought that’s just how things were, not seeing that the challenges had created an extreme resilience. There wasn’t a straight comparison, because none of my friends had a disabled sibling.


It was one of the best things I could have done

Although we didn’t agree and had hurt each other, my mother and I love each other enough to go to therapy together. Going to therapy together was one of the hardest and best things I could have done. I needed a mediator to create space for me to speak about difficult things to my mother. I couldn’t do it alone. I’d tried millions of times and failed. The failures had gotten to a debilitating state of being unable to explain painful things. The sessions were frustrating, painful, ridiculous and fascinating. That resilience I mentioned before, stood me in good stead to get through whatever was going to be.


The relationship has changed

My mother has heard things from my perspective she can’t understand, accept or digest. That hurts her, and me. She did her best, and yet sometimes despite that, circumstances have meant that times have been tough. That doesn’t need to be anyone’s fault. For me, accepting that our situation is tough and unfair has been more helpful than the unrealistic everything’s fine here mantra of my childhood. That feels extremely selfish, but that’s what loving myself more currently looks like for me.


I recommend joint therapy

If you have a challenging yet loving relationship with your family members, I absolutely recommend you suggest the idea of therapy with them to help move things along. Be open to where it takes you, the relationship won’t be the same as it was before, accept that as a positive.

All names have been changed. 


Interested in having counselling, but not sure were to start? Read more about how to find a counsellor here. 

Would you like to help other siblings by sharing your own story? Please get in touch.