Updated: Apr 29, 2022
How We Played, Teased, Aggravated, and Leaned on Each Other
Gwendolyn is nearly 27. She is the oldest of three kids of Steve and Jennifer. Gwen and her siblings are the centers of our universe. We laugh, cry, teach, dream, and travel together. While we strive to treat them all equally, each is unique and the relationship we form with each bears that out.
Playing & Spinning
As new parents of a baby with Down syndrome, Jennifer and I quickly dove in to try to find all the answers. We attended lectures and parent groups, read books, and watched videos to try to learn how to be the best parents for Gwendolyn. However, that soon became overwhelming, and we stood back and just loved our new baby.
I loved each of my kid's baby and toddler phases. We cooed at each other. We played games. We rough-housed together until we laughed. I threw them high in the air and spun them around in
dizzying circles in their Tikes plastic car. I pushed them high in their swings until they begged to stop and then again when they asked for more. What a magical time to see them grow every day and for us to develop such deep bonds together.
As Gwendolyn's sister and brother grew toward teenagerhood, our relationships certainly evolved. We had more conversations. We enjoyed some hobbies and experiences together. We eventually discussed politics and religion together, and then we began to dream of what their future had to hold.
Stuck in the Past
But with Gwendolyn, I believe I was a bit stuck in her toddler years. Her intellectual development may have prompted that, but I think I encouraged that as a way to hold on to the magic of those playful years with all three. It was nostalgic and helped me continue to relate to Gwendolyn in her early teens.
However, as Gwendolyn grew into her teenage years, perhaps despite my very best efforts, our relationship did change. She changed. She wanted much the same things as her younger siblings. She wanted to have more substantive discussions, she wanted to dream of her future, she wanted to learn, she wanted her independence. We've always supported that quest for each of our kids, but frankly, it was harder with Gwen. Not because we were scared for her security or doubted her ability but, at least from my perspective, because she was that last link to those playful toddler years.
My reluctance to move on with her created a bit of a chasm in our relationship. My playfulness became annoying. She wasn't sure how to express her displeasure, so she reciprocated by teasing me and offering playful yet sometimes hurtful name-calling. We seemed to become more distant from each other.
This treatment hurt me and I realized her reactions were because I was hurting her, at least by not treating her as a teenager with the feelings and interests of other teenagers like her siblings. But how could I repair the damage I'd created over such a long period of time?
I realized I had to address her greatest dreams. I became her biggest advocate for independence. We envisioned together, planned together, and learned together. And in those moments, we began having adult conversations about her future. She didn't necessarily acknowledge it with a "thank you," but when I helped her get a job at Firehouse Subs and she beamed with pride, and when I met her when she walked home from her job all by herself and leaped into my arms and gave me a giant embrace, or when she confidently boasts how she made avocado toast breakfast for the whole family, I know we have reconnected.
We still play and tease at times, but as Gwendolyn prepares to move out of the family house and into a fantastic independent living community, I think we share an often unspoken bond of friendship together.
This weekend I asked Gwendolyn what she would miss most when she moves out in a month. She said, "Mom, Noah, Maddie..." She paused and looked at me with a slight grin and continued, "...the cats, Meghan (a friend)." I gazed at her and she smiled.
I asked sheepishly, "What about me?" and she responded, "I saved the best for last." My heart pounded a bit heavier for a minute. Tears welled up inside. They still do as I write this.
Our connection took effort, yet it makes all the difference. I've learned every bit as much about myself and how to treat people, as she has learned about her own quest for independence. Even when she teases me with her rendition of "bald-headed old man" (which I'm becoming more of each day), I know we are finally on the same journey together.
She is ready to move out. As with her siblings who have also left the nest, we have done our job. They are all independent, strong, smart, ambitious, and loving. Yet, they will always be our kids, tied to us with a tinge of dependence upon us just as we remain linked and dependent upon them for our happiness and joy.
Go get 'em, Gwendolyn!
Steve & Gwendolyn
The UPLifting Guidebook Project is gathering information from parents, doctors, living facilities, and individuals with Down syndrome so we can help in your journey.
Please take our quick and confidential survey. Your answers will help us better understand your dreams of independence and the obstacles that may stand in the way so that we can seek to address the myriad of issues in our upcoming Guidebook for Independence. Click on our logo below to take the quick survey.
Look for updates on The UPLifting Guidebook Project on our website.