"Replacement Child" for a Physically or Mentally #Challenged Sibling?

Another interesting facet of the ‘replacement child’ discussion is the idea of expanding the term to include the child who is born after a mentally or physically challenged child. In some families, the subsequent child may be looked upon to live out the hopes and dreams that parents had for the first child–that were thwarted when they discovered the child’s disability.  I hadn’t specifically thought about this until a friend, psychotherapist Elayne Savage, PhD, brought up the topic when we spoke today. She has had a good deal of experience treating adults who identify with being a replacement child, and says that replacing a living sibling in this way can have similar impact with regard to identity and rejection issues. (Dr. Savage is also available for consultation.)

Although Replacement Child doesn’t deal specifically with this notion, many of my stories in the book point to a complicated dance around my sister Linda’s — I hesitate to use the term — disabilities, that were due to the plane crash and the burns she suffered at the age of two.  I certainly felt guilt at being the one spared from the crash, especially in the face of her continued struggles with her reconstructive surgeries, physical limitations and extensive scarring.  So, as Dr. Savage pointed out–I had a double wammy of replacing my sister who died, and being the replacement for my living sister to be all that she could not be for my parents.  Hmmmm—complication upon complication.

A replacement child for a physically or mentally challenged sibling carries the responsibility of living up to parents’ expectations for the first child that may undermine their sense of a unique identity.  It may be another overlooked aspect of family history that can have far reaching implications in our choices, our relationships and our understanding of ourselves.

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