Most 11 year old girls find their brothers annoying. My 11 year old daughter actually wants to marry her brother! Why?
Well at just eleven years old my daughter already knows her brother will need life long care. While other children her age are out playing with friends, having time out on video games or at after school activities she’s bathing her brother, making sure he is dried, helping dress him and reminding me to get his medication.
She’s never known anything else despite her brother being stronger, taller and at a different school to her.
She knows he can’t speak but knows exactly how to communicate with him. She plays with him, reads to him and soothes him when he cries. It’s beautiful but also heartbreaking; innocent but also concerning.
At eleven she knows already how vulnerable he is. She knows he will live at home and never be independent. She knows the chances of him learning self care skills like toileting, dressing, cooking and washing himself might never happen. She knows he will need full time care all his life.
She knows he won’t marry and she wants to marry him to make that happen.
As she used a flannel to gently bathe him I overhead the following:
‘One day I will marry you. Would you like that? (She waited for him to smile back and sign yes). That way you will be ok.’
I haven’t asked her to do any of this. She actually has more than enough of her own struggles to be contending with (autism, anxiety and eating issues to name a few) but her empathy and close bond with her brother is so natural and heartfelt.
Yet when I asked if she could access help as a young carer I was told she didn’t meet the strict criteria: she apparently wasn’t caring for him enough! Other than school and just three hours a week when she has a carer take her to activities (because I can’t take her anywhere due to having to care for her brother) she doesn’t ever get a break. Summer means seven weeks 24/7 with her brother as he gets zero respite in summer too.
She has witnessed seizures that have frightened her, surgery that has terrified her, meltdowns that have saddened her and self harming that has broken her heart…yet she was rejected from mental health services several times.
Of course she can’t marry her brother and neither should she even want to. She should have ambition, friends, a care free childhood and growing independence, but instead she worries if her brother will be ok when he gets older.
Why would an 11 year old want to marry her brother? Because she loves him so much that she’s terrified who will care for him when he’s an adult.
That’s not something any child should worry about but when she already sees how little support he gets now is it any wonder she worries for his future?
The fact any 11 year old girl is asking to marry her complex needs brother in order to know that he will be cared for should be a wake up call to us all. Her brother deserves better and she does too.