How do you balance PDA and additional mental health with the needs and safety of older siblings?

For us, we are fortunate in the sense that there aren’t any younger siblings in the household. So when in meltdown, there isn’t the added dynamic of littlies to consider, protect and move to a place of safety. How do you even begin to balance PDA with the needs and safety of younger siblings?

However for us, despite not having younger siblings, it has been and still is very difficult to balance the needs of older siblings and this has naturally evolved over time.

Historically, both siblings have been subjected to extreme verbal and physical aggression from their younger sister and where possible I have encouraged them to leave the room or indeed the house. This came with mixed feelings as whilst I was trying to protect them, their concerns would then be for me if they left.

They have both also had their rooms and personal items destroyed on many occasions. From make-up and toiletries being smeared over their carpets and beds, to obscenities carved into their bedroom doors, to panels being kicked out of doors.

All of the above naturally caused great distress and even resentment but also the distress of witnessing me being hurt on a daily basis was one that both of them struggled massively to cope with.

Adding to this, the emotional distress of seeing their little sister in such turmoil was also often too much to bear.

Living with PDA often, heart breakingly, tears families apart, how can anyone possibly manage all of these emotions, not least by the divided loyalties of on one hand this is their mum but on the other hand this is their little sister?

This not only impacted on their home and school life but also their friendships. It’s not very easy for teenagers to overcome the embarrassment of having to explain to friends that they may witness screaming, shouting, swearing and physical aggression or explain to them how they need to be hyper vigilant about flying missiles! Friends that came to the house were often carefully chosen.

Having a PDA child (with additional mental health conditions) demands and commands my every thought and movement. I often feel guilty that my entire time, has and still is, based around ensuring that her needs are met which, sadly, means that I am not as readily available for her older sisters.

My older two children (neurotypical) are now 22 and 20, the eldest lives up North following completion of her university degree, whilst my youngest adult daughter continues to live at home.

Nowadays, the impact is quite different for each of them.

For my eldest, the impact is more about the feelings of helplessness and worry. She worries massively about my safety and fears what may be going on at home. She also feels helpless being over 300 miles away. So for me, it’s a tricky balance as I, of course, don’t want to add to her worries by giving her the full details of any incidents, but I also don’t want her to feel like she is left out by not knowing the complete picture.

Whilst she is an adult, having chosen to live her life up North, I am all too conscious that she gets lonely and often feels that the distance between us is too much and wished we lived closer. At 22 she still needs her mum, in fact we all still need our mums, at any age, don’t we? But unfortunately, given the situation, I am not able to be there for her as much as I would like.

Sadly, even having a phone conversation is often difficult as there will be constant interruption from my youngest. My youngest struggles to share any attention I give and will often become angry if I am talking on the phone to my eldest. This can’t be a nice feeling for my eldest and I feel so torn, as I don’t want to have to cut the conversation short, but on the flip side my youngest needs me and is demanding my attention.

Visiting my eldest daughter is extremely difficult, due to many reasons. The distance, the travelling, the strange environment, a different routine etc are just all too much for my youngest to cope with. My eldest has lived up North for approximately 4 years and I am sad to say that I have only been able to visit twice, once when she first moved into Halls and once last summer. How awful is that? There is no one I can leave my youngest with to enable me to visit alone and enable me to have that special 1:1 time with her.

Last summer’s visit, overall went fairly well, in the sense that my youngest managed to ‘contain’ for the majority of the time, however it was when we came to leave that the lid of the contained bottle exploded!

Previously, when my eldest came home to visit, it was very difficult for her for many reasons. It was difficult for her to witness my youngest in meltdown and attacking me and her natural reaction was to protect me. Having lived away from home for so long, it was difficult for her to have a true understanding of why we were experiencing these behaviours as she had not lived with it. It sadly got to the point that when she came home she chose to stay at Grandma’s rather than staying at home. This used to upset me as I naturally wanted her to stay with us at home but it was also understandable.

For my middle daughter, still living at home, it’s not only trying to balance her needs and safety but there is also, naturally, going to be an impact on her as well.

Likewise with my eldest daughter, it is very difficult to have time alone, to be able to discuss her day or even to have an uninterrupted conversation – something that families living without PDA take for granted.

There was a time, when my middle daughter was younger, where she was targeted physically more and would often spend the night at friends as a means to escape. When this happened I would need to step in between them and take the brunt of it to prevent harm to my middle daughter.

Generally speaking, it is not very often these days that she gets physically hurt, but this is purely due to circumstances ie working full time and out of the house more. However, it’s more about the emotional impact on her when she witnesses me being hurt and seeing her little sister in such distress.

She often finds it frustrating when things are being damaged or destroyed, particularly as we have recently moved house and there are already holes in the walls and things damaged.

My middle daughter really struggles at the moment particularly seeing me hurt and/or upset and whilst she totally understands that the behaviours are often not within control, it is still heart breaking and soul destroying to continue to witness the chaos.   

Historically, there was a time when my middle daughter couldn’t take the daily meltdowns anymore and looked into moving out. Selfishly, I was grateful that she never did as it broke my heart to realise that my family was being ripped apart.

It is so hard to balance everyone’s needs when living with PDA and additional mental health conditions and in reality both of my older girls, very sadly, have missed out massively over the years. However, it’s important to make time to check in with each other. We all continue to do our very best with the situation we are in and despite the huge historic potential risk, I am pleased to say that our family has not been ripped apart! Don’t get me wrong, it’s a very different way of living but somehow we get through it together.

If you and your family are living with PDA, there is some great advice and resources on the PDA Society website, including a section on Siblings: https://www.pdasociety.org.uk/families/siblings

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