The relationship between every father and child is unique and can be affected by many more issues than a diagnosis, disability or chronic health condition. Brothers and sisters may feel that a child with a disability gets more attention or affection from both parents, no matter how fairly parents divide their time. Of course this is a common feeling among mainstream siblings whether there is a child with a disability in the family or not. Influenced by birth order, age, personalities and other realities, even spouses and extended family may notice that one child seems to be less favored than another. An older child may be involved in more activities, or may have shown talent or ability that parents want to encourage. Younger children are naturally more dependent on parents for care and attention.
As children mature, they may be naturally drawn to their fathers as they assert their independence from mothers who they often associate with their years of dependence. During adolescence, fathers may identify closely with a teen son's experiences and hope to provide guidance or commiseration. They may be more protective of their daughters, aware of risks and consequences, and remembering their own impulses as young men.
In families where the younger sibling has a disability, the natural focus on the older brother or sister can seem to be both favoritism and a slight abandonment of the younger child. This could also mean that the other parent is left with more caregiving responsibility for the child with a disability, and a feeling that the father and older child are enjoying a slightly better life without her.
Because having a more mature relationship with a teenager often means that shared activities are not age-appropriate for a younger child, a mom who has assumed that all family activities will include both children may suspect favoritism as well as resenting the perceived slight of their younger child. Both the older sibling and the husband might view a mom's concern about a younger child not being included in their one on one activities as disapproval of their relationship.
Most of the time, fathers are dedicated equally to each child. Lapses of communication between husband and wife may be due to a man feeling confident that his wife has faith in his integrity as a parent. Or, he may have made a promise to a teenager that he will keep his or her confidences to himself. It is not possible to compare a man's relationship with an older child to the younger one until the younger one is the same age as the older sibling.
Especially when caregiving has been equally shared between parents, it is important for fathers to make time for his younger child and support the mother/child relationship with the adolescent sibling. This is also true when the older child has a disability. Sometimes father/child relationships hit a period when an activity or event brings them closer for a while, strengthening a life-long bond.
During these extended periods of time, a man may not have the time, energy, or emotional tools to invest equally in both children. He may take it for granted that his wife will take up the slack and appreciate that he is being a better father to the older child and working hard on that relationship during a difficult period of development. It is work, even though both of them are enjoying themselves.
Father/child relationships can truly be different in degree and affection whether a son or daughter has a disability or not. Gender differences, family traditions and personality differences between parents can cause misunderstandings about equitable treatment of children in a marriage, especially when a disability requires extra effort in daily life. Although some fathers are cruel, indifferent, or abusive, most are doing the best they can with what they know and who they are at the time.
Browse at your local bookstore, public library or online retailers for books like: Hit the Ground Crawling: Lessons From 150,000 New Fathers by Greg Bishop or Just Dads: Nerves of Steel, Wills of Iron, Hearts of Pudding
A Point of View: Happiness & disability