'I'm the 'Glass Child' in my family. Here's what it's really like.'

My sister wasn't always so sick — not in the beginning, anyway. 

She was a preemie baby first, with purple, scaly skin and dark beady eyes. She was a crier too, who was only calm in our mother's arms. 

In a matter of 18 months, I'd gone from an only child with two parents, four grandparents and over a dozen cousins doting on me to a big sister of a very petulant baby. She needed around-the-clock care. Constant supervision. We shared a bedroom, but she remained firmly by my mother's side. 

Watch this snippet of Alicia Maples, who explains what a Glass Child is. Post continues after video. 

Video via Ted Talk.

When my youngest twin sisters were born, they were weeks early and remained in and out of the hospital until their first birthdays. Time had to be split even further to accommodate my siblings' ailing health. 

I was on the sidelines again. 

I wasn't a perfect child but I was not a problem. I had no worrying health issues initially; I came out solid and tender and pink. My mum had no reason to worry — I didn't need her attention. 


I didn't know the word for it as a child but I do now. The term is called 'Glass Child' and it's a concept that has gone viral on TikTok – even though it's a term that's actually been around for over a decade. 

It was popularised by Alicia Maples, who spoke about the need to recognise glass children during a Ted Talk in 2010. She herself had a sibling with autism. 

"Our parents are so consumed with the needs of our brothers and sisters that when they look at us, they look right through us, as though we're made of glass," she explained. "That's what a glass child is."

@blood.spitter My fyp loves to hurt me lol #glasschildsyndrome #glasschild ♬ som original - ju

I'd grown up with siblings who didn't just demand our parent's attention but needed it. 

We were at a church summer camp, three hours away from home and my sister was not well. Kids were passing out from the heat and my sister had not slept for 36 hours.

Something was wrong, but I ignored it. We sat atop a hill, overlooking the hundreds of other kids when she told me she wanted to go home. 

My response was swift and cruel. I told her mum was tired of looking after her – the sick child who was probably faking it just so she could sleep in a warm bed. I told her to let it go, to drink some water, to stay by me, to do everything except make that call. 


She didn't listen, arguing this time something was really wrong.

Mum picked her up later that day, kissed me on my sweaty forehead and said she would see me soon. 

The day I left summer camp, my dad met me at the bus stop and shook his head while he took the suitcase from my hands. 

His words were a punch in the gut. 

"She's been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. She could have died, Shannen." 

Later he would tell me he thought it would have been me diagnosed with diabetes, instead of my sister.

@themindspot #therapy #therapytiktok #therapytok #nyctherapist #therapist #therapistsontiktok #mentalhealthtiktok #nyctherapy #mentalhealthmatters #fyp #anxiety #trauma #traumatok #therapyminis #traumahealing #glasschild ♬ Sky Aesthetic - Tollan Kim

The months and years following her diagnosis are a blur because several health issues followed in its wake. Mental illness, one diagnosis after another and health struggles that couldn't be explained or medicated. 

My parents were consumed with not losing their second daughter. 

They doted on her hand and foot and didn't understand why she sometimes reacted violently or with anger. They didn't know what it was like to be a child who was so sick and so vulnerable, so they devoted their time to being my sister's perfect parents. 

My needs weren't necessarily ignored — at least, not entirely. But Glass Children try their hardest to be faultless, to take up as little of their parent's time as possible. Research, whilst in its infancy, shows they tend to be people pleasers who will ignore their own needs for the sake of peace. 


Glass Children don't mean to resent their families. They understand something had to give in the process of making sure their siblings were cared for. I don't resent being a Glass Child, either. I have a strong sense of gratitude that my sister is still around with me today, with her own little family and that my mother was the one that pulled her out of difficult moments. 

Don't get me wrong either, I'm still close with my parents. I've relied on them my whole life still — even though a lot of the time they couldn't be the parent I needed. I still call my mum to help with doctor's appointments and I FaceTime my dad every time I am in a Bunnings store. I revere and respect and deeply love my parents — Glass Children still do. 

However, we're still little kids in some ways. We want to be heard and seen. We want to cause chaos and feel like we will still be loved unconditionally. We want to call our parents and have them come running. 

While you may see through us as Glass Children, our glass is still fragile and we can still easily shatter. So to parents, please do your best to keep us safe. 

Feature Image: Supplied.

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