'The Kids Are All Right' Sibling Authors Say Being Separated Was Worse Than Parents' Death
What's quickly apparent about the four Welch siblings in their powerful new memoir, "The Kids Are All Right," is that these are "kids" in age only.
Ages 4 to 16 when their father died in a car crash, Amanda, Liz, Dan and Diana Welch learned one month later that their mother, soap opera star Ann Williams, who appeared in "Loving," "The Edge of Night" and countless other soaps, has been diagnosed with cancer.
The "kids" quickly take on adult roles -- driving without a license to shop for groceries, helping chose their father's coffin, paying back their cheapskate uncle for the cost of burying their mother, cleaning their mother's colostomy bags.
By the time Williams succumbed to her fight with cancer three and a half years later, the Welch kids were split up to battle their grief in separate homes. Amanda, Liz and Dan saw each other occasionally, but it would take five years before they regained contact with Diana, the baby of the family.
ParentDish spoke with the book's main co-authors, Liz and Diana Welch, via telephone this week about sibling rivalry, teenage coping mechanisms, learning to parent without parents and the Welch kids' propensity for biting.
ParentDish: Liz, you started this book. How did you go about convincing your brothers and sisters it was something you needed to share?
Liz Welch: It was the easiest thing in the world. They've always been so supportive of me. I think the one thing about our story is the sibling bonds strengthened to the point where we might have lost our parents, but we gained these very kind of loving and supportive relationships ... and when one of us shared a painful memory, it kind of emboldened the others to share their deepest and most painful memories.
PD: The hardest thing while reading this was seeing the siblings split up. Diana, you kind of bore the brunt of that. What was that like for you?
Diana Welch: That really was the hardest part. We as siblings have come to that conclusion -- that losing our parents really wasn't the worst thing that happened. Being separated afterward was.
PD: Was there sibling rivalry? Diana, you talked about Dan biting you for petting his dog.
DW: He did! I remember the braces marks on me. Liz and Amanda really had a lot of tension before our father died -- which also was sort of shown in the book a little. There's a funny story where Liz actually bit Amanda's inner thigh for some reason. I guess we were biters. All that sibling rivalry definitely went away when we were reunited. That's one thing that I think as a family we really benefited from. We really all appreciate each other I think more so than we would if our parents had stayed alive. It's easy to take your siblings for granted -- you're allowed to sort of hate them and be mean to them because they'll always be there.
PD: How has this made you look at cases of families -- whether by death or another circumstance -- where kids are separated into foster homes?
DW: We're trying to figure out how to implicate this using our book. I'm a huge advocate of siblings being kept together in foster programs. I really think it's just another tragedy on top of a tragedy that's already happened when you separate people from their families. People need that support and sort of commonality to grow and feel confident.
PD: What does it do in terms of what kind of person you are, having your parents die so young?
DW: It's a question I think about a lot now having my first kid. I was talking to my partner last night about Harvey -- that's my son -- when he gets older (he's only a month and a half). I was wondering if I was going to veer more toward the sisterly friend approach, because that's what I got being raised by Amanda from 13 on, or if that was going to clash with my maternal instincts or what. It's strange for me to think about how not having a mother will affect me as a mother. Only time will tell.
PD: Liz, you talk about trying so hard to be "normal," to not let people know your parents died.
LW: In high school, you don't want to be different -- that's the last thing you want. I looked the part. I was this blonde girl who had a lot of friends and did well in school. Somehow losing my dad wasn't this terribly sad thing that happened to me. It was this very shameful thing that happened to me.
PD: You were very open about the things you did -- even the things that were wrong, like shoplifting or drug use. How hard was it to be that open?
DW: It was important to us to paint an honest picture of ourselves because we were painting an honest picture of the adults in our lives. We didn't want to be here we are these four victims who were making all the right moves and having the adults bail on us.
LW: I went to share with my social worker who I'd been to these meetings with, and I remember saying, 'I'm terrible, I cheated on my Latin test, I got busted for stealing clothes.' And my social worker looked at me and said, 'Thank goodness.' And writing these stories, too, I realized, of course, I was acting out....I was drinking to black out. That was just me reacting to my life totally exploding. I thought it was important to be honest about what teenagers do when they feel like they've lost control. We're so lucky none of us fell off the deep end.
Check out the Welchs' Web site to find out how the kids are now.
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.