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4 Ways to Encourage a Special Mom
My friends Ted and Melinda are parents to four great kids. Their third, Buck (age 9), has Down Syndrome. His parents are quick to tell you—and it goes without saying for all who know him—that Buck is a great blessing, and has taught everyone around him what true innocence looks like. But there are also days when the fatigue of managing a large family and caring for Buck’s unique needs shows on their faces. They never complain, but those of us who love them just know.
There’s no higher calling than that of caring for a special needs child. But you’re only human, mom, so know that you might experience these 3 Things It’s Okay for Moms of Special Needs Kids to Feel. If you’re a friend to a parent of a special-needs kid, there are 4 Ways You Can Encourage a Special Needs Mom. The love, understanding, and support of a great community can make shouldering any burden less difficult.
3 Things It’s Okay for Moms of Special Needs Kids to Feel:
Having a special needs child adds another layer of complexity to the job of being a mom. And, often, these mothers expect so much of themselves thereby adding even more pressure to their lives.
Here are 3 emotions it is okay for moms of special needs children to feel:
1. It’s okay to feel tired. Motherhood can be exhausting; motherhood with a special needs child is doubly so. Children with physical needs require more physical output from you, whether it’s helping them with mobility and giving them extra physical care, or driving them to medical and therapy appointments. Children with mental and emotional challenges can drain your mental and emotional reserves as well. So, allow yourself to be tired. Even if you feel like you don’t have the time cushion to do that, taking care of yourself will benefit you and your child.
2. It’s okay to feel discouraged. Parenting a special needs child compared to parenting a non-special needs child is like comparing a ride on the scariest roller coaster ever built with a kiddie roller coaster. They both have ups and downs, but beyond that, there’s no comparison.
You’re dealing with things other moms aren’t—fighting insurance companies, trying to help your child fit in with his peers, and processing the stops and starts of your child’s progress. When you do feel low, which is okay, the key is having a plan to get back up again. Have at least one person you can call in a pinch. Reach out, no matter how difficult it is.
3. It’s okay to feel sad. As you watch your child struggle, it’s only natural that you will feel sad. You might feel sad for what she can’t do, or for what her special need causes her to miss. You might also feel angry that this would happen to your child.
I once heard a mother of a special needs baby say, as she waited for him to get out of surgery, “You know, I would understand if this had happened to me, but why would God let it happen to an innocent baby?”
Facing your child’s special need every day can be heartbreaking. But, the same mother who said those words above, has now, 13 years later, channeled that sadness into admiration for her son who has come so far in spite of his physical challenge.
Yes, she still feels sad and angry, and, yes, she would take away his physical challenge if she could, but she knows that she can best help him by moving beyond the sadness and anger as much as she can.
Four Ways You Can Encourage a Special Needs Mom:
Sometimes, it’s about what not to do or say.
“On one level, I know she doesn’t even realize what she was saying, but every time she says it, it’s like a knife to my heart all the same.” That’s how Melinda describes her co-worker’s frequent use of the word “retard” as an insult. Melinda’s nine year old son Buck was born with Down Syndrome, and her co-worker knows this. Yet she’s become so desensitized to the cruel origins of this slang term, she doesn’t realize that she’s insulting someone by labeling them with something Melinda’s precious child actually suffers from—mental retardation.
“It’s hard for me to understand how anyone could not realize, in this day and age, how completely cruel and insensitive that word is when used that way,” she reflects. “But I try to be forgiving, and I’ve never confronted her and told her how it hurts me.”
Parents of children with special needs—from genetic disorders, birth defects, or other health challenges—see life through a different lens than the rest of the world. They know both the deep beauty of loving unconditionally, and the searing pain of what their child’s limitations mean to him and the family. They know how to work through fatigue to provide the constant care that a child like that often requires, and how to manage every penny to pay for the expensive outside care they need. Here are some things they tell us:
1. Some special needs parents feel socially isolated as many people avoid engaging with a handicapped person because they don’t know how to interact. As a result, the invitation to the neighborhood BBQ never comes, and the play dates that help other kids and families get to know one another never happen.
Encouragement: Include the special needs families in your world in some social activities that will allow you to get to know one another better, and bless them with a sense of community and support.
2. Another perspective is that people avoid interacting with special-needs kids and their families because they’re afraid they’ll commit a gaffe like that of Melinda’s co-worker. But special needs moms will tell you that there’s grace for the little uncomfortable moments when they know your heart is in the right place.
Encouragement: Be sensitive, but don’t allow your fear of saying the wrong thing to lead you to avoiding these kids or their parents. And if you screw up and say something that you later realize was unintentionally insensitive or potentially offensive, just apologize. Real relationships are full of little bumps in the road.
3. If moms of multiple children feel the need to be an octopus to handle their crews, just imagine how much trickier it can be if one of those kids can’t always go with the flow. Often, an extra set of hands or a back-up adult can help the maxed-out mom cope.
Encouragement: Don’t be afraid to pitch in when you see a special needs parent struggling. Offer to take her other two kids around during the school harvest festival so she can concentrate on the needs of one. Or better yet, offer to spend some time with her disabled child to give her a break. Whether it’s at a church event, or just trying to wrangle everyone to the car on a grocery run, be a blessing by helping out.
4. While most public institutions like schools have gradually made accommodations for special needs children and adults, there are some places where no such arrangements exist. If a special needs child needs a “helper” (much like a school aide) to be able to participate in Sunday School, Scouts, or other extracurricular activities, take note.
Encouragement: Find out if your church has a plan for helping the parents of disabled kids participate. If not, pray about becoming a volunteer or helping to coordinate a program to facilitate some special accommodations for their needs.
The most important thing to remember is that you have more in common with these families than you think, and engaging with them and learning how to love and support them on their unique parenting journey will bless you as much as it will bless them.