I will be the first one to tell you that my children with disabilities have inspired me. My youngest daughter with Down syndrome has been my teacher of life in many ways. Every time my daughter with cerebral palsy falls down and gets back up it makes me think about the times I give up so easily in life. But my typical daughter has done that for me too, she has inspired me, she has pushed me to be a better person, she has challenged my thinking. As a parent this is the privilege I have: to influence my kids and in turn allow them to influence me.
Not too long ago someone asked me if I found it more fulfilling to parent my kids with disabilities rather than parenting my typical child. They wondered if the rewards were bigger and “what I got from it” was greater. This made me stop and think about the message that we might communicate to the world. It is not greater, it is not bigger, but it can be different.
I think many of us special needs parents will agree that our kids make us look hard at our priorities because the complexities that disability brings into our life have a way of doing that. I know personally, parenting kids with disabilities has changed me, but so has parenting my typical child. It has just happened different. I influence all my kids, and in turn they all influence me.
When my first daughter was born—a typical child—she challenged a life that centered around me: my hopes, my dreams, my future. Suddenly I had someone else to put first. I cared more about her needs than mine. She helped me become less judgmental, parenting is hard! Being a parent humbled me. I learned so much about myself from having to focus on someone else.
When my second daughter was born with Down syndrome, she challenged what I viewed as perfect, worthy, important, and valuable in life. I had received her as a broken baby, only to quickly recognize that I was the broken one. The treasures I discovered along the way were not found in strength, performance, eloquence, character or confidence.
When my third daughter joined our family through international adoption, I learned what it means to love a child who comes from hard places. I learned that you do whatever it takes to fight for their heart and that giving up is never an option, even when it’s hard.
They are my kids, I got to experience all of this from the privilege I have to be their mother.
My child is a person and her purpose is not to be a message to the world about acceptance, to be a teacher about what matters in life, or an inspiration for doing the same things other people do that are sometimes perceived as incredible accomplishments. Yes, she might do those things from time to time, but that is not her purpose.
When I limit another person to be only a message, or a lesson, or an inspiration, I take away their relatability, their humanity, and suddenly they are not a person like you and me.
My child is capable of making good choices, making bad choices, hurting someone’s feelings, having an attitude, being angry. My child is a friend, a sister, a granddaughter. She has favorite foods, favorite music, her own interests and things she likes to do. My child can be stubborn, and difficult, and wonderful and kind. She is a kid, just a kid, nothing more and nothing less.
My kid has a disability, but she has the same essence and God given image as you. She suffers, she fears, she questions, she sins. She is not perfect, nobody is perfect. Her message is not more significant than anyone else’s message, it is simply hers, unique to her.
My daughter one day might do something that is inspiring, someday she might have a message or a lesson to the world, but it will come from her.
And I can tell you what my child’s purpose is, because it is the same purpose that you and I have: to live a life that pleases God, to honor Him, and to make Him known.