Those closest to us hurt us the most. Maybe it’s because they say foolish things in an effort to protect us or because they know us so well, they know what “button” to push to hurt us, or feel the freedom to speak too freely! Those in our outer circles, whom we don’t know well, may randomly hurt us for the moment with their actions or words, but we can more easily brush that off because we don’t have the same level of closeness to them as to our close friends and family.
When our son was initially diagnosed with mental retardation and cerebral palsy, a patient of my husband sent us a lovely card sharing a scripture verse to encourage us about remaining strong in the Lord and waiting upon Him. It was truly a sweet encouragement. What was hurtful, was some years later, she made a comment to us about the miscarriage of her grandchild, saying, “I know my daughter is having a hard time going through this miscarriage, but God probably took the baby because it might have had all kinds of problems. That would have meant a lifetime of troubles for them.” That comment left us feeling like a child with problems was disposable. Besides, what happened to “wait upon the Lord?”
If someone says, “I feel like such a retard,” in the presence of one who has cognitive disabilities, or in the company of parents who live with and daily care for a child (or adult child) with mental retardation, it is really hard to hear much after those words. If that comes out of your mouth, it’s really best to apologize, and then move on in the conversation. Don’t pretend we didn’t hear it—we did.
And now, the one you’ve all been waiting for: “God gave you this child because He knew you could handle it. I could never deal with what you are going through.” Hold us back! Honestly, we have never felt that we were special in any way. Ever! Like others in the situation of caring for a child with special needs, none of us are ever encouraged by that comment. We usually respond something like, “No, we’re not special. God just needed to teach us something we could only learn this way.”
Are you wondering what things might be good to say to those handling the challenges of a child or family member with special needs? Here are a few choices to consider:
- “I can’t imagine (unless you have a similar situation) what you must do on a daily basis. I appreciate (if you mean it) the heart of compassion I see in you. Your child is blessed to have such care.”
- “You seem to really have it together, but I imagine your life has many challenges. What do you do for yourself that you really enjoy? What does your child enjoy?”
- “Your child is beautiful (even if a child has a facial deformity, the parent thinks their child is beautiful…comment on something other than the deformity…the pretty eyes or curly hair, sweet disposition, smile, etc.)
Words of encouragement to the caregiver will be welcomed and appreciated. Thinking ahead to what you’ll say is better than blurting out the first thing that comes into your head. We will all make the mistake of saying something we wished we didn’t, but when we do, make the correction or apology, and know the caregiver will welcome the honesty!