Failing my children with special needs in some important, life-altering way used to be one of the looming fears over my life. Myriad problems not easily solved triggered anxiety and misplaced guilt. The quest to be a good parent put me (and maybe puts you) on edge because the stakes are high, and it’s hard to know when good is good enough. Hindsight is golden, however. After almost 25 years of special-needs parenting, some of them spent beating myself up over my faults, I’ve come to a hard-earned peace. No doubt, special-needs parenting is still one of the most challenging things you will do, but our thoughts often make it more difficult than necessary. It would have been so much easier had I believed the following truths (deep, deep in my heart).
YOU, YOUR CHILD, YOUR SITUATION AND GOD’S TIMING CREATE A UNIQUE PACKAGE THAT YOU CANNOT ACCURATELY COMPARE TO ANOTHER’S PARENTING PACKAGE.
It’s easy to watch other parents guide their children and either feel inferior or superior depending on what you see happen at a certain place and time. However, reality is that the skill or personality trait that looks like “good” parenting will appear different in another time and and situation.
For example, when my daughter was a pre-schooler with autism, to me a “good” mom was energetic, talkative and playful (able to meet the demands of intensive early intervention). When my kids needed special diets, nutrition minded “foodie” moms looked ideal. When an IEP needed to be developed or services fought for, I valued critical thinking and tough-minded advocacy. At other times, flexibility and compassion were important. I think you get my point---specific skills and personalities do not determine “good” special needs parenting—they are simply tools we use at different points in time. I see this bigger picture now, but as a younger mom I yearned for skills or personality traits I didn’t have and worried that my children would suffer due to my deficits. The reality is that eventually your strengths will come into play. In the meantime, God has given you an opportunity to stretch and to watch Him fill in the gaps.
- We have different gifts according to the grace given to us (Romans 12:6)
- My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9)
- God promises to complete the good work (of parenting) that he began in you (Romans 12:22)
“GOOD” PARENTING MEANS DOING YOUR IMPERFECT BEST TO RAISE YOUR CHILD. YOU ARE NOT CALLED TO PERFECT PARENTING BUT TO A SACRIFICIAL LOVE DESIGNED BY GOD OUT OF HIS WILL FOR YOUR LIFE.
As you imperfectly care for your family, know that the particular sacrificial love you are called to live out will be different from that of other parents. Love for your child (and God’s love for you) might call you to any variety of things.
Some examples may include a call to change careers, or to work more hours or less. You may need to extend your patience and to keep a gentle tone of voice during a child’s meltdown. Your loving sacrifice might look like flexibility or, on the other hand, more consistency. Love may tell you to respect the needs and desires of your child even if they are different from your own (within reason, of course). One of my sacrifices involved embarking on a period of home-schooling, which is something I swore I could and would never do. As you live out sacrificial love, you will have seasons of frustration, and you will make mistakes, not always living up to your calling. Keep trying anyway because God promises that our sacrificial love covers many flaws.
- Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God (Romans 12:1)
- Love suffers long and is kind (1 Corinthians)
- Love each other deeply because love overcomes a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
GOD REWARDS VASTLY DIFFERENT BEHAVIOR THAN THE WORLD. LET HIS VALUES BE THE MEASURE OF YOUR PARENTING SUCCESS.
Here are just a few examples of the differences between a godly vs. worldly perspective:
- God doesn’t expect our children to be ultra-involved in school (or youth group), to take college-prep courses, or to look like the American ideal. He expects us and them to: “act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with (our) God.” (Micah 6:8)
- God doesn’t think ideal circumstances are necessary for our happiness. Instead, He says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.“ (I Thessalonians 5:18)
- God is not looking for instant success. However, He is pleased with our perseverance and trust when things look bleak. “Let us not grow weary in doing good for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galations 6:9).
I hope this helps. If so, let me know in a comment—or tell me about what makes special needs parenting easier for you.
Dr. Karen Crum brings hope and practical support to parents through her blog and award-winning book, Persevering Parent: Finding Strength to Raise Your Child with Social Emotional or Behavioral Challenges. (affiliate link) Join her blog and link to her book at www.PerseveringParent.com.