Mother's Day Grace for Moms of Kids with Special Needs

A few weeks ago I woke up crying after an early morning dream. My pillow was wet with tears, and the vivid accusations hurled during the dream—or should I say nightmare?—haunted my day.

Why didn't you stand up to the doctors?
Why didn't you ask more questions?
Why didn't you shield your baby from pain?
Why didn't you do more?
Why didn't you?
Why didn't you?
Why didn't you?

For two days, I couldn't escape the memory of the dream. I wondered at its vehemence 35 years after the arrival of our son, his first surgery the day he was born, and his NICU stay. I was shaken and shamed by my inadequacy as a mother. Suddenly, every wrong decision and poor parenting choice I made during my son's childhood came to mind. Then I looked at the calendar and saw that Mother's Day was only a few weeks away. Why would my son call or send a card to a mother who couldn't give him what he needed most at birth?

A mother who wasn't with him on the flight to the hospital?
A mother who didn't protect him from excruciating pain?
I wanted to crawl into a hole.

Instead, I thought of the last time my mother stayed overnight at our house before entering a nursing home. She needed me to help her get on and off the toilet, to get in and out of the shower, to dress in the morning and undress at night.

"Oh," she said to me one night as I toweled her back and rubbed on lotion, "I'm just useless. I can't do anything. A daughter shouldn't have to do these things for her mother."

I paused before answering. I remembered the times she grew frustrated and spoke cruelly to me, my brother, and sister. I remembered how she made us choke down cooked spinach before we could leave the dinner table. I remembered how she spanked me so hard that a hefty yardstick broke as it smacked my backside.

I also remembered how she refused to go on welfare after my dad was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I remembered how she chose instead to teach school all day and then cared for her husband and children every night. How she went to college every summer to complete her teaching degree. How she then pursued a master's degree to better support her family. How she cared for my father for 38 years after his diagnosis until his death.

How she was always there.
How she never gave up.
How much she loved us to make such sacrifices.
How that love shaped my life.

Finally, I spoke. "Mom, you cared for me when I was a baby couldn't do anything. You cared for Dad when he couldn't care for himself. Now it's my turn to care for you." I slipped her nightgown over her head and tucked her in bed.

Celebrating Mother's Day can be hard for moms of kids with special needs. Our experience as mothers is fraught with lost dreams, unexpected challenges, and unforeseen choices. We are keenly aware of how we failed and continue to fail our children. We often wish for Mother's Day to go away because we forget about the power of grace. 

Grace makes everything my mother did right for me outweigh what she did wrong.
Grace gave me words to comfort her when she felt useless.
Grace says the accusations in my early morning dream were false.
Grace says you, the mom of a child with special needs, have done well in hard circumstances.

Because of grace, I know my son will send a Mother's Day card and call to say he loves me. Because of grace, I will do the same for my mom. Because of grace, God's undeserved grace sufficient in my weakness, I will weep tears of joy on Mother's Day.

Because of His grace, we are the mothers our children need.