A man in the grocery store notices a woman with a rambunctious little girl. As they pass the cookie section, the little girl screams for cookies. The mother says, “Now Missy, we only have a few more aisles to go ~ don’t throw a fit. It won’t be long.”
In the candy aisle, the little girl whines for candy. The mother says, “There, there, Missy, don’t cry. Two more aisles, and we’ll be checking out.”
When they get to the checkout stand, the little girl howls for the gum. The mother says, reassuringly, “Missy, we’ll be done in five minutes, and then you can go home and have a nice snooze.”
In the parking lot, the man stops the woman to compliment her. “I couldn’t help noticing how patient you were with little Missy,” he says.
The mother sighs, “Oh, no — my little girl’s name is Francine. I’m Missy.”*
Aren’t children fun when they act up in a store? NOT!
NOTE: This post is longer than normal … but it is an important perspective. I hope those who read it will better understand how we can help women like this special group of Sisters. Part 2, which includes ways to come alongside moms like these–to give them hope–will continue tomorrow. ~ Dawn
God allowed me (Dawn) the privilege of speaking at a church in Glendora recently, and He also had a lesson for me in compassion that reminded me of that joke.
After I spoke at iMoms at Glenkirk Presbyterian Church, I sat with six women for a yummy brunch of soup and sandwiches. Five of the women have special needs children, and they usually sit together because they need each others’ support and understanding. As I listened to them talk about their lives, I realized how much other people need to understand, too.
When I asked the young moms what life is like for them as they care for their special needs kids, their answers were quick and to the point. Most of it dealt with others’ responses:
- People need to try to understand what we’re going through.
- People think we’re crazy, or bad moms.
- We’re always being judged.
- We’re stressed all the time, and people criticize us, but we do what we do because we have to!
One mom spoke of being at a store with her child. Another woman and her daughter approached, and when the other mom saw the special needs child, she pulled her own daughter away in fear. Once outside, the mom of the special needs child fell apart, angry and weeping. She thought, “I should have told her it’s not catching!” She was also saddened to think that the thoughtless mother had projected her own insecurities onto her daughter.
The moms of the special needs children have their own insecurities and problems. Two voiced their fears, “Who will take care of my child if something happens to me and my husband?” … “Who will care for him after I die?” It was my observation that their criticism of others’ judging bordered on bitterness, and that’s also wrong … though understandable. Parents of special needs children must have to practice forgiveness a lot.
Their emotions ~ spent from long hours dealing with their children s’ tough needs ~ are ragged. They sometimes react rather than respond, just like any mom stressed out when their children have an especially tough day … or week! One mom said she reacts when women offer help in stores; it makes her think she’s being judged ~ not a good enough mom. Another mom says she welcomes help from strangers, because it makes her think they are reaching out with understanding. No one liked judgmental looks; everyone appreciated heart-felt compassion.
Most said the day-in, day-out struggle affected their marriages. One said, “It is almost crippling for us.” Another expressed the need for “one day a week to get by myself.” One woman craved a regular date night with her husband, but said, “Getting child care is difficult. First, we have to find someone who is willing. And then, we have to be able to train the person in how to care for our child.”
Some husbands understand and help; others do not. One woman said her husband comes home from work, looks around with a critical eye, and asks what she’s done all day. Another woman said she leaves her child alone with her husband occasionally, so he will appreciate what she is going through while he’s at work.
One woman said she’s learned that she can’t be a control freak. Some things are just left undone, because caring for her child takes so much time. “We always have five things to do … between therapy sessions,” she said.
One mom described a daily “game” of hide-and-seek. As soon as she begins to prepare for needed daily injections, her child runs and hides. “Shots time” is tougher as a child grows older and stronger ~ still fighting the injections.
When discouraged, these women cry, pray, journal, and one puts herself in a “time out” until she can get herself “together” after an especially tough time with her child. No mom questions whether caring for her child is worth her time, but the struggle to stay afloat and keep balance in their lives and marriages is constant. Each one is an advocate for her child, and they know their children inside and out ~ usually better than the doctors and therapists ~ because they have to.
According to Judy Lavin,** author of Special Kids Need Special Parents, there are 20 million plus families with special needs children in the United States. We have an opportunity to minister to these families, and to teach our own children about compassion, courage, and perseverance.
* Adapted joke
** Judy Lavin’s article offers some great suggestions for helping children feel more comfortable around special needs children. Adults need this, too.