Compassion for ‘Special Needs’ Families

20 Nov

A man in the grocery store notices a woman with a rambunctious little girl. As they Girl Having Tantrumpass 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. 

(Continued Tomorrow)

* Adapted joke

** Judy Lavin’s article offers some great suggestions for helping children feel more comfortable around special needs children. Adults need this, too.

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11 Responses to “Compassion for ‘Special Needs’ Families”

  1. Shira Raider November 21, 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    Wow, Dawn. This blog really hit the nail on the head. I have heard this from moms so many times at the Child & Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (where I work). I love running across bloggers like you who REALLY get it!

  2. Mlissabeth November 21, 2010 at 6:12 pm #

    I have empathy for these moms. It is a challenge I go through every day. My sons “special needs” are mild, compared to some, but are very frustrating to me, nonetheless. I also have the added burden of an MS diagnosis, and surviving two cancers. I am not looking for pity, or praise, but only compassion. Even those that know me need to be more educated, and learn the things they can say and do to help. Sometimes I just need to know that people DO understand how difficult it is, and that I am NOT giving in or giving up. Sometimes I just have to step back from it all.

    • Dawn Wilson November 21, 2010 at 6:36 pm #

      Mlissabeth, my heart goes out to you. Yes, don’t give up, Girlfriend. Just step back and get God’s perspective. That is the source of hope. Your burdens are great, but I’ve found that the heavier the burden, the bigger the potential for God to bless us, and for bringing glory to Him through our sacrifices of praise. Sending my love to you today.

  3. LINDA November 21, 2010 at 9:03 pm #

    I JUST CAME ACROSS THIS WEBSITE AND I JUST READ A FEW THING’S ON HERE, I AM GLAD TO SEE THAT I AM NOT THE ONLY MOTHER OUT THERE WHO STRUGGLES ON A DAILY BASIS WITH THERE “SPECIAL NEEDS” CHILD. I HAVE TWIN ADULT MENTALY DISABLED SON’S, ONE HAS SEVERE SEIZURE’S, CP, METAL ROD FULL LENGTH OF HIS BACK, THE OTHER HAS RECENTLY BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH TESTICULAR CANCER. LIFE FOR ME IS A VERY DIFFICULT ONE. I STRUGGLE EVERYDAY JUST TO KEEP IT TOGETHER, EVERYONE SAY’S I AM A STRONG WOMAN AND A GREAT MOM, BUT SOMETIMES I JUST WANT TO BREAK DOWN AND JUST GIVE UP…I KNOW I CANT BECAUSE THERE IS NO ONE ELSE TO TAKE CARE OF THEM…JUST WANTED TO SHARE SOME OF MY THOUGHTS ON HERE

    • Dawn Wilson November 21, 2010 at 10:09 pm #

      No, Linda. You are not alone. You did not mention whether or not you know the God of the Bible. I have found great hope in Him for the struggles in my life, and I know that the moms I mentioned in the blog post find their hope, peace, and even joy in Him, too. Everything flows from God’s presence — His power, provision, peace, etc. I know that it may be difficult to find time to get alone with God, but that is where your strength will grow.
      I do wish that you could have a support team that you can call on to help you, or at least to give you a break from time to time. That may mean just someone coming to your house to be with you from time to time as you care for your sons, to chat with you as you work. You ARE a strong woman, and you sound like a caring mother.
      Let me pray for you… and all the moms and dads who struggle with these needs:
      “Father God, You care about the weak. You care about those that the world would cast aside. And you care about these dear parents who are sometimes weary in doing good. I ask you to encourage them today and give them the strength they do not have in and of themselves. Encourage them with the truth of the scriptures, and do not allow them to live by the lies the enemy wants to plant in their heart. Give them the confidence they need to continue serving and nurturing their children, as good stewards of the lives you have placed in their families. Give them moments of joy and contentment in the midst of hard times. Help them to know they are not alone. I pray these things in Jesus’ name.” Amen!

  4. Carrie November 22, 2010 at 2:01 am #

    The timing of this posting is something only God can provide. Just yesterday, I felt discouraged, despondent, and very alone. In spite of feeling physically ill from the emotional pressure of the moment, I had the courage to discipline my special needs child by taking away the opportunity to go to a birthday party. I was strong, I stuck with it, and still took my other child. While I was strong, and while I had some support from wonderful folks, I still felt alone. Here came your post today, and in sharing it with others, was reminded that there are more than two others in my circle of friends who are walking similar walks and understand more than I remembered was possible.

    Thank you for posting this. I shared today’s post and will undoubtedly share the next one too.

    Gratefully,
    Carrie
    a struggling mom in Alaska

    • Dawn Wilson November 22, 2010 at 2:36 am #

      Carrie, you sound like such a sweetheart. Yes, it does take courage sometimes to do the right thing, even when it hurts. You may struggle, but you are not alone. I’m so glad the post encouraged you. I’m taking a moment to pray for you right now.

  5. swissknifev November 22, 2010 at 1:09 pm #

    It’s rare today. Whoever shows it preserve that person. Not many left.

  6. Sandy Shadden November 22, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    I am so thankful that you are addressing this very important subject! I am the mother of a 24 yo son who has multiple birth defects. It has been the best years of my life and the worst years of my life!! God used the birth of my son to draw me to Himself! I am not the same woman that I was 24 years ago. I have seen God redeem and use the difficulties in my life as a platform to refine me and build a ministry. When you have a SN child, all control is taken from you in so many different areas! As hard as you try to “fix” your child or “arrange” the circumstances that he is in so he can succeed, you can’t. Peace can only be found from surrendering it all to the Lord. I finally did that when he was 16 years old…. it took me that long! After years of striving to make him act “normal, whatever that is”… I gave it all up to God. It was amazing the peace that I experienced!! Out of all of my pain, God birthed a Special Needs Ministry called the King’s Table (2 Samuel 9) at our church. We have rooms for our precious children to learn about Jesus on their level. My favorite time of the week is a Bible study that I lead for all of the SN moms. We all come together and do life together. We cry, laugh and love on each other. It is a safe place to share as we all empathize with each other. My heart is for those who do not have SN children to come along side those sweet families to help meet the many practical needs that they have. They do not need advice, judgement or pity… they need prayer, understanding and practical help with their many needs!

    • Dawn Wilson November 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

      Thank you for sharing your story, Sandy! I’m so glad you found a closer relationship with the Lord through your circumstances. And than you for sharing your ministry with our readers. We have a ministry something like that at our church, to. It is a precious, safe, encouraging place. I highly encourage all churches to consider a ministry for “SN” children (and their families). Bless you!

  7. swissknifev November 22, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

    Happy Christmas.

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