Being a parent of a neuro-atypical child is a roller-coaster ride: you never know what the day will hold. Some days are smooth sailing, and others make you want to crawl back into bed at 10 am. I think the hardest part of parenting my little guy (besides being patient) is having hope for what I can’t see; holding on to the hope that one day, my son will be able to read, write, and do math on grade level. That he’ll be able to communicate clearly and with confidence. That he’ll not be hindered by even the most basic of academic tasks. In short, that he’ll thrive in school.
Keeping hope alive, and moving in that vein of constant, positive encouragement for even the smallest of steps forward, is so key for anyone helping a special needs child. And it’s not easy! It begins with surrender, with letting go of expectations that our children will be like everyone else’s children. This can and will take time – days, weeks, months. Releasing any preconceived ideas of how our child “should” or “could” be, is step 1 in learning to parent a special needs child well. Here’s a helpful morning mindset prayer/affirmation, to speak life and gratitude both over yourself and your child: “Thank you God for this day. Thank you God for my child. Thank you that you gave him (or her) to me, and that you made him just the way he is. Help me to love him well today, with patience and kindness.” Remember, it’s not our job to “fix” our children. It’s our job to love them well and to help them (or get help) the best we can.
After this comes letting go of the timeline of how quickly our children will progress forward (step 2). Can we all share a collective sigh right now? Because Lord knows, this isn’t easy. Most of us appreciate and expect expediency in life. Who doesn’t want 1 day shipping, or the fastest broadband wireless internet service, or all the conveniences and efficiencies of modern living? We don’t have to wait long for much of anything anymore — and all this convenience has made it hard for us to be patient. We want our kids to maybe not be perfect, but at least be progressing like everyone else’s kids. Right? Is that too much to ask or want?
But good for us, because having a special needs child will teach us patience – it will require patience – whether we like it or not. We will be stretched on so many levels, most likely to the point of being broken not once, not twice, but time and time again. Letting go of any and all expectations of current progress, while learning to hold space and hope for that which does not yet exist – will often stretch us to a place of brokenness. I can’t tell you how many nights I’ve cried myself to sleep because it’s so dang hard parenting a “difficult” child. What I’ve come to learn is that it’s exactly in our brokenness where we find God’s open arms, stretched out wide for us: speaking encouragement and kindness over our own shortcomings, our own failings and fumblings. He is the Ultimate Patient Parent who sees us for all that we are not, and yet remains hopeful for all that can be in our lives. Let that sink in for a moment. He is that good, and that kind.
And as we pause, and take deep breaths, and feel the hurt from the stretching, we learn to fall into the outstretched arms of God (step 3). We learn a new way of dying to our own expectations, wishes, desires, self-reliance — while learning to lean into Him. He will carry us, heal us, bind up our broken hearts. He will show us what love is; and in turn, we’ll be able to love our own kids well as we walk through life with them. Here is a prayer I’ve often prayed: “God, I can’t do this anymore. Please help me. Please give me strength. Please show me the way I should go; guide our path, give us wisdom. And heal his body, soul, and mind.” Pray this with your spouse at night. God hears and sees it all.
And lastly, if I may leave you with a thought that I say with all the gentleness I can muster: it’s really His grace to us that things are the way they are. It’s really a gift to be given differently wired kids. How can I say that? Because I understand Romans 8:28, that all things work together for our good, even if they seem the opposite of good, at the time. We may not see the story He’s telling right now. And we might not be able to see that it’s not just about what He’s doing in our kids; it’s also about what He’s doing in us. We may not quite see the end from our vantage point – but know and believe that there’s a greater narrative being told, in our daily challenges, sorrows, and fears. Let’s not lose hope because in time, we will see how it all works out. Have hope, have faith, and have love. He will see us through.