Not many things rock the world or shake the faith of parents more than hearing that their child has a disability or health condition that is not, in all likelihood, going away. Few pains run as deep as those the heart feels when faced with days in and out of watching your child suffer. As parents, our natural instincts to protect, keep from harm, and solve our children’s problems make it a frustrating reality to live in a world of special health and emotional needs.
Add to that the myriad of emotions and obstacles that arise when there are other “normal” children in the family and you can have parents living in a constant state of emotional turmoil. A child with special needs, by nature, demands a great deal of time and energy from their caregivers. Doctor visits, specialists appointments, therapy sessions, evaluations and interventions all take time, money and energy from those people living in the household and sharing in the responsibility of providing care for the child. Often those children without special needs tend to get gently pushed aside due to the intensity of care being given to the one in need.
How do we balance that dilemma? How do we provide the finest level of care we can so that the special needs child reaches their God-given potential without cheating the other siblings of a childhood in a normal world? Respectfully and gently I say we as parents must do so very deliberately and on purpose.
Here are some thoughts on balancing typical with atypical (abnormal) children in the same family:
1. Stress to the typical siblings that they are privileged to be in a family where God chose to place a person with special needs.
2. Dispel the fears and apprehensions that being “special” is contagious.
3. Build in activities and rewards for the typical child who must sit and wait at appointments with the atypical child.
4. Plan activities that are only for the typical child and leave the atypical child with another caregiver. This is very difficult for parents to do but it critically important to avoid resentment amongst the siblings.
5. Teach your typical children the terminology of the atypical diagnosis so they can answer questions from their friends in an intelligent manner. Often children can be cruel. Help your child learn that sometimes people fear what they do not understand.
6. Don’t allow the disabled child to become the identity of the entire family. The sum is greater than the parts and all of the members make up the family unit.
7. Be careful not to allow your children to feel sorry for themselves or begrudge other families who do not get to deal with issues that your family lives out on a daily basis.
8. Allow the disabled child to participate in as many family activities as possible and do not shut them away. Be proud of their differences and realize how blessed you are that God entrusted you with a special soul.
Every day parenting is a balancing act. Having a special needs child to care for doesn’t require any more balancing than the next family…it simply is a different balance. Embrace your differences and celebrate your family unit.
Having lived in a special needs world and speaking with parents all over the world, I understand there are no cookie cutter answers. My prayer and intention is to advocate for your children, both typical and atypical. And to give you as parents permission to own your feelings and give voice to your hearts concerns.
With all my heart,