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Why My Path is Different From Yours

I know better than to compare my son to his peers, who have no special needs. But the desire for affirmation, to know that we’re ok (because most days, it honestly feels like we are all but ok), has often led me to the comparison trap, even comparing my child and myself to other special needs families. Though some of us, who have children with special needs, seem to walk side by side, we each have our own path to follow. And even though I might know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, it’s good to know we are hiking along different trails.

At a time when you don’t want to feel alone in your hardship, why is this a good thing?

Special Needs Mom, Don't compare.

Because We Are Different

I’m a checklist-dependent, time-obsessed, overly organized control freak. But that all changed when I had children. The constant changes that come from having children in your life fought against every part of my Type A personality. And the way I handle my son’s special needs may be different from the way you respond to yours. But that difference could be useful. When I face the same battles day in and day out, my reactions can sometimes be on auto-pilot. But seeing how a friend handles her special needs child allows me to see these challenges from a different angle and perhaps change my responses for the better.

Because Our Children Are Different

The world of special needs covers such a wide spectrum of disabilities and challenges. Some are physically exhausting, while others zap your mental energy. Some disabilities are visible, while others are only apparent to those who get close enough to notice. Some children are high-functioning with the potential to be more independent, while others will likely need assistance for the rest of their lives. We can find hope, encouragement, and inspiration from each other’s stories, but it makes no sense to compare our children’s progress. Their successes will occur at different times and to different degrees, and we will celebrate them all.

Because God Works in a Variety of Ways

It had been a while since I checked my social media feed, but something gripped me, pierced me right in the center of the most tender part of my emotions. Not at all prepared for the sudden outpouring of tears, I strained to hold them back until I relocated to another room, away from any possible inquiry from my children.

What I read was a brief account of a child with special needs, who had made leaps and bounds beyond what others expected. The post was full of hope and rejoicing and did not warrant the sorrowful reaction I gave it. But for that moment, I grieved. I grieved for the mountains that my own child had not scaled, the doors that were not opened for him, and the obstacles that remained in his path.

But my husband wouldn’t let me dwell too long on the comparisons, knowing it’s an exercise in futility. He reminded me that God is working in that family as He is in ours. It won’t look exactly the same.

We are different.

Our children are different.

But we have the same God, working in a variety of ways to bring about the same glorious outcome.

“On earth, the underside of the tapestry was tangled and unclear; but in heaven, we will stand amazed to see the topside of the tapestry and how God beautifully embroidered each circumstance into a pattern for our good and His glory.”
~ Joni Erickson Tada

Community, Coping with the Challenges

The Needs of the Special Needs Mom

When we found out that our child had some severe developmental delays, it was the beginning of a very long and tearful journey. Is this your reality? Or perhaps you know someone whose dreams for their child have taken an unexpected turn.

Though the world may applaud her for her sacrifices and dedication, in reality the mother of this child has some special needs of her own.

The Needs of the Special Needs Mom

She needs a break.

After homeschooling a child with special needs for the past 7 years, one thing has remained consistent: this kid requires A LOT of breaks. But the mother needs breaks as well. Tension can rise quickly even during the most simple conversations. Hitting the pause button or even switching activities can prove invaluable.

She needs time away from her child.

Sometimes a short break is not enough. Because I spend almost every waking moment with my child, I am physically and mentally exhausted before day’s end. I’m thankful when my husband will sometimes take our son out before we both become completely unglued. On a more extreme case, my husband recently whisked me away to the beach for a couple of days because he knew stress levels were high in the home. Even though I resisted the idea (not because I hate beaches, but because the control freak in me didn’t want to leave my son for that long), it was a necessary time to recharge. If you have a friend in this situation, you can offer to take her kid out or, perhaps, she would appreciate it more if you took her out.

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She needs a listening, sympathetic, and compassionate ear.

Sometimes this mom needs to let it out, vent if you will. She wants to talk about how daily tasks are a common battleground, how she feels like she’s not doing enough to help her child, how it’s hard to join play groups, and how the frequent meltdowns are enough to keep her from leaving the house. She wants to talk freely without judgment. Though there is a place for a timely word of encouragement, sometimes she just needs a friend who will listen and weep with her.

She needs encouragement.

I’m going to be honest with you. Encouraging words for someone struggling in this are not the easiest things to come by. Should you tell her you can relate even though you don’t have a child with special needs? Should you go the practical route and suggest something from a parenting book you just read? Should you tell her everything will be ok or things aren’t that bad? Though meant well, sometimes these responses can sting the open wounds of an already hurting mother.

But don’t shrink back from reaching out to this mom. She needs you to be a true friend, even if you are not in the same situation as she is. The best encouragement I have received have come in the form of a prayer, a Bible verse, or simply “I love you.”

Do you have a child with special needs? What do you need right now?