empowering your special needs child

special needs childrenIt was just a simple question.

But five years later, I still think about it nearly everyday. God used it to open my eyes, change my heart and motivate me to a new way of parenting.

My sister was visiting for a few days. One morning, toward the end of her visit, she watched as I poured cereal, as I did every morning, for one of my able-bodied, nearly preteen children.

“Why are you pouring their cereal?”

It was asked without a hint of condemnation. In fact, it was one of the most loving things she could have said to me.

The answer to that question was two-fold. First, it was a symptom of my people-pleasing ways. I enabled my children because I wanted to avoid conflict. I wanted to keep the peace and make them happy.

But, that’s only part of the reason. As the mom of two children with special needs — both physical and academic — I’ve felt the pull to somehow smooth their path, which has been marked by so many painful land mines.

God used that question to wake me up to the many things I was doing things for my children that they could — and should — have been doing for themselves.

[Tweet “My “help” was more about me and what I was comfortable with than it was about my kids.”]

It was a humbling, difficult, but motivating realization.

Since then, I’ve worked toward empowering my kids instead of enabling them. It has not been a perfect process. I still fall into old habits. I still make new realizations about ways I’m being an unhealthy safety net. But here are three things that I’ve found are helping to equip my kids:

Allow them to fail.  With special needs kids, this can be especially difficult because often the stakes can seem so high. How can I not rescue my child with learning difficulties? How will he or she ever get into college? I need to help him or her with that paper. I’ve got to bring them that book or homework they forgot.

Well, I’ve realized that unless I’m going to college with this child, then they aren’t probably going to do well once they get there. My job is to equip and coach, and yes, allow failures. Sometimes big ones. Every time I do this, I get incredible pushback and cries of, “You don’t care! You don’t understand! You have no idea how hard it is for me!” But pain is motivating. And as I pull back in certain areas — instructing and coaching, but not actually doing it — this child steps up and sees what they’re capable of. That is empowering.

Don’t make excuses for them. Everyday, I’ve found I have to fight the temptation to cut my children too much slack. I don’t always demand things of them that I should because I know it will be hard for them. Or, that they’ve had a difficult day or week. I think we can limit them by our own low expectations.

Train them to “own” their treatment. I find the more my kids take charge of their own care, the less resentful they are toward their disease — and me. It gives them some control and power of a condition or difficulty that seems out of their control. Micah, my child with cystic fibrosis, has been sterilizing his medication equipment and scheduling his own treatment times for a couple of years now. What used to be a battle is no longer a fight. He has control over when and how it’s done. I just monitor to make sure he stays on top of it.

Every special needs child is different, because the challenges they face are unique to them. Everyday, I pray for courage and guidance to navigate these amazing children God gave me.

He gives me the power I need.

Now it’s my job to do all I can to pass it down. 

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  • One of the toughest parts for me is that it’s my older two girls who have special needs. It’s often not until one of their little sisters passes up their skills or knowledge that I realize “oops! I think my older girls are ready for that, too.” In some ways, I fear that having them leading the pack sets the whole lot of em back. But if I go there, I’m not getting out of that depressive tailspin any time soon, so I try not to start. 🙂 A good reminder to regularly take a step back and give our special kids the benefit of the doubt when it comes to what they can or can’t do independently. Thanks!

  • Oh how this hit me where I live. What a great wake-up call to really examine the ways I help my kids and the true motivation behind it. I think I tend to try to smooth the road, too, when I should be helping my son to independently overcome any challenges his autism brings. I think part of it is also a bit of denial of how fast they are growing! =)

    So glad I found you on the SITS Sharefest!

    • {Melinda} I understand the denial, Ashley! I can forget that my as my kids get older, they are capable of doing more. And I have to push them to step up. Even when it’s uncomfortable for ME! 🙂

      Thanks so much for stopping by today, Ashley. I will return the favor!

  • I can imagine that would be an eye-opening moment. I have been on a journey of letting go of control. I do things for my children, my home, my friends, etc. not in servitude but in an effort to control things and control outcomes.

    God is good and helps us change and become strong women and mothers in Christ.

    I am delighted that you stopped by my blog this morning. My heart leaps for joy every time I find a sister in Christ.

    • {Melinda} I feel the same way, Jennifer! I just LOVE the name of your blog. That is my prayer everyday, to fight off distraction and fatigue, and live the way God designed me to live. So glad I found your blog today!


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i’m melinda


I’m a woman who was radically changed when the God I thought I knew since childhood opened my eyes to the overwhelming depth of His love for me. I love speaking, writing, and pointing women to the Father so they can experience for themselves the healing power of His incredible, captivating love.

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