Columnist George Will has written wonderfully about his eldest son, Jon:
“Jon Will, the eldest of my four children, will commute today by subway to his job delivering mail and being useful in other ways at the National Institutes of Health. The fact that Jon is striding into a productive adulthood with a spring in his step and the Baltimore Orioles on his mind is a consummation that could not have been confidently predicted when he was born. Then, a doctor told us, his parents, that our first decision must be whether or not to take Jon home.
Jon has Down Syndrome, a chromosomal defect involving varying degrees of mental retardation and physical abnormalities. Jon lost, at the instant he was conceived, one of life’s lotteries, but he also was lucky: his physical abnormalities do not impede his vitality and his retardation is not so severe that it interferes with life’s essential joys – receiving love, returning it, and reading the baseball box scores.”
If you, or a parent you know, have kids that need extra care, here are 10 encouragements for dads with special needs children:
1. You will make sacrifices
Children require some degree of sacrifice for parents. That’s a good thing; all children are gifts to be cherished. At the same time, having a child with special needs asks for more sacrifices because their needs are different from your other children. This makes life different, but living sacrificially for your child grows you as a person.
2. You may feel hurt and mourn
There’s a level of pain and loss that can be felt when raising a child with special needs. There are dreams you may have had for your kid that need to be laid to rest that cause you to mourn. It’s good and healthy to acknowledge your pain. Doing so gives you the freedom to handle those feelings and move forward. They will continue to eat at you and keep you from loving others to the fullest. You may even be angry with God. Don’t focus on the negative aspect, it won’t do any good. There’s still much more of life to enjoy with your child and even more to be thankful for. You were given this child for a reason.
3. There may be strengths
Whatever your child’s special need, sometimes there are strengths in them.Whatever your child’s special need, sometimes there are strengths in them. Sometimes they will be able to love others better and with more affection. Others may have an ability to focus, have strong convictions, or higher than normal memory. In some ways the special need can actually lead to unique abilities.
Remember that everyone in your family needs to learn to adjust to your child. Not just you and your wife, but your other children too. With your younger and older children, take the time to talk with them and see how they’re doing. Don’t allow for all of your attention to be on your child with special needs. Work to find a balance to help meet all of your family’s emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual needs.
5. Maintain relationships
Everything about human beings requires relationship and interacting with others. This means continuing to build the relationships you have with your wife, friends, and family, but more specifically with your child. For some, they realize they’re different from others. Don’t let that difference be a wall between them and the world, or between you and them. They need just as much love and affection as any other child. Be patient and help them work through the barriers (as best you can) that keep them from building friendships.
6. Support system
DO NOT isolate yourself. Allow others to help and encourage you. Friends and family love you and want to see you happy and healthy. Lean on them, let them come alongside you, and ask them for help and advice. It also is not rude to ask friends or parents to babysit so that you and your wife can rest. To best care for your family, you and your wife must care for yourselves.
7. Other like-minded families
Being a parent of a special needs child is a unique experience and it can seem as though your family is alone. However, this is not true. There are many families out there experiencing similar things. You just have to find them. Ask your doctor or go online to find families with this particular struggle. Connect with those folks and share your struggles so you can be an encouragement to one another.
8. Marriage unity
Parents of kids with special needs are under more stress. Protect your marriage. Remember that you’re working together and focus on all the good things. Encourage each other after a rough situation with your child. Don’t allow all of the decisions, discipline, and daily grind of life to get in the way of you and your wife. Make time to focus on each other and build your relationship. The word to remember is: unity.
9. Show them how to overcome
Life can begin to feel out of control. Set up routines. Make whatever necessary changes needed so that your family isn’t stuck. Just because your child has more needs doesn’t mean life should feel weighty and overwhelming all the time. There is a rhythm, it’s just a matter of finding it.
10. Enjoy life
Remember and appreciate your family with whom you share and make memories. Help your family live abundantly. Go on adventures together and explore new things. Do everything possible to enjoy and celebrate each other. Every day is a new opportunity.
Huddle Up Question
Huddle up with each of your children tonight and give them a big bear hug.