God gave you a special needs child. It is wonderful-exhausting, and you wouldn’t trade that child for the world. But you don’t know what you’re doing, half the time, and you don’t know how to help. You watch your child struggle to do the things that are considered normal, but he can’t. Friends and family ask you if you’ve figured out “what’s wrong with him.” Strangers criticize.
As the days and years go by, you are depleted of every resource and every idea you ever thought you had about parenting. “Someone else could do this so much better,” you think when the house is hushed and guilt comes to call.
Someone else would be more patient.
Someone else would be more understanding.
Someone else would make fewer mistakes.
Someone else would know what to do.
Why did God give you a special needs child? He had to know you were not qualified. He had to know you were just plain and ordinary and not the kind of person who could handle something like this.
Oh, mama, he knew all of this. The God who made you can see right into your heart, and he knew. He knew you weren’t up to this task.
But God does not just give good gifts to the best people. He gives good gifts to the foolish, the weak, and the ones who do not have it all together. That’s why he gave us Jesus, and that’s why he gave you your child.
God gave you a special needs child as a gift. You did not earn it, and you did not deserve it.
That’s easy to say but hard to see when you’re in the middle of it. Having a child with a disability can be overwhelming and consuming and some days, you feel like a wretch because of how you dealt with the disability and the child who has no control over it.
You don’t feel like a good gift to him or anyone else. You’re just…tired.
Underneath it all, deep down in your being where no one can see, that gift is at work. It is softening you to grace, gently breaking you of your need to do better and put on a good show. It is slowly washing away your perfectionism and your need to control by giving you a child who does not always show well, who doesn’t do perfect, and who doesn’t allow for the illusion that you are better than you are.
You are not better than you are. Some people live their whole lives without knowing this. But you are not so deceived. You have a special needs child, and you know the depths of your sin.
But you are learning that God does not turn his back on you because of your sin, and he is not deceived into thinking you are better than you are. He loves you in spite of who you are. His love for you is not based on whether or not your child can recite the alphabet or learn to use the toilet or obey. He loves you when you make progress and when you wake up to find that nothing you did the day before “stuck.”
It’s easy to understand how God can love a child. But mamas, he gave you that child so that you could understand how much he loves you.
He loves you enough to make you lovely.
Somehow, God is at work, using this disability to soften you. Remember when you used to be judgmental? Remember when you used to have time to criticize? Remember when you made assumptions about people and their parenting based on appearances?
God gave you a special needs child to chip away at your superiority. Somewhere over the course of the years of loving a child with “issues,” you lost bits of yourself that needed losing, and gained the beauty of a woman who was being refined by something deeply personal and daily difficult.
You might not be able to see it now, but wait. God gave you a special needs child and that is refining you, even now. Someday, you will realize how much you’ve changed and how much of a gift this really was.
Because someday, there will be a mama in church whose child is old enough to sit quietly, but doesn’t. If there’s one thing she needs, it’s understanding, and if there’s one thing you have, it’s grace.
You will not point her to the foyer or make her to feel that her big kid belongs in the nursery. You will whisper “Solidarity” under your breath and remember the time your own child screamed “You’re hurting me!” from one end of Target to the other because the tag on his shirt itched.
Someday, there will be a nine-year-old boy who can’t read the words on the Lego box, and you will not think him stupid. You will smile and read the words for him and look for the things his beautiful brain can do better than reading. And you will find them.
Someday, you will get a thank-you card from a neighbor’s little girl, and you will notice the smiley faces on the hand-drawn flowers and not the misspelled words that won’t stay in the lines.
Someday, you will watch a dad walk his child through the stares and the whispers, and you will not think, “I wonder what’s wrong with that child?” You will say, “How can I help?” Metal and tubes and drool do not bother you anymore. You don’t remember when it happened—but somewhere along the way, you got over appearances. Having a special needs child will do that to you.
You will be grateful with the realization that you are not who you once were. You have been given a precious gift, not because you were good enough for it or because you had all the answers, but simply because God chose you to be the mama of a special needs child.
And that has been a grace.
Author’s note: I used the term special needs because it was the most encompassing term for children with various disabilities, including learning disabilities, which three of my children struggle to overcome. I also have a son with physical disabilities. These are their stories: