“My child has special needs.” Those can be hard words to say as a mom, and confusing words to hear as a friend. I don’t want my daughter (who I’ll call “V”) defined by her special needs. As a friend, I’m not always sure how to respond when someone tells me about their child’s needs. Here are 2 things I’ve learned over the years about being on both sides of that conversation:
- It always helps everyone to be upfront about your child’s needs.When we were first coming to grips with the fact that our daughter had a myriad of special needs (including ADHD and FASD), I felt the need to protect her from what others might think. So, if there was a babysitter at a regional staff event, I wasn’t always clear about what she needed and how it might impact the group. At one event located at a hotel, V grabbed a babysitter’s iPhone and threw it in the pool. If we had been more honest from the beginning, I think the sitter would’ve kept a better eye on her phone. The full story would’ve helped everyone. It would’ve served the students in our ministry to have a better understanding of her needs when they spent time in our home or around our kids at ministry events. They didn’t need a full briefing, but I wish we had prepared a short explanation to better serve them and us.
- Be honest with your leaders about the help you need.When traveling to ministry events, I really need extra help with V in order to be there. While other staff people’s kids are fine with a revolving door of babysitters throughout a conference weekend, V really needs structure and security. She can adjust to one babysitter helping her over the weekend, but doesn’t do well if the sitter changes every two hours due to students’ class schedules. Again, I wish I had been more vocal about what we needed in order to make ministry events work for our family. Conversely, there are times when it would’ve been best for everyone if we had chosen to stay home and enable Ben to travel without us.
I realize that most of you reading will never have a special needs child in your home. But you may have a staff family that ministers with you at some point, or even a neighbor or a friend at church or school. Here are 2 suggestions to help you as you interact:
- Ask questions rather than making suggestions.Unless you have a special needs child yourself, it’s impossible to know what it feels like. Things that work for typically abled children (regarding discipline, schedules, babysitting) may not apply. Even if you are a seasoned mom with older children, refrain from sharing parenting tips, and instead ask your friend how she is feeling and if there are ways you can help. Perhaps you could bring a meal when Dad is out of town, or could have their other kids over for a playdate. Our typically abled son loves time with other kids, but is often limited by V’s inability to join in.
- If you are planning an event, keep your friend in mind.If you are helping with details for an event (Navs, church, school), it would bless your friend to think of their family. At a ministry event, they might need a larger room or an extra bed. (Sharing a bed with V is almost impossible and no one gets any sleep.) If you are providing babysitting, see if your friend has any special requests. (Having a dedicated sitter for the whole event makes or breaks it for us.) It might cost more, so see if there is a way to meet the extra financial need or ask if they are willing to pay more to help. We gladly pay more if it meets our family’s needs.
God gave us an unexpected blessing when he placed V into our family. She has been a joy, a delight, and a challenge all rolled into one. We continue to learn about how to best integrate the needs of our family into the realities of ministry life.
If you are interested in reading more about the challenges special needs families often face in churches, I recommend this article. May God teach and guide you as you seek to raise your little ones, and bless the special needs families God may bring your way.
To protect the identity of her child, this momma missionary is remaining anonymous.