When your child receives a diagnosis, (or several, like both of my sons) it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by emotions, overwhelmed by all the things to learn and do to care for your child, overwhelmed by your child's appointments or behaviors or their future. I've been there, and this is what I would have told myself, or any overwhelmed parent looking for advice.
When your child receives a diagnosis, sometimes it brings relief. To have a name for your child’s struggles, to be able to research the diagnosis and be able to get your child the specialists and services and supports your child needs is huge.
But sometimes it brings grief. The plans and expectations you had for your child and for parenthood have been shattered. It’s ok to grieve that. The grief doesn’t mean you love your child any less.
Take time to process how you’re really feeling. Ask God your questions. He can handle them. But also, take time to humbly listen to His answers. He will teach you a lot on this special needs parenting journey.
For me, I've found the best way to process my feelings is to write out my thoughts and feelings in a journal, and also writing out my prayers. It helps me immensely to be able to put my thoughts and prayers onto paper. Whatever you need to do to take some time just for you and think and pray, do it. It’s self-care and it's soul-care and both are important.
Know that grief is a cycle. Something will happen that will send you back into a spiral of grief. It’s ok to feel the grief. Even Jesus wept. It's ok to cry. And then when you're ready, pick yourself back up and keep carrying on, resting in the fact that you've got this, because God’s got you.
It’s important to not go this challenging parenting journey alone. If you have friends and family members who stick by you, treasure them and your time together. Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. More often than not you have people in your life and in your corner who want to support you, they just don't know how until you tell them what it is they can do for you.
You may want to find a community of people who understand the particular parenting journey your are on. You may discover that there are many different support groups in your local area, as well as online. For example, Facebook has hundreds of Facebook groups for special needs parents. For example, if you’re looking for a Facebook group for Christian special needs parents, I recommend Abiding Caregiver-Self-care and Soul-Care for the Caregiver and Embracing This Special Life.
Also, some churches do offer support and respite for special needs families. Key Ministry has a list with several churches with a special needs ministry to help you get started, or you can search online for nearby churches with a disability ministry.
This is a tip that honestly I would not have been happy to receive, but I needed to hear. I was of the mindset that if I do all the therapies and diets and supplements now, then my kids would be in a much healthier place when they start kindergarten.
And so I found myself overwhelmed with all the appointments, struggling with loneliness and anxiety and having a mini crisis of faith that scared me. I wasn’t enjoying God, motherhood, my kids, or life itself.
Once I realized I needed to slow down, I let go of those appointments that weren’t as beneficial at that time. You don't have to do all the things at the same time. Life is seasonal, so pick what is best for you, your child, and your family in the current season you are in.
By letting go of all the things, I was able to be more present in the moment, and enjoy life and my kids more, rather than trying to “fix” them with endless therapy appointments and with therapy homework every time we played together.
By slowing down, it gave me more opportunities to enjoy my family. To let my kids just be kids. To savor the blessings in my life and the wonder of the world around us. And to seek God’s presence and what He wanted to teach me.
We’re told in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Do not consider his appearance or his height ... The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
I was so convicted when I read that verse, because I’d been so focused on my childrens’ diagnoses and delays that I was missing what really mattered.
I began spending more time focusing on their hearts and how God uniquely created my children. I started nurturing their strengths and their gifts more, rather than focusing on their areas of weakness and delay. I started spending more time teaching them about God and Jesus.
Before I always cheered big time for each milestone when it was finally met, but I started focusing more on celebrating every hard-won inch in-between, proud of my children for persevering and working hard to do what comes so naturally to other children.
Instead of seeing how far behind they were their peers, I started seeing how they were blooming in their own way, with the unique gifts that God gave them. I saw how fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 149:13) my children were, and I realized just how much they themselves were a gift to me.
What tip would you give to a parent feeling overwhelmed with their child's diagnosis?