It wasn't until our second child was born that we realized how different raising her was compared with our firstborn – our son with special needs. Yet no matter the different roles and responsibilities each person has or takes on, it often falls on the wife and mother to discern how to best support and nurture each relationship within the family.
Wife and mother. In both of these roles, I (Cindi) have been stretched through daily challenges and frustrations as well as through life's victories and joys. I have learned in both roles to perfect the dance that best fits each relationship within my own family – to master the movements that make each relationship work together. Our goal as a couple and as individuals is to first develop our relationship with God, to second keep our marriage relationship strong, so that, third, we have what it takes to raise our children and care for them the way God would want.
Work, ministry and friends – while important – should not take precedence over our relationship as a couple, or over our relationship with our children. It's tough enough balancing the demands of normal, everyday life, but when one child requires hours of therapies, hospital stays and seemingly constant attention, that's a whole new ball game.
As a wife, I want to be a supportive helper to my husband. Each morning, Joe and I have our individual routines involved in getting our son ready for his supervised place of employment. As Joe walks out the door to take Joey to work, we briefly share one or two things we can pray for one another throughout the day. We connect again later over coffee or a snack and share the ups and downs of our day. We might have to wait until everyone is in bed and the needs of our son are met for the day, but this habit has kept us on the same page these 30 years when we could have easily been going in two different directions. It's allowed us the freedom to air frustrations from the day and to really listen to the other talk about work and home and the never-ending responsibilities of caring for our son.
In a culture that continues to try to redefine "submission", I've found it imperative to submit – to yield and follow my husband's lead. He often sees things very differently than I. We submit to one another on many issues and typically reach compromises that work for both of us, but in the midst of little rest, too many decisions to be made in caring for our son, and too much to do, I have followed his lead because he often sees what I'm missing.
I recall a time when I was putting myself in a "helping" situation with someone who would have drained me. That's when Joe reminded me of a previous similar time that took its toll on me. His loving, protective reminder was just the right guidance I needed. As a result, I did not add that situation to my already full schedule. Sometimes we can spin so many plates at one time – caring for our children, making meals for someone in need, participating in ministry or serving on several school committees – that we fail to notice how life at home is falling apart. (Or we are!)
A solid marriage is one that's better able to support and nurture all the members of the family. The pressures of caring for our son caused me to ask myself and God each day if I was modeling to our daughters (and others who might be observing) an attitude of service and a heart of compassion, willingness and sacrifice. It takes effort to reflect those traits. As I learned, I began to practice the following behaviors:
- Protecting the girls rather than overprotecting them (they had to be treated differently than our son with special needs).
- Giving attention to each child before they needed it. Sharing special times doing things they individually enjoyed – both quality time and quantity time.
- Providing spiritual training, cultural opportunities and creative outlets appropriate to their ages, abilities and interests.
- Valuing each child as individuals because God made them so wonderfully different! Recognizing that they all had special needs.
- Being proud of each one whenever they put forth effort – whether they excelled or not.
- Not comparing!
- Helping our children understand that the different seasons of life have different needs, along with the importance of adjusting to them. Joey didn't understand this, but what a valuable lesson for the rest of us! (For example: Bike riding as a family lasted only until Joey was too big for an adaptive bike trailer.)
- Teaching them that while life isn't always fair, God gives us what we really need and the ability to handle it. (Psalm 138:8: "God will accomplish what concerns me.")
Respecting our typically developing daughters' individual social lives – training them to know how to care for our son, but never expecting it to be "their job." (Arranging for a caretaker or paying them gave them freedom and responsibility without feeling taken advantage of. As we respected their young lives, they became helpful and compassionate woman who love Joey, and ones who have offered to care for him someday.)
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