The other night I sat with my 5- and 6-year-old sons on my lap as they took turns reading from their children’s Bible. They were so proud of every word they sounded out, and I was equally proud.
That’s when I noticed my 10-year-old lying on his bed, intently listening to his younger brothers read. I could see him processing their excitement and laughter, and just like that my smile faded. I even had to fight back tears.
You see, our oldest son has cerebral palsy and impaired vision. The world labels these as disabilities, but most days I don’t see it that way. Most days I can see it as just another part of our son’s story – not who he is. His disabilities do not define him.
Still, I can’t deny the heartache I feel when I find myself comparing our eldest to his siblings. It’s not even a conscious comparison, just a feeling I seem to get more and more as I see our children growing up in such different ways.
I’ve even been asking God about the pain I feel: “What do I do with this, Lord? How do I celebrate my children’s victories without feeling like I am somehow betraying the one(s) left out?”
Since I’ve started asking some hard questions of God, I’ve also started to see God’s love in a deeper way. I was always told that God loves all of His children the same, so I’ve tried to gain a better understanding of His unconditional love.
How does God rejoice with a child who is bursting with excitement after being invited to a birthday party and, at the same moment, mourn with the child who is ostracized and lonely? As a parent, I can’t be everything for all of my children all of the time, which is why I strive to point them to the One who can fill every void of the soul – the One who can heal every wound. (Even those wounds that the best-intentioned parent sometimes bestows.) It’s in these difficult moments that I see clearly just how short my love falls.
These same moments have also taught me to give myself grace. God is bigger than my shortcomings; His strength makes up for my weakest moments as a mother.
When it comes to navigating the waters of special needs parenting, I’ve learned that one of the best things I can do is simply model for my children how to live and love imperfectly while loving and serving a perfect God. You see, we don’t have to love all of our kids exactly the same, but, with God’s help, we can love each of them uniquely. This realization has freed me to maintain my smile when I’m enjoying a proud mama moment with any of my children.
I have allowed comparison to steal so much. Peace. Contentment. Joy. But no more. Instead of feeling like I always need to keep things fair and equal for my kids, I now recognize that God loves each of us uniquely. He doesn’t look at our outward appearance or our accomplishments or our disabilities. He looks at our hearts.
I pray that all my children would learn to not only celebrate their own victories and God-given gifts, but also be able to find joy in celebrating the victories and gifts of others – without feeling the need to compare.
Hopefully they will notice me celebrating right along with them.
In Empowering Your Child Who Has Special Needs, Debbie Goodwin helps parents identify enabling or guilt-based attitudes and actions that trap the child and themselves in unhealthy co-dependencies. As the mother of a daughter with special needs, she understands first-hand the struggles and frustration that come with this unexpected responsibility.