Special Needs: Wrestling With Guilt

By Jolene Philo
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Kelsey Garrity-Riley
Don't let unresolved guilt over a child's condition distract you from what really matters.

Within hours of his birth, we learned our son had a life-threatening condition. While Allen fought to survive surgery, I wrestled with guilt. My baby wasn’t perfect, and I suspected it was somehow my fault. The accusing thoughts were incessant.

Years later, I now hear other parents describe similar emotions. One mom says, “Even now it drives me nuts. Did I breathe in something and the fumes were too much?”

“I was the dad,” a man says. “It was my fault.”

A mother of two children with a genetic condition tells herself, Something I did caused this.

Parents of children with special needs often think they caused their child’s condition or feel guilty because they can’t fix what’s wrong. Although a common response, unfounded guilt drains energy and erodes the confidence required for wise decision-making. It causes them to focus on the past rather than on advocating for their children in the present. So, how can parents move beyond these destructive thoughts?

Trust God’s purpose and His Word. According to Exodus 4:11, God created your child with a special need; He did so for a divine purpose, whether or not you understand it. Truth is essential in the war against guilt, so use God’s Word to combat it. I read Psalm 139:13-17, inserting Allen’s name and his special need as I prayed — it assured me that my son was wonderfully made!

View perfection from God’s standard. The human standard of perfection is not God’s standard (Romans 3:23); even children born with full physical and intellectual capacities are not perfect (Psalm 51:5). When you consider God’s viewpoint and see everyone as flawed, you will no longer feel guilty about your child’s imperfections.

Understand your job. I battled guilt when I couldn’t protect my baby from painful medical procedures. Slowly, God helped me identify which areas of Allen’s life were my responsibilities and which were His. God watched over my son during surgeries and procedures. My job was to comfort Allen afterward. When you entrust God with His job and focus instead on your own responsibilities, guilt eases.

Tell someone. When my guilt became unbearable, I told my husband. His words of reassurance were a balm to my troubled mind. My confidence and energy returned so I could focus on our son.

While parenting your child with special needs, don’t let accusing thoughts rob you of confidence, energy and focus. Without guilt weighing you down, you can be the actively engaged, loving parent your child needs.

Copyright © 2014 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

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