Raising Kids With Special Needs – One Moment at a Time

Illustration of mother helping daughter with her play-dough
Jojo Ensslin

"No, Polly. Like this." Several light circles imprint my daughter's Play-Doh pancake on the dining room table. I place my hand over hers and push the round container firmly into the squishy dough. "You have to press all the way down until you feel the surface of the table. Then wiggle the container to create a little space between the circle and the rest of the Play-Doh."

Watching my hands, I stop. My life as a wife and a mother of four keeps me busy. Two of my daughters, Polly and her adopted sister Evangeline, have Down syndrome. Their care includes speech, physical and occupational therapy; frequent medical appointments; advocacy at school; and constant assistance and repetition when teaching new skills. Even something simple like showing Polly how to make a circle out of Play-Doh takes extra time because her muscle tone is low, a common occurrence in children with Down syndrome.

It's easy to feel overwhelmed. I fear I'm not doing everything I can for my kids. I am weary. Parenting is too much. At times it seems impossible. But my instruction to Polly regarding Play-Doh strikes a chord in me. I imagine God speaking to me:

Place your hands on what I've called you to today. Press all the way down. Create the needed space for the task at hand. If it's a full day with the kids, then press down there. If it's therapy and medical appointments, press down there. Don't worry about the number of things you should do in your life. Just concentrate on what you're doing right now.

Polly watches me work with the Play-Doh. "Did you hear me, honey?" I say. "You have to press all the way down."

"Oh, you do?" my daughter asks, trusting, ready to try, even though it's a challenge. A smile takes over my face. I plant a light kiss on top of her dusty brown hair.

I gather up the Play-Doh pieces, roll them into a ball and squash it flat. It's smooth and ready for a new circle. This is my task at hand, to spend time with Polly. To create enough space in my thoughts to be fully present and make contact with her heart. Raising kids with special needs, I can't just take one day at a time — I need to take one moment at a time.

Gillian Marchenko speaks about special needs and motherhood at women's retreats.

This article appeared in the January/February 2013 issue of Thriving Family magazine. Copyright © 2012 by by Gillian Marchenko. Used by permission. ThrivingFamily.com.

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