Art and Jen Powell have to think through even the simplest parenting tasks these days. "It feels like I am 'on duty' to an intense degree," says Jen. And it's been that way for about a year—since the Powell family welcomed now four-year-old Jacob and two-year-old Bethany Joy into their home. Both children, who were adopted, have special medical needs that require ongoing care.
A typical week in the Powell household includes not only a combination of occupational, physical, developmental, and speech therapies, but also appointments with various doctors. Although it's gratifying for Art and Jen to help their children reach their God-given potential, it can also be exhausting.
And added to that exhaustion is a sense of isolation. "Some of the greatest needs we have," Jen says, "are understanding and friendship … maybe to feel like we have some folks on our team."
The Powells are typical of parents with children who have special needs. Many feel alone … worried … overwhelmed. I asked Jen and others what we can do to help. Here are 10 ways that we can tangibly express our care:
1. Offer to babysit so Mom and Dad can go on a much needed date. Or ask if you could watch the children while Mom goes to the grocery store, doctor, or even takes a nap.
2. Accept the unique way that God has made their children.
3. Do not offer unsolicited advice. Instead, ask questions such as, “I read something today that made me think of you as you parent _______. I don’t know if it would be helpful, but may I share it with you?”
4. Befriend families that have children with special needs. Invite them over for a meal. Include the child with special needs in birthday parties. One mom said, “Give me the opportunity to decline, if necessary, but don’t exclude us altogether because of our special needs.”
5. Pray for the parents of children with special needs: that they will be wise and experience God’s grace. Let these parents know that you are praying for them through an e-mail or note.
6. Become educated about the unique conditions of children you know— such as cerebral palsy, dyslexia, Tourette syndrome, autism, etc. One mom said, “Many parents of children with autism fail to go out because they fear the stares, insults, and unfriendly attitudes of those they will encounter.”
7. Offer to accompany the parent of children with special needs to doctor appointments. Getting a child with unique needs into a doctor's office and situated is quite difficult, especially if the parent has another child to watch at the same time. Your help would be invaluable.
8. Volunteer to do the laundry or run errands.
9. Give moms and dads of children with special needs an opportunity to share what’s on their heart and then listen. Ask them questions such as “Is everything okay?” “Is there something that you need?”
10. Provide meals from time to time and bring crafts to other children in the family when the child with special needs is sick.
Being a parent is hard. But being the parent of a child with special needs can seem downright impossible. 1 John 3:18 reminds us to “not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” When we take the time and effort to tangibly show these families that we care, we demonstrate the very love of Christ. We become a connection they desperately need. We join “their team.”
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