“Special-Needs Parents and Compassion”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations

Once we become Christians, most of us quickly realize that we are never going to perfectly follow God’s commandments.  Despite all the spiritual artillery we bring to bear, our hearts and our lives stubbornly remain flawed.  In a word, godliness is hard!

Because it is so difficult, many Christians choose to embark on a less painful course of action:  perfecting others.  All of us know the temptation to sympathize with our own sins while extending no compassion to our struggling brother.  Our own spiritual battles are complicated, but the solutions to their problems are clear.  “If only they would. . .” we sigh.  Sometimes, we feel sufficiently enlightened to take them aside and explain, “If only you would. . .”

However, before we decide to get in touch with our inner Aquila and Priscilla, we need to make sure of two things:  that we have engaged in the necessary business of beam removal and that the problem we are critiquing is actually a problem.  We are called to compassion not only for the spiritual weakness of our brethren, but for their earthly problems too.  We should not mistake the latter for the former.

In particular, we should acknowledge the hurdles encountered by parents of children with special needs.  Parenting by itself is difficult enough, even when both parents are there and married to each other, even when plenty of extended family is around to help.  When one of those supports is removed, the difficulty level ratchets up.

The same is true, and even more so, when a child faces physical, cognitive, or emotional challenges.  Perhaps the child is medically fragile, so that half the calendar is filled with doctor’s appointments and hospital visits.  Perhaps they have behavioral struggles, so that they require closer or even constant parental supervision (as a foster parent, I went down that road a little bit myself). 

I’m sure that this list could be extended greatly, but one thing is certain.  The continuing demands of caring for a special-needs child place a tremendous burden on parents.  24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you’re rarely to never “off”. 

It’s the difference between buying something outright and agreeing to a monthly fee.  Compared to $500 up front, that $50 on the credit-card statement doesn’t look like much, but as the months and years flow on, it adds up to a considerable amount of money.  Because of the continual drain of resources, special-needs parents are operating at half efficiency (or worse) all the time.

Sad to say, when too many brethren encounter such parents, they react by becoming judgmental.  They don’t appreciate the 7/8 of the iceberg that they don’t see.  Instead, they react with scorn to the 1/8 that they do see:  the six-year-old who still makes a scene in church every Sunday, the mom whose name never appears on the sign-up sheets to feed the visiting preacher or take meals to shut-ins.  Clearly, all those parents need is a good talking-to, and they’ll shape right up!

No, actually.  What they need is our understanding, not its lack.  This is not to say that all special-needs parents are perfect and that none of them have room to improve.  However, before we designate ourselves the official improver, we need to understand the situation we’re trying to improve.