Do you know any moms at your church who have children with special needs? These are hard-working mamas, my friends.
Perhaps you have seen a mom struggling with a child having a tremendous melt-down in the middle of the church entryway. Maybe you've met a mom with a toddler who obviously has some special needs, and you wanted to say something to offer her a few words of encouragement, but you weren't sure if it would be accepted.
Have you ever wished you could help, but you weren't sure how? Or even if you should?
For six years, my husband and I were foster parents to medically fragile babies. We cared for drug-exposed newborns, micro-preemies, and children with broken bones. Our children lived through surgeries and hospital stays. We did oxygen tubes, g-tubes, leg braces and casts. Since my husband is a pastor, we brought these sweet little babies to church with us when they were well enough, dragging our various medical paraphernalia with us.
We now have adopted two children with significant behavioral needs. For some parents, including us, "special needs" means rages, swearing, and emotional situations far beyond what a typical parent would imagine. Picture a two-year-old temper tantrum on steroids. Now multiply that times ten. This is what many families live with every day. We bring our children with emotional needs to church with us as often as they are well enough.
We've had fantastic experiences with our children with special needs at church, and at other times we have faced challenges.
People in our congregation have wrapped their arms around our kids. We have been given everything from baby clothes to casseroles. Each of our babies has been surrounded by love. Our children's ministry program has worked with our children's special needs, coming up with creative solutions so they can participate in Sunday School and other children's programs.
Other times, we have faced roadblocks. I have come home from church in tears on many occasions either from people's hurtful comments or sheer exhaustion. Attending church is a two-day production that starts on Saturday afternoon when I begin preparing and ends on Sunday afternoon when I (on a good day) crash for a nap.
As a writer and speaker, I've had the opportunity to interview many parents of kids with special needs. I asked these parents, "If you could say anything to people about what it's like to parent a child with special needs, what would it be?"
Here are some of the specific things parents said about attending church with kids who have special needs:
"IF I make it to church, help me as much as you can. You can't believe what it took to get here."
"I'm always late no matter how early or how hard I try to get there. The Lord blessed though, because finally some other people have welcomed me with a smile."
The truth is, many parents of children with special needs would LOVE your help - but maybe not the way you think. Here are the four things parents of children with special needs most need from you.
Parents of kids with special needs require your prayers. Pray for these families, and let them know you are praying for them. There is no better support!
James 1:27 says, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."
Every special needs child is not an orphan nor every parent a widow, so how does this fit? Orphans and widows in Jesus time were the abandoned family members who needed care. They had no father figure to financially and physically support the family. Churches, as well as friends and neighbors, need to wrap around these families and offer prayers, love, and support.
2. Parental Support
We've got some exhausted parents here. They are on the brink of wearing out.
I know if you are parenting little ones, or perhaps caring for aging parents, or have a really stressful job, you might be thinking, "Yeah, well, my life is stressful, too!" Yes, it is. Each of us has our own life difficulties. I'm not downplaying yours.
But ... did you have to call the police for your own child who was threatening to kill you last night? Or talk to a doctor about the hospice choices for your 7 year old? This is the stuff special needs parents face. Please, show extra compassion.
3. Practical Help
All the platitudes in the world are nice, but offer these parents some HELP. If these parents had a dollar for every time someone said, "Boy, you sure have your hands full," they would be rich. It sure would be nice if along with saying that, you would offer to GIVE A HAND. The parents might not always take you up on the offer, but it's still nice to be asked. Be strong enough to handle the possible rejection if they say no. It's always better to err on the side of kindness and make the offer.
Over and over again, I heard from parents requesting patience, especially if their child has a hidden disorder. Perhaps the child looks fine or typical on the outside, but has a behavior issue like Autism or Sensory Processing Disorder. People expect a certain type of behavior, and a certain type of parenting, especially in church situations. What about when their families look different? Some of these illnesses and disorders, and the resulting behaviors, are not pretty. When a child is raging, saying and doing socially unaccepted things, your call from God is still to reach out to this family with love and acceptance.
Will you answer God's call to minister to "the least of these?"
Matthew 25:40 says, "And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'"
When you give to the family of a child with special needs, it is as if you are doing it for Christ.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Equipping Godly Women. It has been republished here with permission.