I also discussed this subject of Managing Morale in special needs families during a 60-minute interview with Stephen “Doc” Hunsley MD, founder of SOAR Special Needs. You can watch that episode of “Talk with Doc” here.
You can read all kinds of books and blog articles about boosting morale. You could invest a lot of time in trial-and-error mode, testing ideas but feeling a mounting pressure or disappointment when some things don’t work as well as you hoped.
I want to help you skip past as much of that exertion and discouragement as possible. As I’ve said several times in this series, responding to the real root of what is undermining morale will give your family the most positive traction much more quickly and effectively.
So, as you prayerfully ponder these seven ways to energize and refresh your special needs family, I want to ask you to keep the unique and individualized needs of your family at the front of your mind. Home in on an area below that most closely addresses the roots of anxiety or discouragement. Here are some examples:
If someone is struggling with all the things out of their control, it should help to review the scriptures and tips under “Anchor Your Worth and Competence in Christ.”
If someone is struggling mentally, their mood is quite likely to begin shifting when they “Saturate Your Mind with Truth.”
If someone is feeling isolation fatigue, they will benefit from a strategic look at “Connect in Community.”
For those who tend to be more emotionally oriented, look closely at “Change Your Scenery.”
If things just don’t feel fair, read the noted scriptures carefully under “Remember that God is Just.”
If you’re feeling stuck or trapped, there is potential for great refreshment within the whole family when you “Take a Step of Faith” together!
If you’re simply exhausted, you’ll find a creative and collaborative effort to “Rest” pays off generously.
Now let’s really dig in to where the rubber hits the road!
Saturate Your Mind with Truth
PROVERBS 23:7 | 2 CORINTHIANS 10:5 | PHILLIPIANS 4:8
This is critical area of opportunity for people who spend a lot of time thinking or who tend to be deep thinkers. Renewing your mind with truth is a powerful mood shifter when you are vulnerable to things like fear, doubt, confusion, shame, guilt, discouragement and burnout. The scriptures (especially those listed above) will help keep your mind focused on God’s Kingdom meaning and purpose in things like suffering and waiting. When thoughts are spiraling, God’s Word is a calming anchor.
Connect in Community
HEBREWS 10:25 | 2 CORINTHIANS 1:3-5 | ROMANS 3:10,23 | JAMES 5:16
This one is BIG! No matter who we are, we all need relationships. But we don’t all need them to the same degree. Be careful about lumping people into categories like “introverts” and “extroverts.” Those labels can mislead. It is usually more helpful to think specifically about the kinds of connections different people need. Do you enjoy casual connections, want mostly deeper relationships — or both? (I’ll elaborate on these below.) It’s also important to factor in what is needed compared to what is actually expressed. For example, some people actually have a great need for relationships but don’t really show it. They may rarely initiate connections. And since they don’t express their need, people get confused or pull away.
There are very generally two kinds of connections and we don’t all need both.
- Casual Connections — If someone in your household is missing being out and about during quarantine or needs to feel connected in the broader community, they could be the best person to do the grocery shopping. Encourage them to turn on LIVE radio and TV shows. Invite them to sit with a group around a socially distanced bonfire or play virtual games. It has helped our daughter Carly to be part of Zoom dance parties. And she’s been learning to throw dice while playing Zoom Farkle with her friend and cousins.
- Deep Relationships — Some people need relationships where they can connect on a more intimate or emotional level. These are the kinds of relationships where there is an exchange of love, affection and appreciation. Whether it involves several or just a few people, these are the people in your household who look to close friends, family members, their church fellowship and a counsellor for a warm sense of belonging. When something like caregiving or the quarantine limits these deeper connections, it’s absolutely essential to find ways of adapting and accommodating the need. People with higher needs in this area may find it helpful to snuggle with a pet, cuddle with loved one, get creative about how to have a date, go for a walk holding hands with your partner, watch shows about relationships or read character-driven stories. They will want to play the kinds of games that rely on conversation. It should not be surprising that this person will run from a game of Chess but (all irony intended) thoroughly enjoy the game Pandemic! This type of person may even enjoy hanging out with a friend on Zoom while they both do a puzzle or craft and sip a cold beverage. You may want to give these family members permission to sit out on the driveway for social distancing conversations or spend more time on the phone.
Change Your Scenery
HEBREWS 11:8 | ACTS 22:7 | PSALM 40:2
This is a helpful tip for shifting anyone’s mood but especially people who tend to be more creative or connected to their emotions. Those who “feel everything” or who feel things more intensely will benefit greatly from moving their body or moving the furniture! Back in April, we rearranged our family room and we love it. A couple weeks later, we we changed around our deck furniture and added new plants. All of that was so simple and has been like a breath of fresh air that keeps paying daily dividends.
When you need to boost mom’s morale, let her go take a shower. Some dads love and teenagers love to mow the lawn to get some alone time or listen to their music. It could be the change of atmosphere that is lifting their spirits. Try using paper plates, eating outside or sitting at a different table. You can invite your most creative child to build a fancy table setting. The point is to switch up the routine. Light a candle, read a different kind of book (choose a different genre), change your clothes, cut your hair, buy new sheets for your bed or bring some flowers in from outside.
Anchor Your Worth & Competence In Christ
ISAIAH 54:10 | PHILLIPIANS 4:13 | 2 CORINTHIANS 3:5
It is not at all unusual for caregivers and parents to struggle with feeling like they are doing enough for their loved one with special needs. They lament not having bandwidth to balance the needs of multiple children. Children perceive pressure to measure up too. We’re all tempted to measure our own worth in this world by what we contribute or some privately created standard of “quality.” Ultimately, our confidence can only grow from having our identity firmly rooted in Christ not in what role we play in our family, church, workplace or community. Our value to God isn’t based in our efforts. We’re saved by our faith alone. If you struggle with feeling like you don’t measure up or worry about what others think of you, remember that perceptions can be far from reality.
Remember God is Just
ACTS 17:31 | 1 JOHN 1:9 | PSALM 58:10-11
God’s word speaks loudly about His promise of justice. Ask God to reassure you by showing you meaning and purpose in your challenges as well as your future hope. If someone is really struggling in this area, a good devotional on biblical justice or the sovereignty of God is likely to be very encouraging.
Take A Step in Faith
PROVERBS 3:5-6 | 1 CORINTHIANS 2:5 | 2 CORINTHIANS 5:7 | EPHESIANS 2:10
Do you want to see your encouragement to grow, enthusiasm about life to be restored in your family or faith to blossom in someone you love? Start with one simple response to a sense of godly prompting.
Pray together asking God to show you one way He wants you to take action, then walk it out as a family. Few things create as much excitement as seeing God reveal his presence, power and goodness in response to our faith and obedience. Our circumstances are complicated and when we look too far ahead, we get overwhelmed.
Our special needs families will find encouragement in taking one step at a time while holding plans loosely and anticipating the surprises of God’s love.
EXODUS 14:14 | EPHESIANS 3:20-21
Oh, how often morale in our family wanes because we are plain bone tired and simply don’t listen to our body. I think special needs families can run on fumes so often they start to forget how exhausted they are. Overwhelm starts to feel normal.
We underestimate the transformative effects of a power nap or a shower. Or we resist resting because we’re afraid that once we stop, we’ll never be able to go again. We see complex needs and circumstances in front of us and assume full responsibility for fixing problems, finding cures, optimizing developmental potential and finding comfort for pain while also doing all the same things the neighbors do like maintaining the house and cars.
May I suggest, quit trying harder and just draw nearer to God. Give yourself a “time out” with Jesus. It sounds simplistic and super spiritual. But what if God really does love your family even more than you do? What if he really is sovereign and trustworthy? What if “taking a Sabbath rest” was really an option? Maybe it won’t be a whole day or look like the kind of rest your neighbor gets, but your family needs to cooperate with each other to get some breaks.
Take some deep breaths. It could literally help to go blow bubbles with the kids. Assign some things to a routine (e.g., Taco Tuesday, Friday Pizza night, Saturday take-out). Set a schedule so rest can be anticipated. Burdens are eased by knowing when a break is coming, even if it’s a short one or a couple of weeks away. Collaborate about decisions as much as possible.
You’ll probably have to ask for help more often. Open up your “closed system.” It is quite possible that step of faith God is whispering to you is, “ask for help, My child.” You don’t need to feel guilty about teaching siblings ways of helping either. Teamwork is not just about disability but about being part of a family. Don’t abuse anyone but learn to cooperate and complement each other. Don’t rob God of opportunity to create blessing through your community.
Do you hear in all of this an invitation to experience freedom?
I sure hope so!
The process of learning about each other and how to love each other better is the grand adventure of life, after all. Be patient with yourselves and enjoy the freedom you have to make new discoveries. No one needs to make comparisons or shame themselves for not being “that parent” who does all the fanciest, funnest things either. When it comes to building morale, a little goes a long way — and it goes a long way fast — when we hit the root needs in a targeted way.
These are powerful tools you can give your children, friends. As parents cooperate in marriage and learn to lead their dynamic family in ways that celebrate individuality, they model healthy and godly relationships. This is the essence of self-care that simultaneously complements how we care for others. Our children will thrive in future life and relationships when they learn this kind of self-care and servant-hearted relationship with others.
LISA JAMIESON is a pastoral counsellor, certified Christian temperament therapist and caregiver coach. She is co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a special needs family advocate. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Her books and Bible studies include “Finding Glory in the Thorns” and the picture book “Jesus, Let’s Talk.”