Families affected by special needs are well acquainted with the ebb and flow of discouragement, conflict and fatigue. Quarantine and current events are adding further stress to our family dynamics, including mental and emotional health. Just like our immune systems needs a boost of vitamin C when illness threatens, we need both proactive and responsive help for threats to our family’s morale.
In this series, we’re exploring targeted ways to bring a speedy delivery of fun, energy and hope to your doorstep! Our hope is to show the way to experience an extra strength, extended-release dose of spiritual and practical encouragement.
First off, I just want to acknowledge that families impacted by disability and other special needs can find life intense and rather complicated. Thankfully, there is a richness to life and relationships that comes through the way God has uniquely woven us into our families as well. Still, we encounter many days and situations that feel very heavy. We never know when a crisis may arise and plans are regularly thwarted. Each person in the family has times when their mood darkens. And when they do, one person’s mood can ripple through the entire household.
What are the things that seem to trigger heaviness in your heart or home?
Perhaps you’ll relate to some of these examples:
The repetitive and tedious nature of daily cares (e.g., bowel regimen, housekeeping issues created by disability such as laundry)
Seeing our child self harm
Comparison to others
Feelings of isolation or being invisible
Reminders of lost dreams
Battles for a better IEP or other rights (e.g., health insurance)
Seeing areas where our child is falling behind
Feeling inadequate as a caregiver or parent
Feeling trapped, stuck or hopeless
Disappointment from a sibling who can’t play or demands attention
Resentment of a spouse who gets to go to work and escape
Guilt within a spouse who needs to work and isn’t able to help more at home
Disconnection from spouse, community or others
Pressure to make decisions
Grieving (a diagnosis or lack of diagnosis)
People use various words to describe the dark moods or conflict that creep in on the heels of such triggers.
anger, hurt feelings, defensiveness or hyper-sensitivity, discouragement/hopelessness, anxiety, grief, depression, exhaustion, lack of motivation, loneliness
Families who tend to be resilient within the ups and downs of the household atmosphere are those who are proactive in caring for each other and also responsive to clues that stress is mounting. They learn to be attentive to each other, communicate often and recognize areas of vulnerability to shifting moods. They make an effort to understand each other’s most typical triggers and cooperate with each other in making sure root needs get met — before the valley of the shadow looms large.
It’s a process and no family is going to handle the ebbs and flows perfectly. But we can learn to find a balanced family system that softens the shadows and reduces their frequency.
A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions.
The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.
5 Ways to Keep the Light On
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
What can help keep the Light on within your special needs family?
- Pay Attention to Where Your Identity Rests
If you are someone who loves and follows Jesus, you are a child of God (John 1:12-13). That is who you are first and that is where your identity is anchored. Disability doesn’t define you. The beginning and end of your calling and your empowerment comes from your Creator. You are part of a special needs family but that is secondary to being part of God’s family.
Children who grow up with solid reassurance about where they stand in that broader spiritual family will have their most powerful tool for thriving through their teens and early adulthood. As each person matures, wrestles and lives through ages and seasons of self-discovery, there is delightful freedom in knowing that their core place of “home” rests safely with God. Within that anchoring identity, each person has God’s permission and encouragement to explore their roles, opportunities and contributions in the big wide world. Resist giving disability, complex medical needs or mental health difficulties all the power over the tone of the household or mindset of the family system. You are more — individually and together — than any diagnosis.
- Maintain Safe, Open & Positive Communication
Make your home and family a safe space for ongoing and proactive conversations about what is creating dissatisfaction, restlessness or grief. Resist the spirit of criticism (1 Corinthians 13:1 and Philippians 4:8). Most special needs families also benefit by seeking counseling.
- Give & Receive Forgiveness
Do some regular self-examination. Not a single one of us is perfect (Romans 3:10 & Romans 3:23). Confess weakness, repent of sins and become more aware of God’s unique imprint on your soul. God will help you see yourself realistically and as His masterpiece (Psalm 139:23-24) and he promises to bring a refreshing into your life when you humble yourself and repent (Acts 3:19-20, James 5:16).
- Appreciate that Each and Every Individual is God’s Work of Art
God masterfully designed every person in your family with unique needs, ways of thinking, ways of feeling, ways of relating to others, passions, talents and spiritual gifts (Ephesians 2:10). Prayerfully study your family members to develop understanding, appreciation, compassion and respect for their precious value. Aim to identify ways you can live together that are complementary and show a balanced, servant-hearted regard for each person in the family.
- Rest On the One Constant in Your Chaos—God
God’s character and promises never to change. He remainsthe same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). His nearness, faithfulness, sufficiency and perspective are completely dependable for us.
In Part 2 we’ll be exploring ways to cooperate with each other to meet mutual needs in a balanced and complementary way. We each have our own strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Learning how to be attentive to each person’s needs and honor each other’s uniqueness builds morale in our homes. Read BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE SERIES (Part 2): Developing a Complementary System.
Then in Part 3, we will look at seven practical and biblical ways to get energized and refreshed. Read BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE SERIES (Part 3): Seven Ways to Energize & Refresh Your Special Needs Family.
I 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.
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.”