I have two sons who both have several diagnoses, and I found my time and mental space was consumed with their development, their behaviors, how far they were behind their peers, and their never-ending appointments. I was constantly researching, trying new things, going to endless therapy appointments, always pushing toward new goals and milestones, painfully aware of each struggle and diagnosis and weakness.
Over time, God showed me two perspectives that really helped bring peace to my anxious mind and transform my special needs parenting journey, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to share them with you today.
How to stop comparing their appearance or behaviors to other children
One day, overwhelmed by the appointments and piles of laundry and dishes, I begged God for help. His response was different than I expected, but it was pivotal to my special needs parenting journey. He brought to mind the verse in 1 Samuel 16:7: "But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
I was so convicted when God brought that verse to mind. When was the last time I had focused on my child’s heart? I noticed and began to nurture their gifts and passions rather than focusing on their struggles. I became more present with them in the moment, celebrating not just each milestone, but each hard-fought inch in-between. I became more intentional about stewarding them and their gifts, rather than seeking to ‘fix’ them as if they were broken. When I started paying more attention to their hearts, I began to really see how God uniquely crafted each of my children. I became proud of who they were and were growing up to be.
Sure, there were times the comparison and overwhelm would creep back in. Or when a play-date or evaluation or report card would remind me of just how far behind my children were than others. And I’d have to remind myself again to focus on their hearts which are eternal, not the diagnosis which is temporal. To focus on their progress and strengths, not their struggles.
How to Stop Comparing Your Children’s Journey with Others
One spring day, after watching two Facebook videos in a row in which a child significantly younger than my own were able to do things my children were unable to do, I turned off my computer and decided to go for a walk around our neighborhood. I was glad to have an opportunity to process my thoughts and to soak in God’s creation unfurling after a long winter, when I happened upon a white flower growing through a crack in the sidewalk.
At first, I was sad for that flower. There was a beautiful garden about five feet away from this flower, where its friends were growing. And here was this flower, all by itself, growing in such a hard and unlikely place to grow.
But then, my perspective changed and I was suddenly proud of this lone flower. It did exactly what it was created to do: spread its roots and grow and bloom and share its color and beauty with the world, despite its unusual circumstances. It could have withered up and died, but it was blooming.
And as I marvelled at God’s creation, a new thought struck me: My children are not in the garden I expected them to grow in. I always imagined them thriving at play-dates and in school, and instead they struggle in those environments. I expected them to grow among or even ahead of their peers, and yet I watched them fall further and further behind, finally mastering every milestone months or years behind their peers.
When I released those unrealistic expectations I had for my children, I was able to see how they are like that lone flower, growing right where they are planted, persevering and blooming despite their additional challenges.
It made me realize how much we need to embrace the unique way your child is blooming–even if it’s not in the garden you imagined.
I am learning to embrace the unique way my children are blooming: their own rate of development, their personalities, their abilities, their passions, and yes, even their quirks. I see beauty in the perseverance they have, to work so hard to learn something that comes so effortlessly to their peers and to keep showing up, keep blooming, and to keep smiling.
And when I focus on them that way, I see that they are indeed blooming, showing off their unique colors to this world desperate for a little color and joy in it.
And that makes me one proud and blessed mama.
For more encouraging Biblical perspective shifts to help transform your special needs parenting journey, check out the book Embracing This Special Life.
Jenn Soehnlin is a mother of two boys who are precious blessings and who both have special needs. Her heart is to share encouragement and God's truths with moms who are also traveling the special needs parenting journey. She is the author of Embracing This Special Life: Learning to Flourish as a Mother of a Child with Special Needs.
Jenn enjoys blogging about faith, praying scripture, and special needs parenting at www.embracing.life.