I am the mother of a mentally handicapped child, but that is not the sum total of who I am! His name is Andrew, and he is 14 years old. In addition to being Andrew’s mom, I am the wife to my husband (Giff) of almost 20 years, and I am also affectionately called “Mom” by three other boys (Zachary, Matthew and Logan).
Along with being considered mentally handicapped, Andrew has autism, cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder, etc. How this all plays out for Andrew is this means he learns a lot slower than kids his age (if at all), and he has some behavioral challenges as well.
And we struggle.
Yet, there is always the promise of a new day as we are greeted with a brand-new, never-before-experienced sunrise. Andrew is impulsive and aggressive at times and has difficulty accepting being told “no.” He also struggles with unexpected changes in plans, very rigid in his thinking.
Some days are worse than others! He has outgrown a lot of his behaviors, but he still struggles at times. Andrew is so much more than the list of acronymns used in describing his disabilities.
I have to remember that in a few short years, all my boys will leave, and there will once again be only two place settings at our table. With wanting to give Andrew the best possible chance at succeeding in life, imagine my conflicting emotions when I read of yet another class we could attend that promises to help us help Andrew learn to control his impulsive behavior … or a seminar on how to teach him self-control … or a symposium on legislative issues for disabled children. The list of opportunities for the disabled has grown tremendously over the last few decades. People with disabilities are given more opportunities now than they ever have been. I don’t want to shortchange Andrew in any way, but I have to recognize my limits.
Is my role as Andrew’s mom/caregiver to run here and there seizing EVERY possible opportunity that presents itself with the hopes of improving his life? Yes…and no! Yes, I am to do all I can to help him succeed, but I don’t believe God wants me to do this at the expense of my marriage or my relationship with my other children. Life has a way of taking over if we don’t slow down to make conscious choices about how we want to live. This is especially true for parents of special needs children. We must be diligent in living intentionally! We have been given a gift in our son, but it takes time to open that gift. My goal as the recipient of this gift is neither to CHANGE Andrew nor to make him “NORMAL!” My goal is to create a life for him in which he can be a generous, caring, compassionate individual who will succeed in this world; however, the definition of success is a deeply personal one between someone and their Creator. Success to us sometimes means forgoing that class on how to get Andrew to read, making some popcorn and watching a movie with the family instead. The seminars, classes and symposiums cannot unwrap the gift of Andrew like we can as his family. Sometimes I wonder if we run around attending this class or gaining access to that service in order to change the reality of having a disabled child. That’s a question I couldn’t answer easily. I needed to really think about that one.
Andrew will hopefully learn how to hear “no” more often. He will eventually learn to control his temper. But he may never be toilet trained. Andrew will hopefully learn enough life skills to live successfully in a group home and potentially earn a living by working a job, but he will never go to college.
It’s been difficult accepting our reality as less than perfect or ideal. Our family will never be “perfect” or “ideal.” And if we spend all of our energies trying to manipulate the best possible outcome, we leave no room for God to work. In the sight of God Who created our family, we are …