Since I was a little girl, I had a fierce desire to become a mother. I could not necessarily articulate the reasons why I had this burning aspiration within me, but it was relentlessly rooted. I can even recall my classmates laughing at me in second grade when I gave my simple answer to the teacher’s what we wanted to be when we grew up inquiry, “I just want to get married some day and be a mother.”
Facing multiple miscarriages and infertility treatment decades ago, I wondered if that deep longing would ever be fulfilled. We began the steps to build our family through adoption, and I recall all of the detailed questions about what sort of child we were willing to welcome into our home. Raising a child with special needs was not something I ever envisioned myself voluntarily inviting upon myself.
Yet, here I am three children, two decades, and multiple diagnoses later. Chronic illness and special needs have transformed me in profound ways. They have changed me for the better and given me the type of wealth I can take to eternity. While being the mother of complex kids is never something I would have signed up for of my own accord, here is what I would have missed had God not allowed this different journey in my life:
- I no longer sweat the small stuff. — Yes, I used to be one of those perfectionist moms whose toddler had a better wardrobe than she did. My house was immaculate. We had an upper-middle class lifestyle. I did all the suburban, perfectionist mommy play dates and community programs. I entertained flawlessly. Since our son’s hemophilia diagnosis at birth turned our lives on their heads, I have learned that people come to visit with me, not my perfect suburban house. “Good enough is good enough,” has replaced my previously obsessive tendencies. And while our finances seem to be dedicated to supporting the medical community, I no longer find myself spinning my wheels over life’s minutiae.
- I am far more flexible and adaptable. — It takes perhaps two steps into this alternate parenthood journey to discover YOU are not in control. My son’s worst bleeding episodes would occur for no apparent reason or when I was standing right next to him. We would have to shift our schedule on a dime for an emergency room visit. My youngest daughter’s allergic reactions, ADHD energy, or Aspie behaviors made using the bathroom on my own a dangerous risk. If I hadn’t learned to go with the flow a bit more, I never would have kept my sanity while raising her. Getting creative with time management and social pivoting has made me skilled in the art of change. I’ve shown rigidity the door as it only seems to serve as a stumbling block in a family life that requires perpetual fluidity.
- I am far less judgmental of other parents. — Oh, how we mommies like to clandestinely hold up our score cards critiquing others who share our same role! My uncharitable spirit could once analyze and mercilessly assess where another parent was going wrong and how they could improve. There used to be this little unspoken competition secretly simmering between all the mothers in our play group or circle of friends. Special needs and chronic illness ripped me right out of that league. My neighbors eviscerated me as the “bad mom” for having a toddler who had more escape tricks than Houdini, suddenly revealing that some behaviors had very little to do with our skills as parents and much more to do with an executive functioning defect. I now assume that I don’t know what is going on behind a family’s personal circumstances and that the parent I am witnessing in any given situation is just trying to do the best job they can.
- I have far more compassion for everyone. — I have written in the past about my unease at the first disability ministry conference we attended 14 years ago. My brain kept crying out, “We’re not one of THESE!” By the end of the two-day event, God had deeply transformed me, showing me clearly that He is close to the brokenhearted, (see Psalm 34:18) and if I want to be close to Him, I would be spending my time very close to those with disabilities. No, disability, disease, and dysfunction are not always heartbreaking or devastating. Still, there are many difficult, sorrowful parts. Parenting children through these things has made me compassionate not only to those like us, but also to those pushing through ANY sort of trials in life.
- I laugh more. — If I didn’t laugh, all I would do is cry! And I choose to laugh. Life is hard and circumstances can overwhelm us. I teach in one of my most popular talks, “The Healing Power of Humor,” that if you can laugh at something, you shrink its power over you. While I know I freak many people out with my gallows humor and inappropriate comments about being able to see my house from outer space if you sprayed it with Luminol, it has been a great coping mechanism for me on this journey. Laughter has also helped me to find joy in some of the most difficult parts of life’s journey. What a gift!
- I am an intelligent advocate. — Although it is a life skill I never sought out on my own, I have capabilities I never would have imagined possible. I can critically weigh treatment decisions for my children and have the ability to defend those decisions to the medical professionals on their various teams. I have no problem leaving a doctor I think is doing a poor job for another who I believe will do a better job. I can also advocate for my children in the educational setting, knowing where to get answers about their rights and set clear boundaries on what I expect from our schools. I have even learned to advocate legislatively for my family when it comes to their health concerns. I am comfortable talking to my local lawmakers, in the state house, and on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. It is amazing to see how the Lord can empower a committed parent!
- I know without a shadow of a doubt that God IS faithful. — In the early years, I did battle with my faith. When we go through tough times, I still do. Nevertheless, I could not have come this far without the help of a Good and Faithful Father. In my weakness, He is solid and strong. In my times of deepest need, He always provides. Through peoples’ simple acts of kindness, He whispers that He is there. I could never, ever have this grateful confidence had my faith not been tested over and over again throughout the years.
Just these 7 little things have broken me free from the mediocre mother I could have been. Because I have been shaped through the complexity of my kids and their medical and emotional challenges, I can pour into them the lessons I have learned. He has equipped me in powerful ways to mold the character of my kids, helping them to become lights in a dark, hopeless world.
By my standards, that makes me one of the richest women in the entire world. I would be willing to bet that if you took time to think about it, He has made you pretty wealthy in some of these as well!