A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with a friend. She asked me, “What, for you, is the most challenging part of having a large family with many children who have special needs?”
As a mom to two “typical” children, she was expecting me, I guess, to answer with something like “the never-ending doctors’ appointments.” Or “struggling with compromised immune systems through the long winter months.” Or perhaps “having five non-verbal children and not always knowing what their needs are.” Or maybe even “finding a balance in our family and ensuring that our teenagers have a normal teenage life with friends, sports, and activities while at the same time juggling all of the needs that come with having children who are 100% dependent on us for all of their needs.”
As a mother who has journeyed this road called Special Needs for a good few years now, I suppose that all of those things are part and parcel of having a family like mine—one where we are constantly juggling schedules and a whole lot of crazy life. It can be a lot sometimes. And yes, they are all things that we, at one time or another, have worked through as a family.
But honestly? Those are not the things that I would personally say are the most challenging aspects of raising a large family with many who have special needs.
So often I have seen that something happens when God begins to grow families—whether it be by birth alone, through the blessing of adopting healthy children, or like us, for those who have a blend of children by birth and treasures who have come to us from faraway lands with a multitude of special needs. Mine is a challenge that I’m positive I’m not alone in experiencing.
Anthony and I have always loved people. We love hanging out with friends and over the years have been blessed and truly honored to have a large network of people who we love and who love us back. As we have moved and travelled all over the world, we have been blessed with kindred hearts which we know will always be so near and dear to us. Most of those people now live in different states or on different continents as the Lord has positioned His people in different places. It’s life. We know that. I am so ridiculously thankful that I will always have those people in my life—no matter what.
But then there’s the day-to-day living right where we are. As our family grew, I noticed a shift happening. Having five children seemed like a lot to people, but still doable, I guess. Many times we were invited out to visit people in their homes, BBQ with them over the weekends, or join in as other families enjoyed a game of bowling or whatever.
Then Hailee and Harper got added to us in 2010 and I noticed that the times that we were invited to join people in their homes and at their gatherings became far less frequent. By the time we grew from seven to nine children—including walkers, a wheelchair, G-tubes, special food, etc.—it felt like getting invited to a social event had become a very rare treat—one where we went out of our way to make sure the inviting couple knew what they were getting themselves into before we arrived en masse because the last thing we wanted was to be a burden.
I have thought about it so much since that conversation a few weeks ago. I have recalled the many, many conversations I have had with other adoptive moms over the years.
The absolute loneliness of raising a large or special-needs family.
It is, by far, the greatest struggle of my heart. I can deal with all the medical stuff. Raising non-verbal children is really no big deal for me and I consider it an honor and a privilege to be their mom. I love each and every moment that I have with the children with whom God has blessed me. I’ll juggle schedules until late at night, no problem.
But when a child discovers that our clan hasn’t been invited to a gathering simply because of our family size, ouch! It hurts. We try to deal with it because we understand that it’s just the way it goes and this is the life we have chosen. God never said it would be easy and we try to embrace the difficult times with grace. But my heart breaks for children who struggle to understand why. I ache because I know how much it hurts them—even though they would never, ever say anything. It breaks my heart that, sadly, even in church circles, people are so reluctant to include families who may look different (and crowd their living rooms a little more), but who are also longing for community, for fellowship.
I know we’re not alone. I know that others walk the same road.
Photo credit: Google
It’s the reason why so many families raising children with special needs don’t even attend church. It’s easier to stay home.
It’s the reason why mothers turn to social media to reach out to like-minded people just to know that they’re not walking alone. Just to know that they are loved, accepted and supported—even from afar.
It’s the reason why our closest friends often become those we may never even have met in real life—but who get it.
It’s the reason why families feel so isolated and alone.
It’s the reason why an increasing number of large or special-needs families choose to do house church—a much easier and less intimidating option.
It could even be part of the reason why so many parents raising special-needs children end up fighting for their marriages—a lack of support, inclusion, and people who genuinely care eventually takes its toll. Caregiver burnout is a very real and painful road, and many find themselves in that place of feeling utterly worn out.
It’s a very, very lonely place.
It shouldn’t be this way, of course. But it’s more common than we talk about. Our churches should be full of families like ours who bring every single one of their children to every single service or gathering when it’s appropriate. There should be hands to help and an unconditional love, support and acceptance. There should be babysitters and family support lined up offering parents date nights—much-needed time to reconnect. Sadly though, it’s hard to find the willing few who will learn how to care for children like ours.
Our churches should be a healing, welcoming sanctuary for parents who are sacrificing so much to raise children who often have behavioral issues, health needs, and many other challenges. Weary parents should have a place where they know they can find rest. How amazing would it be if every Bible-believing church had a ministry specifically to those who are called to parent children who struggle more than others? We actually attended one such church a few years ago when we lived in Virginia. It was a gift from heaven!
People tell us all the time, “I have no idea how you do what you do. I could never do it.” Oh, we understand. With all of our hearts, we do. We used to be there at one time, and that’s perfectly okay. God never said He would call us all to do the same thing. No, He calls us uniquely. But if anyone has a heart to serve, to love and to care, there are so many ways that you can be a blessing to a family in your own community.
Find a family who could desperately use a helping hand and offer to help with cleaning, yard work or grocery shopping.
Reach out to a precious single mom raising her children alone and experiencing the same kind of loneliness so many of us do and invite her and her children over.
Offer a date night to parents who have their hands full and cannot afford to pay for a babysitter.
Or simply, include a large family the next time you have a BBQ.
I can tell you, it will mean the absolute world to them. More than you could ever know.
Thank you to all of you who understand that this call to love and serve is James 1:27 in action. “Caring for the widow and the orphan” looks so very different to each one of us, but when we step out and obediently do what God has put on our hearts to do, every part of the body works together and it’s a beautiful thing.
I am so very thankful for those who have come alongside my family, embraced us with so much love and unconditional support and allowed us to invade their homes with everything that comes with having us over. They’re the few who raise the breakables a little higher without saying a word and remember that we have different dietary needs. They’re the ones who laugh when there’s a spilled drink, don’t fuss when something is knocked over, and just love us for who we are. They’re the friends who I know would drop everything if there was ever a need and choose to get to know each and every one of our treasures simply because they care.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you!
Everyone needs community.