With the holiday season quietly beckoning us to be a little kinder and stand a little taller, our hearts are often touched when we see a family struggling with a child with a disability or special-need. As a mom who knows, it's tough! Life during the other eleven months of the year is a complex balance of time, energy and resources, but December is even more multifaceted. The stress, sugary sweets and extra obligations usually cause us to backslide like kids sledding down a snowy slope. During our daughter's difficult decade of extreme autism, a photograph of me on Christmas morning shows a big smile on my face. But my eyes reflect overwhelm, weariness and despair. Eventually, our family built a better support system and we've all survived, thankfully.
Today, with shrinking budgets, may I encourage each of us to set aside silly holiday obligations, and search for simple gestures that are free (or very economical) that also teach our children meaningful ways to experience the true spirit of this glorious season. It starts by simply reaching your hand towards another hand.
(I encourage families that do have children with disabilities to be a little more honest about their needs and graciously accept kind offers of help to avoid burn out. Photocopy this simple list; it may be useful when others indicate a desire to lend a hand.)
Shake Hands - Simply reach out and introduce yourself to a neighbor, or acquaintance in church, or at work that has a loved one with special needs. Just offering sincere words of kindness can mean a lot. (Afterwards, remember to say the individual's name whenever conversing.)
Hand in Hand - If you feel like you can't help with the disabled child, there may be other children in the home that could use special attention. Befriend them, and perhaps offer to or take them with your children on an outing to see a movie or play mini golf. You might offer to drive kids in a car pool, when they can't fulfill it due to unexpected needs that arise at home.
Lend a Hand - This family is likely stretched to their limits. You can offer to do something. Simple tasks, such as dropping off some dry cleaning, picking up a gallon of milk, or shovel the snow off their walks really makes an impact.
Pretty Hands - These dedicated mothers work hard changing soiled sheets, scrubbing blood out, and washing endless dishes. What a special treat to receive a coupon for a manicure. A small hug helps, too!
"High Fives" - Celebrate the seemingly small stuff such as a goal that's finally been met. There may not be a lot of big stuff to celebrate during this journey, so throw a banana-split party for toilet training, etc.
Lift a Finger - Clip out edifying stories or magazine articles that are similar to their challenges and give it to them. Mail an inspirational/funny greeting card. If you've seen a movie that you think would be uplifting, drop it by, or mention it so they can enjoy it, too.
Pen in Hand - With so much to learn about a diagnosis, illness or disorder, it would be great for any parent to have a relative or friend write down notes at a health appointment or training session.
Hold their Hand - These folks have to engage in some pretty nerve wracking meetings with school personnel, doctors and lawyers and could probably use some moral support. You'd be surprised how much it helps to have a caring person drive the vehicle there, take notes, or take them out to lunch.
Point a Finger - Maybe you've seen a need that is way past due, such as no wheelchair ramp into a business or public building. Be an advocate. Politely remind them to adhere to our federal programs.
Hands Clasped Together - Worship services can be a spiritual support, but there are families that can't accommodate their loved ones there. If that time is open for you, perhaps offer to "hang" with a teenager and play video games or watch a movie together while the others attend.
Make a Fist - Some things are worth fighting for, and require us to stand up and speak up. Because these special people are easy targets, "bullying" can be a real problem. Sometimes a mom just can't fight one more battle with the school or a neighbor kid that's a trouble-maker. Be a peacemaker. First, discuss how to handle it. They'll be forever grateful for your efforts. Have a JOYFUL holiday season.
Mom on a Mission