Simple Ways to Support Special Needs Caregivers

Anger, guilt, anxiety, depression, stress and exhaustion. Pick a word – special needs caregivers experience it. Not seasonally nor occasionally but daily.  I do with 8 kids; one, my 15 year old son Lucas who has profound special needs which include limited mobility, speech, and incontinence. I’m not sure I know how to relax anymore or even dare try to because the second I sit down and finally exhale there will be another task beckoning – probably immediately – and I’ve discovered that it’s more difficult to rebound out of relaxation mode than to simply continue, head down, in stressed out mode.

We could all use a helping hand – a friend or a stranger who gives us a tiny boost of encouragement when we need it the most. Consider the caregivers in your life and then offer to help in a tangible way. Perhaps one of the following simple suggestions might lift their burden a bit.

1. We are lonely and as we crawl deeper into our loneliness we often struggle with anxiety and depression. Many times we are excluded from gatherings because of the special needs factor or we decline an invitation because the excursion will be difficult in our unique circumstances. We know it will be overwhelmingly exhausting if we show up so we save our limited supplies of energy for our families, but we do long for community. If we invite you over, please come! And please offer to bring something. We are desperate for human companionship and really want to make friends but excuse our initial awkwardness. For most of us it’s probably been awhile since we’ve had the opportunity to use our social skills.

2. Offer to watch our kids for a few hours so we can take a break -even the scary kid. Sorry, bad joke but I get it! Luke would be intimidating if I didn’t know him. Ask questions. A lot of these kids have really simple familiar routines, and if you stick to the routine, they’re content.

3. Sit with us and let us vent. Don’t try to fix our problems or understand or pray it away. Just listen and empathize – which is not offering solutions but looks more like “I’m so sorry, how can I help?”

4. Exhaustion is part of life as a caregiver. All the little extras that people do are greatly appreciated because we we are being seen. We feel invisible the majority of the time. Stop by with pizza or dinner or gather a crew from church to clean our house or accomplish yard work. We will be so grateful.

5. If we have other kids, and most of us do, we LOVE for them to enjoy all the fun normal activities such as: football games, sleepovers, birthday parties, dodge ball games at church, bowling, and the list could go on and on. We want these activities for our kids, but it’s often difficult to get our typical kids to and fro with our special needs situation. It takes a lot of extra work to bring Luke anywhere and with his sensory issues most of these fun options are not practical. We are okay(ish) with staying home with our child, but we don’t want our other kids to constantly miss out. Please offer to take them and bring them home if possible. This is a huge help in our life and leaves us feeling a little less guilty.

6. Encourage your church or any tribe you belong to in the community to step in and support these families. A few examples include: a week long summer respite camp, a special day of VBS, a monthly break to serve the community, or a love offering to purchase a family some needed equipment for their child. The possibilities are endless.

7. Finally, if you’re going to offer to pray (or bless my heart in the South) please offer to DO. Prayers have little value if not followed up with something tangible.

That’s it.  I hope these suggestions helped a little bit.  Knowledge is power and when we know we do better.

Just keep livin!

Gathering

The past couple of months there has been a lack of peace in my home, and I often thought, this mothering gig really isn’t my thing anymore. 4 teenagers, one with profound special needs, a pre teen, a 10 year old, a 9 year old, and a four year old who has no lack of confidence. It was a lot. Between health and job and hormonal issues which led to emotional issues and arguing and backtalk and snarkiness and bad attitudes and the older kids teaching the younger kids things they had no business knowing; the whole thing was a big honkin cup that overfloweth… or perhaps, it was more like a kitchen sink or the bathtub spilling over & it was causing significant damage. And we – the parents – should have immediately steered the ship back on course, but instead we bickered & bitched & complained as we held on for dear life to the raft boat the kids threw us when they made us walk the plank.

This sudden change in the family dynamic was attributed to a few circumstances: one, everyone was getting older and hormonal and becoming more opinionated & two, our move to an urban community where the kids had opportunities for activities, sleepovers, and jobs and the focus slowly shifted from the family unit – a strong unit we had in rural America where we relied heavily on each other because it was all we had – to individualized focus “You take care of you, and I’ll take care of me” & as long as the older crew took ownership of themselves: jobs, food, school, homework, play – we didn’t question much. We reasoned it was simply a stressful time in our life and “this too shall pass” and then…

Then, a few weeks ago, I said to my husband “I really miss family dinners.” You see, with the introduction of jobs and late nights and neighborhood kids to play with and everyone fending for themselves, and in turn each individual grabbing a bite to eat here and there, dinner time as a family had become almost obsolete – the rare exception in our family since our conception in 2011. For 8 years, we have religiously sat down at the dinner table and enjoyed a meal together – religiously until the move this past December. When Ryan and I married, we knew this tradition would provide a foundation to our success as a blended family – the art of gathering around a table for a home cooked meal and offering a blessing for not only the food we were about to eat but also for his faithfulness through our lives. We knew that the table would provide the foundation for community and connectedness in our newly blended home and the absence of the table would only leave a void and disconnect.

We recently reincorporated family dinner night. It looks a little different than it did in rural America, and we eat later – around 6 now because of play time with the neighborhood kids. We’ve made it a requirement for any child who is home that evening, and my oh my, what a difference we’ve seen already. Attitudes have changed and lightened as we laugh around the table partaking in fresh pasta and warm bread. I like my kids again & I think they might like me too as the focus has shifted, and we get to know each other on a heart level – on a real level- rather than just co-existing.

There is so much chatter in the world today about how lonely we all are, how depressed and isolated and longing for community, and this is not only true for ourselves as adults, but it’s desperately true for our kids. Our homes need to be safe places of respect & connections and what better way to foster these desperately needed essentials than around a table? What better way to encourage conversations? And what better way to show love than to invest our time, our most precious commodity, in them? Give it a try. You won’t regret it ❤

Just keep livin.

Mom! Don’t Bring Luke!

A few weeks ago, on a particularly warm summer day, Ryan and I announced to our crew –

Kids! You’ve been so helpful lately and did your chores without complaining so we’re going to have a family fun day at a water park!

Kids responded with glee and excitement and Yays! all around and asked –

Who’s going to watch Luke?

We’re going to bring him, we replied.

He’ll enjoy getting out of the house. 

Mom!!!!! NO!!!! bellowed the sounds of despair. We’ll have to leave early if Luke comes!

This is a constant dilemma we face.

We brought him.
He did make it very difficult and tiring.

We did have to leave early because Ryan and I were absolutely beat after a few hours of fun.

We arrived around 11:00 a.m. because this particular event had free food (major bonus with our crew!). We loaded all eight plates full of grub, and then Ryan retreated to the furthest corner of the park, in the shade, to feed Luke so that the stimulation of all of the people didn’t overwhelm either of them and so he wouldn’t try to grab the food off others plates (Luke not Ryan). I picked a table near the food because I knew my tribe was going to take full advantage of the free factor.

Mya took charge of Annabelle as she skitted about, and the rest were free to roam independently. Ryan and I took 20 minute intervals engaging with Luke. A word here – Luke is no longer content to sit. EVER. He has declared a mutiny on his stroller and wants nothing to do with it, but he needs constant supervision and assistance for his and others safety. We took turns introducing him to the parks plethora of activities – 5 slides, numerous water features, an accessible swing, acres of land to explore, lots and lots of hot dogs because he wouldn’t eat the chips or watermelon or popsicles.

About 3 hours later Ryan and I looked at each other and we knew – we were done. Physically, mentally and emotionally, and we also knew our kids wouldn’t be happy about it.

Let’s give them the 30 minute warning

My wise husband suggested.

We did.

The moans of disappointed began –

Luke always makes us leave early! Why can’t we find a babysitter for him? Why can’t you and dad drive separately? (Which maybe we should have but the park was about 45 minutes from our house)

WHY DO WE HAVE TO BRING LUKE? They wailed

And we responded, frustrated as well and exhausted, questioning the excuse we offered-

Because he’s part of our family, and we need to include him occasionally. 

We currently do not have a solution for this problem.

It is what it is.

We do feel the need to include Luke – even at the expense of his siblings happiness, but we understand their frustration as well.

This post is simply to bring awareness; the little things that special needs families struggle with such as decisions that sometimes cause pain for other family members. I do believe that our children will be better human beings in the long run for having Luke in their life as they have patience, flexibility, and independence that other kids may lack. They have also learned compassion and acceptance towards those who might not be just like them – those who might cause a bit of a disruption to their happiness – those like Luke.

 

Just keep livin.

Dock the Boat

Grief shows up in the strangest ways.

Sometimes it’s eating a whole bag of Cheetos – in one afternoon.
Or maybe it’s instigating a huge argument with your spouse over whose turn it is to bathe the kids.
It might be popping a few Advil because your head won’t stop pounding
Or maybe it’s crawling into bed at 8:00 p.m.
and not getting out again until noon the next day.
Sometimes it’s serving cereal for dinner
Seven nights in a row
Or having that extra cocktail
Even though you have to work in the morning.
Sometimes it’s organizing your whole entire house
All of the closets and cupboards
And making 10 trips to Goodwill
Just to avoid thinking.
Sometimes it’s actually sitting down
And turning on a song
That you know will ignite the waterworks
And soaking in the pain
Rather than tapping your feet to the joyful beat.

Grief is a strange & unpredictable force – like a river that rages at times and calmly flows at other times.

It’s a part of us, the river, part of the experience necessary for life – as is the boat we cling to as the water bends us to its will; the boat that provides safety or is it, perhaps, captivity?

We could choose to row towards land; exit the boat & sink our weary feet into the mossy ground. Maybe even build a home – create a life with someone we love. A life beside the waters with the boat docked at shore; remembering our time on the river and grateful that the boat no longer serves as a life preserver or a prison. We might learn to dance again; slowly allowing our feet to reclaim their joy, a dance beside the cool, calm stream; a dance of remembrance and thankfulness as the river continues to ebb and flow.

There is a time for everything
A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance.

Just keep livin.