The Gift of our Children

December is a time of year when gifts are very much on our minds. The holidays involve a great deal of gift giving. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the consumerism that tries to overtake this special time of year. Advertisers blare messages to attract us to their sales, the kids write cute little wish-lists (often too many and too long), family pressures over out-of-control gift exchanges start to fray our nerves.
Unfortunately, as we get caught up in gift-giving, we sometimes forget to savor some of the most special gifts in our lives—our children.

We worry instead about finding them the perfect present, the one they can still manipulate with their challenged motor skills, the one that will be age appropriate without being cognitively taxing, the one that will sneak in some therapeutic practice (how guilty I am of this last one!!!).
Our children, every one of them, are precious gifts. Whether or not they face disability, each of our kids is a great gift to us. This is a good season to step back and appreciate the gift of our children.
Appreciate their strengths
·        What positive character traits do we admire in our children?
My daughter with Rett syndrome is, without question, the most forgiving person I know. I mess up often: misunderstanding what she is trying to communicate to me, forgetting to take care of her needs in my own busy-ness, moving too quickly when she needs a slower pace…the list is embarrassingly long. I’m sure it includes things I don’t even realize I should ask her forgiveness about. But when I do—and even when I don’t—she extends grace to me. Instead of holding a grudge, she wraps her arm over mine and nestles her head on my shoulder. I may feel like an absolute schmuck over something I’ve done (or failed to do), but she sees me through the eyes of forgiveness. I hope I can grow up to be just like her.
What qualities do you admire in your child? Is she persistent in working…and working…and working to learn an elusive new skill? Is she brave in the face of terrifying or painful treatments? Does he demonstrate ingenuity in working around an obstacle and create his own method for success?
·        What skills can we be thankful our children possess? They don’t have to be big ones! Anything that makes their lives or ours easier is something worth prizing.
When I start to feel discouraged about the skills my daughter has lost over the years, it helps me think about all the things she can do for herself. Do you know how grateful I am that my daughter can breathe on her own? It may sound trite. But ask any parent whose child needs assistance breathing what such a skill would be worth and they probably could not name a price high enough. I feel the same gratitude for my daughter’s ability to control her bowels. She cooperates to have her teeth brushed, sleeps through the night, rolls to reposition herself as she sleeps…these are tremendous skills to celebrate!
How about your child? What skills make her life a bit more independent? How do these skills make your caregiving easier? Instead of falling into a trap of self-pity over how hard life is, imagine how much harder things might be if your child couldn’t do these skills. It’s a quick way to cultivate appreciation for what your child has!
Appreciate their accomplishments
·        Take notice! What does your child do this year that he couldn’t last year? For some kids, the list might actually be quite long. For others, perhaps those who have suffered a challenging year of health issues, holding ground in some area may be a tremendous accomplishment worth noting.
My daughter has been working very hard all year to learn to walk up and down stairs. Mind you, it’s still very tentative. More than five steps would be too many yet. There are days of tight tone when it isn’t safe to even attempt the stairs.  She requires more than a “full assist” with her body, but she is learning how to judge the distance of the steps and lift her feet! She’s even beginning to bend her knee to come down the stairs…a huge challenge for her…but it’s coming!
·        Acknowledge the hard work to gain that skill. Remember all the time and effort your child gave to accomplish this new thing. Sometimes what comes naturally for the rest of us requires a mountain of effort for someone with a disability that interferes with that skill. Tell your child how proud you are of his hard work to learn this new skill.

·        Celebrate every time you see it! You don’t have to gush out praise each time you see your child doing this new accomplishment (she might think you’ve gone ‘round the twist!). But internally you can enjoy and savor that moment every time you see that skill in action.
Appreciate the good things that have come into our lives as a direct result of our child’s disabilities
·        What new friends have you made? Have you bonded with other parents in similar situations? Are there special new friends living near you who share common challenges? The Internet has opened a world of connections to other families of kids like yours and mine, even if the disorders are rare and otherwise isolating. We can connect at odd hours and across oceans. Do you enjoy a sense of connection this way?

·        Have you received unexpected support from the community, from family, from old friends? Have there been some surprise kindnesses that came your way this year? I have been blessed by watching acceptance grow in some members of my extended family. What had been painful distance and hesitancy early in my daughter’s diagnosis has matured into genuine caring and moving closer.

·        What new skills have you acquired in dealing with your child’s issues? Are you a better negotiator? More technologically savvy? Have you learned to sew neoprene or work with PVC pipe? Can you swap out a g-tube in the middle of the night with just a nightlight? Can you swim through  the muddle of special ed and medical acronyms without drowning? What have you learned to do that you never imagined you’d be so good at? If you aren’t sure, think about the areas where other parents ask for your help. Chances are they see you as having strong skills in that area.

·        What positive character traits have you developed as a direct result of your child’s disability? I’ve always admired people with courage. My nature is terribly mousey, fearful to speak up or disagree. But I’m learning courage. In supporting my daughter, I’ve had to become brave to move outside my comfort zone. I’ve had to defend her at times and fight for what is right. Learning to be courageous for her sake has branched out to other areas of my life where I’ve previously felt afraid.
How about you? Do you have greater patience as a result of your child’s disabilities? Has your motivation and initiative increased? Are you more reliable now than once upon a time? Have you developed greater tact and finesse?

For today, wrapping packages can wait at our house. Two very special “gifts” are home for Christmas break, and today is mine to enjoy them. I can think of no better way to spend our day than snuggled on the couch with a great book and hot cocoa, appreciating our time together.
Enjoy your gifts this season!


1 comment:

Douglas said...

Christmas is special for the best gift we will ever have; our children from a loving Lord. Beautifully written, Rose-Marie!