One thing is true about parenting. We don’t know more than we know. Think about it. Johnny is having a hard time because he lost an argument with his brother. Do you …
- check if the rules of good conversation were adhered to, and punish whoever wasn’t a good sport?
- add more coping mechanisms to his in home therapy program
- tell Johnny that’s how life is?
- listen to Johnny and encourage him to tell his brother how he feels about what he said?
- punish Johnny for what he told you he said?
- have a family meeting about the issue?
- Ignore it?
Who knows??? Any one of those options could be true today and then not true tomorrow.
Serve the needs
To help myself through the sea of parenting unknowns, I’ve decided to lean into this idea: As a parent, I’m custodian of my child’s development (‘train up a child…’, Proverbs 22:6) and I do this by serving their needs (that’s how I know the ‘way they should grow’). Now, needs aren’t solely determined by the person with the needs. There are many minutes of the day when I need water, but don’t know I need water because I don’t feel thirsty. We are notoriously unclear about our needs and we are adults. In this matter, we cannot only depend on our kids to show us what they need.
I said solely. It’s very easy to fall prey to listening to what others day our kids need. “11 year olds need…” “ kids with autism need…” Our need for certainty and formulas can cause us to stunt our own intuition of knowing our kids needs by applying a host of child development, social, cultural and other standards to our child rearing process. Don’t get me wrong. These principles are very important, and should be seen as tools in our tool-belt. But at the end of the day, we can’t say ‘tantrum = timeout’ and more than a doctor can say, ‘heart disease = surgery.’
So, if the key to parenting is serving with love, then how do we apply this key? Here are a few principles that I’m applying as I wrestle with the ever-changing landscape in my kids’ lives.
- Your kids are a mystery as complex as the universe. As parents, many of us suffer from the arrogance of believing that we ‘know’ our kids. This arrogance causes us to act on our own assumptions, what others have told us and our own vicariously expressed needs. Ouch! The Maker of our kids is the Eternal One, and He knows what they need. Cultivating your ability to listen to what my grandma called, ‘the little Voice’ is key.
- Don’t parent yourself. Sometimes, the situations that our kids face mirror situations that we’ve been in and their reactions trigger our own, sometimes unfulfilled needs. This is often challenging to spot, so being aware that this may happen is the first step to noticing it. It’s better to not respond, and take time to process, than to step into a pre-written script that wasn’t written for your child.
- Recognize that today’s need may not be yesterday’s. Today, your child may need the affirmation of their voice, while yesterday, they needed a new sensory integration protocol. Tomorrow, they may need to delay gratification while today they need indulgence. We can’t afford to have a one size fits all approach for this. Every moment requires (quick) discernment to see what’s really going on.
- Apologize quickly. You’re human. You will get it wrong. You met one need while another was screaming at you. Don’t panic. Don’t hide. This is an opportunity. Our kids are human too and will have many opportunities to do it ‘wrong’. We challenge them to do hard things, and more often than not, they miss the mark of that hard thing and say the wrong word, pick up the wrong object or fail to regulate an overwhelmed body. Part of what we get to model is humility in the face of our humanness. It’s such a gift to tell our kids that we made a mistake. And that it’s ok. And that courage, determination and humility are more important.
Not equal TreatmentOne more thing. We know that our kids need to be lovingly served, and that means tuning in the needs as they present themselves in the moment. Our kids need to learn this too. They need to learn that their own needs change, and that part of being an adult is parenting themselves. That means their ability to listen to the Maker also needs to be cultivated. Without that, they can’t fully know their own needs. This differentiated approach to parenting our kids should be transparent to them. They must understand that this journey is about equal love, not equal treatment. This, of course does not mean that one child gets treated ‘less than’ another. It’s just that the ‘medicine’ for a particular child in a particular situation will be different from another child and/or another situation. If we don’t make this differentiation clear, kids cry foul, and suspect that we are playing favorites.
The holidays are just around the corner (already???) and these come with explicit social and cultural expectations about how to parent. Some special days require family gatherings with lots of food. And if you have kids with sensory sensitivities or who are socially anxious, what’s the best way to meet their needs while engaging the family gathering? Some kids can get support coping with the event and will participate and engage, while others may need to be supported by being given a quiet space outsidethe event. What about how we handle gift giving celebrations like birthdays and Christmas? I think the same rule applies. Deep insight into the needs can help us know how to celebrate through loving service to our kids. To each specific child, different from the others.
You get to do this!
A gifted tech toy may be a learning aide, a sensory soother, entertainment or a distraction. All these options may meet legitimate needs. And they may not. How will you know? The Maker will tell you. He says, “My sheep hear my voice” (John 10:27) so you can definitely access His insight into the matter. Some insight requires courage to act on, because it may go against social, cultural or even personal norms. But guess what, the righteous are as bold as a lion, and He gave you a spirit of power, love and self-discipline, so you can definitely act on the insight you get. Plus, you have the power to imitate Christ’s humility and value others above yourself (Phil. 2:3). This means you can apologize when you get it wrong.
The greatest gift we can give our kids through our parenting is a model of living connected to the Maker, listening to His voice, hearing and acting on His direction, and acknowledging when we get it wrong. This is our life of loving service to our kids, as a reflection of His love.
Faith helps special needs moms build businesses they LOVE, that make sense in the crazy chaos of special needs parenting life. Click here to get a free download of her book, Parenting Like a Ninja – an autism mom’s guide to professional productivity.