Parenting experts have been known to quip the phrase “pick your battles.” In my experience as a special needs parent, however, the problem isn’t just about which battles to fight, but knowing when it’s okay to lose.
Long ago I surrendered the battle with my autistic sons over a healthy diet in favor of settling for almost anything that would keep my picky, OCD eaters alive and breathing. Fresh foods, organic goodness, dairy-free, red dye 40-free, sugar-free, gluten-free—you name it, we tried it, but to no avail. We flew the white flag.
Fast forward 20 years to my son’s adult purchasing power, and I’m ashamed to say if the adage “you are what you eat” holds true, my boys today are an amalgamation of Pringles, cheese pizza, Twinkies and anything with an ingredient list only a chemist can pronounce. In short, we may have won the battle to keep them alive but we seem to have lost the war to keep them healthy.
On the other hand, we have succeeded beyond our wildest dreams to teach our boys to be kind to others and polite—behaviors that can be very difficult for those on the spectrum whose tell-it-like-it-is frankness or emotional rigidity can make for some pretty uncomfortable situations. They have kind and generous hearts. And God has equipped them with certain gifts and abilities of mind, body and character to be a blessing to us and to others.
But when developmental delays and disorders make so many behaviors and practices worthy of parental trench warfare, it can often feel like too little too late. There can be such glaring gaps and deficiencies in areas others take for granted, making it seem as if we are doing little, if anything at all, to help our children grow into the men and women God intended. We can worry about their lack of executive function, depression, self-harm and fill our minds with the horrors of “what if we fail” scenarios. We can lose sight of the victories, among all the battles lost, and lose heart.
Jesus certainly must have known what it was like to experience the extremes of parenting success and failure with disciples who could swell his heart with pride one minute as they cured the blind, and then filled him with dismay the next as they argued like school girls over who would get the best seat at the table. One step forward, two steps back—the too-familiar pattern in autism’s dance of maturity.
My oldest is in the middle of that dance these days working at a new job he already wants to quit in spite of all its benefits to his personal growth. It’s been a daily battle of wondering will he go? Will he stay home? Will he get fired? Will he learn responsibility? Feasts and famine. Wins and losses. Twinkies and veggies. How do we keep from losing hope?
Last night Paul’s words resonated with me, a parent too-often in distress. “I have learned to be content with whatever I have…I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ who give me strength.” (Phil 4:12,13)
Paul understood a key truth I struggle almost daily to grasp: no matter what parenting battles are won or lost, I can be content—I can even have peace–if I will draw strength from Christ’s ability to redeem and work all things together for the good of those who love him. He must be my source of hope and strength. Not the battles won or lost in the life journey ahead.
In the end, maybe the best parenting isn’t as much about picking the right battles (although that certainly helps), as much as trusting the One who daily battles for us.
–Kelli Ra Anderson, freelance writer and author of Divine Duct Tape (and coming soon, Life on the Spectrum)
Latest posts by Kelli Ra Anderson (see all)
- Calming our Anxiety in Special Needs Parenting - August 24, 2015
- Victory in the Seeming Loss of Special Needs Advocacy - June 22, 2015
- Retreating in God’s Hands: respite for the special needs parent - May 25, 2015