By author Shari McMinn
Like me, you are probably getting ready to celebrate Thanksgiving this week. My family is gathering in Houston at my oldest daughter’s home. Several of my children and grandchildren will be traveling from different states to fellowship and feast. As is true with any typical family, there will be some moments of conflict that we parents need to navigate. If we can smooth out the rough patches by our own kind example, hopefully all will enjoy the happy memories we can make together. Families with adult children who are special needs might have more than the expected turmoil, so preparing ourselves to deal with it in a gracious, positive manner is important. I have already been praying God will mercifully grant me extra grace, patience, and wisdom.
At this point in my life, my nine living children are all adults. Several are married and thriving in their family and business endeavors. A couple others are navigating life well on their own, having overcome their learning struggles. A couple more are on the brink of being self-supporting but struggle with their “issues” while doing so, and another is not emotionally stable enough to connect with the rest of the family at this time. No matter how old our children get or where they live, we are still needed to help them mature into who God created them to be, especially our children who still struggle with developmental delays.
So that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ. (Ephesians 4:14-15 ESV)
And so Thanksgiving, like all the other major holidays, isn’t just about relaxing and eating until we are stuffed, but about preparing the feast, preparing our hearts, and preparing our children to be participants in the community of Christ with us. The work of a parent never ends and we need to joyfully accept that.
Some of us have children with special needs who will struggle throughout their adulthood. Whether they are cognitively delayed, emotionally traumatized, or physically disabled, as mature Christians we still must guide and love them. It is a struggle. Sometimes daily. The season of their adulthood definitely has its happy moments, but it might also have heartache and seemingly endless work for us. Thankfully, the Lord is with us, so we can speak the truth in love as we assist them with whatever is needed. As I prayerfully continue to help them “grow up” in every way, I have found these strategies helpful:
- Address their issues with a glad, patient heart and endless grace; remember what Jesus did for you on the cross, so you then can desire to sacrificially help them.
- Assist them how and when you can; pray for God to also bring others to become their friends and mentors.
- Don’t expect more of them than they are able to do; but also don’t doubt their ability to thrive in Christ.
- Connect them with services from others who can also help; since they are adults, releasing them to others frees you of the often too weighty burdens you must carry for them as you age.
- Don’t allow them to emotionally, physically, or verbally abuse you; set boundaries and hold firm to them.
- Don’t shame them about what they can not do or have not accomplished, but talk to them realistically about moving forward; assist by helping them establish steps to reach their goals.
- Help them become responsible for themselves with an appropriate job and financial coaching.
- If dating or courtship for marriage might be in their future, start an ongoing conversation about things for them to consider, goals to achieve, and preparation for their future family.
- If they live with you, set boundaries for them, which you and your other household members can live with and abide by; don’t let them “rule the roost”.
- If they are able, they should contribute to household expenses with even a menial job, building confidence step-by-step in their ability to do so.
- If they don’t live with you, stay in touch with them on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis as you can and they need; texting is easy for a quick check-in.
- Make plans for who will care for them, and how they will, for when the time comes that you go to heavenly glory, by God’s grace.
- Plan ahead for when and how you need to help them; allow margins of time, so you are not rushed and stressed.
- Realize sinful choices may cause unpleasant natural consequences for themselves; lovingly warn them but allow those to happen; don’t enable or rescue them; instead, guide them gently with biblical wisdom so they learn from their poor choice(s).
- Speak clearly to them about your needs (boundaries) for assisting them; demonstrate your understanding of their needs.
- Take time for your own soul care; be proactive in “putting your oxygen mask on first” before helping them with theirs.
It’s exciting when our children grow up. Despite their struggles, they can become our best friends — what a reward for all of our hard work! Don’t give up, but continue in steadfast love as God does with us.
Final caution: siblings and extended family may not understand your adult son or daughter’s unique needs. Be firm in your decisions regarding the situation, thanking others for their kind concerns. But, since you have the front-line experience to know what the particular adult child may need and how you should help them, do as God leads you and not what others think you should (or should not) do.
To assist you in parenting your older (adult and teen) children with unique needs, check out these links:
- Does your young adult dislike therapy? Try sneaking therapy Into their schedule.
- Here is a new resource for homeschooled young adults that is a Christian character curriculum, Chasing Adulthood.
- Read this encouraging testimony from an adult who has special needs.
- Spend time finding additional resources at our CHEC.org webpage for Unique Learners.
For December’s Unique Learner blog, I plan to write a post about setting aside academic education lessons during the holidays to instead focus on relationship-based discipleship and hands-on learning.
Shari McMinn, your trusted homeschooling friend
PS: If you have a topic you want me to cover, please email me with your suggestion(s).