CARLO: * “Our son, Angelo, has Down syndrome. His illness drains our physical, mental, and emotional strength. Imagine the energy you need to look after a healthy child, and then multiply that by a hundred. Sometimes our marriage suffers.”
MIA: “It takes persistence and a tremendous amount of patience to teach Angelo the simplest things. When I get really tired, I tend to get irritable and impatient with my husband, Carlo. Sometimes we disagree on issues, and then we get into an argument.”
Can you recall the day that your child was born? You were no doubt eager to hold the baby. For parents like Carlo and Mia, however, joy becomes mingled with anxiety when they are told that their child is sick or disabled.
Do you have a disabled child? Then you may wonder if you can cope. If so, do not despair. Parents like you have successfully dealt with similar problems. Consider three common challenges you might face and how the wisdom found in the Bible can help you.
CHALLENGE 1: YOU FIND IT DIFFICULT TO ACCEPT THE DIAGNOSIS.
Many parents feel crushed when they learn that their child is ill. “When the doctors told me that our son, Santiago, had cerebral palsy, I couldn’t believe it,” says Juliana, a mother in Mexico. “I felt that the world was falling in on me.” Others may feel as did an Italian mother named Villana. “I chose to have a baby even though there are risks for women my age,” she says. “Now, when my son faces problems related to his Down syndrome, I feel guilty.”
If you struggle with feelings of despair or guilt, realize that your reaction is normal. Sickness was not part of God’s original purpose. (Genesis 1:27, 28) He did not create parents with the ability to accept easily what is unnatural. In a sense, you may need to “grieve” for what was lost
What if you feel responsible for your child’s disability? Remember that no one understands fully how heredity, environment, and other factors affect a child’s health. On the other hand, you may feel inclined to blame your spouse. Resist that urge. You will do better if you cooperate with your mate and concentrate on caring for your child.
SUGGESTION: Learn about your child’s condition. “It takes wisdom to have a good family,” the Bible says, “and it takes understanding to make it strong.”
You can learn much from medical professionals and reliable publications. You might compare the process of learning about your child’s condition to mastering a new language. At first, it will be difficult, but you can learn it.
Carlo and Mia, quoted in the introduction, sought information from their doctor and an organization that specializes in their son’s condition. “This helped us to understand not only the problems that we could expect but also the ‘positive’ aspects of Down syndrome,” they say. “We saw that our son could lead a life that in many respects would be normal. This comforted us a lot.”
TRY THIS: Focus on what your child can do. Plan to engage in activities as a family. When your child achieves even a small “victory,” be quick to offer commendation and share in his or her joy.
CHALLENGE 2: YOU FEEL EXHAUSTED AND EMOTIONALLY ISOLATED.
You may feel that caring for your sick child consumes all your energy. Jenney, a mother in New Zealand, says, “For a few years after my son was diagnosed with spina bifida, I would be exhausted and weepy if I tried to do anything extra around the home.”
Another challenge may be that you feel isolated. Ben has a son who suffers from muscular dystrophy and Asperger’s syndrome. Ben says, “Most people will never really understand what our life is like.” You may long to talk with someone. Yet, most of your friends have healthy children. So you feel reluctant to confide in them.
SUGGESTION: Ask for help. And accept it when it is offered. Juliana, quoted earlier, admits, “Sometimes my husband and I are embarrassed to ask for help.” However, she adds, “We have learned that we are not self-sufficient. When others help us, we don’t feel so alone.” If a close friend or family member offers to sit with your child at a social event or a Christian meeting, accept gratefully. “A true companion is loving all the time,” says a Bible proverb, “and is a brother that is born for when there is distress.”
Take care of your own health. Just as an ambulance must refuel regularly if it is to continue taking patients to the hospital, you must restore your energy with proper nutrition, exercise, and rest so that you can continue giving your child the care he or she deserves. Javier, who has a crippled son, puts it this way: “My son cannot walk, so I feel that I should try to eat well. After all, I am the one who moves him around. My feet are his feet!”
How can you find time to look after your health? Some parents take turns caring for their child. One parent is thus able to rest or care for other personal needs. You will need to buy out time from nonessential activities, and it can be a challenge to maintain a balance. But as Mayuri, a mother in India, says, “Eventually you get into a routine.”
Talk to a trustworthy friend. Even friends who do not have sick children can be empathetic listeners. You can also pray to Jehovah God. Will prayer really help? Yazmin has two children with cystic fibrosis, and she admits, “There have been moments of such intense pressure that I have felt like I was choking to death.” Yet, she adds: “I pray to Jehovah for relief and strength. Then I feel that I can carry on.”
TRY THIS: Review what you eat, when you exercise, and how much sleep you are getting. Identify how you could buy out time from less-important tasks so that you can care for your health. Keep adjusting your schedule as needed.
CHALLENGE 3: YOU GIVE YOUR SICK CHILD MORE ATTENTION THAN YOU GIVE THE REST OF THE FAMILY.
A child’s illness may affect what the family eats, where the family goes, and how much time parents spend with each child. As a result, the other children may feel neglected. Furthermore, parents can become so busy caring for their sick child that their marriage suffers. “Sometimes my wife says that she is shouldering most of the burden and that I couldn’t care less about our son,” says Lionel, a father in Liberia. “I feel belittled, and sometimes I respond unkindly.”
SUGGESTION: To reassure all your children that you are interested in them, plan activities that they enjoy. “At times, we do something special for our eldest son,” says Jenney, quoted earlier, “even if we just have lunch at his favorite restaurant.”
To protect your marriage, talk to and pray with your mate. Aseem, a father in India whose son suffers from seizures, says: “Though my wife and I sometimes feel strained and frustrated, we make it a point to sit down, talk, and pray together. Each morning, before our children wake up, we spend time together discussing a verse from the Bible.” Other couples talk privately before going to sleep. Your intimate conversations and sincere prayers will strengthen your marriage during periods of intense stress. (Proverbs 15:22) As one couple put it, “some of the sweetest moments of our life together have been during the most difficult days.”
TRY THIS: Commend your other children for any support that they give to your ill child. Regularly express your love and appreciation for them and for your mate.
In the meantime, you can succeed as the parent of a disabled child. “Don’t be discouraged when it seems that everything is going wrong,” say Carlo and Mia, quoted earlier. “Concentrate on the wonderful things about your child, because there are many of them.”
^ par. 3 Names in this article have been changed.
^ par. 29 You can read more about the Bible’s promise of perfect health in chapter 3 of the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
ASK YOURSELF . . .
What do I do to keep my own physical, emotional, and spiritual health as strong as possible?
When was the last time I commended my other children for the help they give?