Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Truth of Relative-ity

"...There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." (Proverbs 18:24, NIV)

Want to get a group of parents who have kids with special needs going? Engage them in a conversation about relatives! There are the blaming in-laws; the judgmental, unsupportive siblings; the avoidant, ignorant family members who fear being around your child. Each thinks they hold the magic bullet as to why something as tragic as a child with special needs would come into your lives. They're going to tell you like it is, set you straight, because somebody has to say something. You know it's time to take cover when they start a sentence with, "You may not want to hear this, but..."!

I've had a situation like this recently. If I had to listen to a relative of mine tell my child with ADHD one more time to "go play out in traffic," I'm not sure I could've held my tongue. This particular relative is well aware that our child has this and other diagnoses, others, yet never ceases to join with their spouse in making snide remarks about our ill-behaved child and our poor parenting skills. Thankfully, I've learned to roll with this nonsense in God-honoring ways.

In my years of leading this ministry, I've seen countless tears shed over situations just like the one I describe. The wounds of family cut deeper than any others, especially because we anticipate relatives to rally around us when we're in life's toughest situations. The truth is that family members often respond to special needs in much the same way the rest of culture does. So how do we respond to their painful behavior in a way that pleases God?
  1. Realize that when family leaves a void, God loves you enough to stand in that gap and send someone to bless your life with the tenderness that you need.
  2. Remember that you once may have been ignorant too about special needs and said insensitive things. Give others mercy, knowing that someone probably granted you the same when you were speaking foolishness.
  3. Be confident in your own knowledge and capabilities. "He who began a good work in you is faithful to see it to completion." (Philippians 1:6) God gave that child to you, not the one making the hurtful statements. They don't know what they don't know. And you have the primary responsibility of deciding what is best when caring for your own child. You make those decisions based on your best filtering of available information.
  4. Be willing to educate. Responding to comments with something like, "I used to think that too, but..." may build common ground between you and the offender. They obviously have something to learn from you.
  5. Take seriously Romans 12:17's warning, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody." Even if it means taking a "grown-up time-out", walking out to take a deep breath, do everything in your power not to hurt back those who hurt you. This is one of the most difficult calls of Christianity, yet it is one that most powerfully exhibits the difference a life of faith makes.

Please know that you're not alone in dealing with family frustrations. While there are those who have wonderful, kind, supportive relatives, many, many of us deal with quite the opposite. Fall in to the One who is "closer than a brother" and know that He will walk you through any family challenges you may face.


  1. I have found that most people are much more supportive when you educate them (in a non-emotional way). My child has autism, and kids on the spectrum whether ADHD, Aspergers or Autism have it rough since it is an "invisible" disability. As a musician, I made a music video with my band the Swingset Mamas, called "Take a Walk in Someone Else's Shoes" to promote inclusion and awareness of children with special needs. Watch link below:
    Although every now and then, I have been known to say to judgmental strangers with disapproving looks "I'm so sorry that my child's lifelong disability has slightly inconvenienced you today." :)

  2. Love your blog and have been lurking. Have to comment on this one, however. I, too, am a Christian and want to put out there that sometimes it just isn't possible or necessary to continue to tolerate such behavior.

    I battled for years what "honor thy father and mother" meant. It doesn't mean that you place yourself in a position of abuse (verbal, mental, emotional or physical). It also doesn't mean that your place your child in that position in the name of honor, either.

    My own parents would make snide comments to my autistic son, in front of him. I tried biting my tongue. I tried educating (but they know it all, and all he really needs is a good spanking and some discipline). I am completely confident in the capabilities that God gave my husband and me. This is why I knew that it was time to stand up to my parents and tell them that it was not okay for them to treat my child in this way. It became a huge argument, which turned into mud being thrown in my direction and we left their home. We have not been back in 2 years. They are choosing not to understand. They are choosing to remain ignorant. And, I am choosing to cleave to my husband and honor God with the immeasurable task that he has given me of raising my autistic son.

  3. #2 totally fit me. I would see people with their kids with special needs and "pity" them...ha! Little did I know that these are THE strongest parents out there!

  4. Let me make sure I clarify, Melissa, that you made your best effort to "do what is right in the eyes of everybody". Please refer to past postings where I've made reference to the BOUNDARIES series by Drs. Henry Cloud & John Townsend. Being firm with family members who are behaving in an utterly unacceptable way is key. Unfortunately, most of us don't try diplomacy first, that is why I point it out as our primary response to these unkind words. When others refuse to respond to our attempts to educate or our pleas for compassion, then it IS time to make the difficult move of establishing those boundaries. I applaud you for being obedient to God's mandate of putting your husband first, then your child, then everyone else in your priortization of humans. I pray that God will soften your parents' hearts and show them how hurtful their behavior is!