There is an ancient Greek adage that is also consistent with biblical teaching: "Know Thyself". From the time Adam disobeyed God through the letters Paul wrote to various churches, we see the topic of self-awareness addressed in God's word. While it may sound like a bunch of psychological fluff, this concept can end up being a very helpful tool to parents raising children with special needs.
Self-knowledge can be incredibly important in helping a parent to cope with the daily demands of caring for a child with any sort of diagnosis. I make no secret of the fact that I am a huge fan of the Boundaries books by Drs Henry Cloud and John Townsend. One lesson they teach in their book is that we all have limitations. Knowing where those limitations lay is key to keeping others from pushing us too far. Personal awareness keeps us functioning at healthy level without others or circumstances continually exerting inappropriate control over us.
Some areas of life where a parent might really want to know themselves, especially when they are responsible for a child with unique abilities can include understanding:
- What is acceptable and unacceptable in the context of my personal faith?
- What are my expectations of medical treatment?
- How do I feel physically, spiritually and emotionally after having a school IEP or 504 meeting?
- What are the things that make me particularly cranky?
- When do I reach my tipping point?
- Where do I feel closest to God?
- What types of things refresh me when I feel depleted?
- Which situations with my child(ren) are the biggest stressors on my marriage?
- How do I best identify resources?
- What helps me the most when I am in a crisis?
The point is, we do neither ourselves nor our family's much good if we are not keenly aware of what our limitations are, and how to adapt to those natural limitations. Continuing to drive ourselves in an unreasonable way after major stress points in raising our children will only serve to multiply our problems and decrease our effectiveness. Following through with that neighborhood party the weekend after a hospital discharge may not be a good option for you. Hosting Bible study at your house the evening after (or before) an IEP might be a recipe for family conflict. Be sensitive to such things is critical. These are healthy insights that help us thrive in spite of the additional challenges our family may face.
Of course, God's word does remind us that, "The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV). This makes input from others important too. Filter what others say, but note if you see a pattern to anything friends, family or coworkers are saying to you. If many of them note that you seem overly tired at a given time, pay attention to when that occurs. It is certainly not uncommon for personal pride to set in and for we silly humans to think we are capable when we are actually depleted. Feedback from those who have proven themselves most trustworthy in our lives can be invaluable in gaining self-awareness.
Let me close our time together by saying that I write to you from a place of personal recovery. I am always in peril of biting off more than I can chew. What I have learned is that we are all vulnerable to overdoing it now and again, even when we have established good boundaries. Being ever-mindful of the importance of self-knowledge will help us work our way back to a place of personal well-being when we stumble.
PRAY: Lord, You know me even better than I know myself. Reveal to me those places where I need to make room to recover from the challenges that face me in parenting a child with special needs. Help me to face my weaknesses with courage. Go before me in repairing any damage I may do in my clumsiness, and teach me to alter my habits so that I heal rather than hurt in the days ahead.