Tuesday, December 10, 2013

MENTORS: The Christmas Gift You Give Yourself

I weep with grief; my heart is heavy with sorrow; encourage and cheer me with your words. 
~ Psalm 119:28, TLB ~

Dig if you will the picture:  You have a celebration that you agreed to attend for the holidays.  It may be something like a "Breakfast with Santa" event, specially offered to kids who need a "Sensitive Santa."  It sounds like a nice opportunity, so you plan to enjoy it as a family.  The morning of the event, your spouse runs in to the office early to get a little extra work done, while you rush around trying to get the kids and yourself ready.  You have a friend whom you're supposed to meet there -- the perfect chance to give her the present you bought her.  The gift still needs to be wrapped before you leave.  While you're feeling the clock ticking on your opportunity to get in the shower, one of the children has a total meltdown, refusing to cooperate with getting dressed.  This throws you completely off schedule.  Meanwhile, your spouse loses track of time at the office, arriving home late and ungroomed for the occasion.  You still haven't put clothes on, let alone wrapped the present for your friend.  The tension is too much, and you lose it...  BIG.  As you rush around, you angrily lash out at your spouse, which only escalates the state your unhinged child is in.  With your head just about popping off, you wonder why in the world you ever tried to commit to an event like this thinking it would be fun.

In a world full of beautiful websites, books, and Pinterest projects, it's easy for a parent to lose sight of the fact that there are others who have walked this same stressful journey you find yourself on.  Images trick us into thinking that other families enjoy flawless marriages, perfect parenting, and boundlessly self-controlled, joyful children.  In reality, the holidays can be downright miserable at times for families with a child who has special needs.  Add to the usual challenges of raising a child with unique needs the fact that we may be unrealistic in what we expect of ourselves or others, and this makes the season have us as tense as a plucked violin string at the symphony.

If you have been the parent of a child with a diagnosis for even a short amount of time, you have likely heard the analogy that we need to care for ourselves at times like these in the same way that the airline tells us to put our own oxygen mask on an emergency, before we help our loved one.  The intense pressure that external forces as well as internal expectations put on us this time of year ought to cause us to halt and do an immediate about-face.

Since God expects us to love our neighbor as ourselves (emphasis mine), wisdom should help us recognize that we need to be more intentional about self-care.  Fortunately, Snappin' Ministries has developed a terrific way to be more attentive to that self-care.  Participating in our Parent Mentor Program is a gift to yourself that lasts well beyond the holidays.  Regardless of whether you choose to be a mentor or a mentoree, this connection with another person who has similar circumstances in child-rearing is so mutually edifying.  Here are some of the perks involved in this gift to yourself:
  • Encouragement from someone who "gets it"
  • Perspective whether you are in the thick of life's storms or muddling through the daily battles
  • Stories of how another person has or is surviving similar challenges
  • An end to the relentless isolation, and affirmation that you're not the only one with these challenges
  • Resource sharing for the continually evolving therapies, legal rights or school tools that are needed
  • A sounding board for frustrations or questions on this often-murky journey
  • Spiritual growth and accountability, shaping eternal character
Twelve years ago, I had the privilege of a mentor who came alongside me when we were expecting our youngest child.  My husband was between jobs and we were just learning to manage our son's special needs when this high risk pregnancy occurred.  My mentor didn't do anything earth-shattering.  She listened.  She was calm and reassuring.  She shared stories from her own life.  And we just did motherhood together.  Our friendship grew me tremendously in that period of time.  I treasured her wisdom, humor and spiritual groundedness.

I am happy to say that today we are still friends, even though she and her family have moved to the other side of the country.  I still find myself quoting things she said to me, all these years later.  I love watching her children grow even if it's only through photos online, and I have fond memories of the time our children spent together.  She made an imprint on my life forever.  It's just that simple and just that profound.  

Looking back, I am so grateful that I took the initiative to sign up for a mentor, and to subsequently become a mentor to another mom.  The growth and support I gained from those relationships could not have been acquired any other way.  Those experiences have helped shape the woman I am today.

Before you unwittingly find yourself flying your broom to your child's Christmas program or to a family gathering, consider giving yourself this gift of a mentoring relationship for Christmas this year.  It could be one of the best presents you ever received.

PRAY: Father, I know you formed us for fellowship.  Give me wisdom to discern if I need to get involved in this mentor opportunity.  Make Your will obvious to me when it comes to connecting with others who are on this special needs journey.  Be glorified in my relationships as well as in my circumstances.


~ Barb Dittrich

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