Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Chronic Parents and The Wisdom of a Father-In-Law

Photo image courtesy of tanjakrstevska via

On the next day, Moses sat and served as judge, settling disputes among the people. Those with grievances surrounded him from sunrise to sundown waiting to present their case. Jethro noticed all Moses was doing for the people.

Jethro: What do you think you are doing? Why are you the only one who is able to judge the disputes of all these people who surround you from sunrise to sundown?

Moses: These people come to me seeking direction from God. When two people are arguing and can’t resolve their differences, they come to me; and I settle the matter between them. This is one way I help God’s people understand His requirements and instructions.

Jethro: What you are doing is not good for you. The responsibility is just too much. You are going to wear yourself out. Not only that, you’re going to wear out the people too. You can’t do it all by yourself. I am going to give you a piece of advice, so listen up and God will be with you. You should represent the people before God, and carry their concerns to Him. Teach them God’s requirements and pass on His laws. Show them the right way to live and the kind of work they should be doing. As for all these other duties you have taken on, choose competent leaders who fear God, love truth, despise dishonesty, and won’t take bribes. After you divide and subdivide all the people into various groups of a thousand, hundred, fifty, and ten, put the men of integrity you selected in charge over the various groups. Let these righteous leaders be ready to judge the people whenever it is necessary. If there is some major problem, they can bring that to you. Otherwise, these select leaders ought to be able to handle the minor problems. This will be much easier for you, and they will help you carry this burden. If you do what I advise and God directs you, then you will be able to handle the pressure. Not only that, but all these people standing around needing help, they will be able to return to their tents at peace.

~Exodus 18:13-123, VOICE~

Let’s be honest.  We all know how challenging, exhausting, and/or demanding it is to raise a child with a chronic illness or special need.  Even raising a child with the seemingly simple diagnosis of ADHD can wear us down. 

Still, in all the years I have been running this ministry, I have never written about the scary number of us who are not only raising these remarkable children, but are also contending with our own health issues. 

There seem to be 2 main culprits at the heart of affected caregivers.  The first is the genetic component at play in so many disabilities.  Researchers continue to expose that everything from arthritis to Crohn’s Disease and beyond has genetic markers passed on through families.  And with adults waiting longer to start a family, these predispositions in DNA are more likely to be expressed in children conceived by parents over the age of 30.  The second cause of chronic illness in parents can be attributed to environment, including poor attention to self-care or environmentally acquired maladies.  Anecdotally, I know many, many of us struggle with healthy weight, exercise and diet.  We are so busy caring for our child’s extra needs that our own are often overlooked.  High levels of stress can also cause or exacerbate migraines, stomach troubles, heart disease, and other health issues.

So, when people seem dismissive of us, expecting us to have found our own footing raising a child with special needs, how do we press on and make others understand it’s not quite that simple?  How do we manage caring for our child with extra needs when we can barely take care of ourselves?  How do we find the oomph when all we want is to rest and feel better?

I think that the picture of Moses’ father-in-law giving him wise advice is especially instructive for parents in our position... 
  • First off, Moses honored Jethro.  The mature patriarch was esteemed by his son-in-law, who knew that he had a proven track record of being successful with both his family and his own personal business affairs.  Moses held Jethro in high enough regard that he found it to be worthwhile to listen to him.  His concern for Moses and for the well-being of all of the people mattered.
  • Second, Moses accepted his own personal limitations.  The God-appointed leader of the children of Israel had seen first-hand that Yahweh was able to do all that he was not.  From the start, Moses had confessed to God his incapabilities.  He was “slow of speech” and lacking eloquence.  (See Exodus 4:10) Yet, the LORD was able to do amazing things through Moses’ willing obedience.  This stayed with Moses, so he knew when he was in over his head.  When Jethro called to his attention the mistake he was making in his leadership, wearing himself and his people thin, acceptance, not pride, laid the groundwork for positive change.
  • Third, Moses learned the value of reorganization.  He earnestly absorbed the wisdom imparted by Jethro.  Because of his willingness to humble himself, Moses could discover the fruitfulness of (A) sharing what he had learned from God with others around him; (B) delegating responsibility to those whom he had taught; (C) trusting that smaller matters could be handled by the capable men he had chosen; (D) concerning himself only with the larger issues that were too complex for others to solve.

Imagine how we and our families might benefit if we stopped trying to do it all!  Yes, there are times where we are the only one who can perhaps handle certain portions of parenthood.  Yet there are even more times where we refuse to let go of the reins.  What does that benefit ourselves and our families?  If I am nearly blinded by a migraine, wouldn't someone else who is much safer behind the wheel be better off transporting my children?  If I am having a flare-up of other chronic issues that cause me physical pain, am I wiser to push through it and be cranky with my family or to get the rest and care I need?

When I had 4 knee surgeries in 2-years-time, there was no way I was in a good position to be at the helm with every mom duty.  It required swallowing my pride and allow others to help.  In fact, at that time God really drove home the point that when we don't allow others to help us, we rob THEM of a blessing.  I took proper care of myself and because I did, I was able to work hard at therapy and heal in half the time I was told it would take to recover from my final surgery, a knee replacement. 

The point is, because of one man embracing the wisdom of his father-in-law, we can each learn to become better chronic parents by…
1. Honoring someone with greater experience and expertise than we have.
2. Accepting our own limitations.
3. Learning the value of reorganization.
For parents like us, life is a constant reshuffling.  When we contend with our own chronic challenges, adaptability is even more critical.  We need to come to a place where we don’t sweat the small stuff and willingly accept help.

That’s good enough wisdom to last through thousands of years.

PRAY:  Lord, write on my heart the wisdom Moses accepted from Jethro.  Fashion in me a teachable spirit.  Help me to be gentle with myself in my own times of challenged health.  Grant me a humble demeanor that delights in Your work beyond human limitations. 


~ Barb Dittrich


  1. Great post, Barb! Never thought of this link to Jethro, but it's very spot on!!!

  2. Soooo, apparently God was speaking through you to me...okay...I get it... ;)