There’s no way around it: Raising kids is a lot of work. There’s a lot of truth in the African Proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Sure, we are all responsible to raise our own kids well, but I often think: Where would we be without all of the amazing people in our family’s life? From extended family, to neighbors, to teachers and coaches…and those friends who love us – quirks, inconveniences, and all.
Though we all require a bit of extra love at times, a family with special needs children will have unique needs that may not be clear to everyone. Unless you’ve spent time with them and learned about their life, you may never know what their needs are, or how you might best support them.
And here’s the thing: When we are around a family with special needs, we might get uncomfortable. If you’re like me you might sometimes freeze up and think: What should I say? What should’t I say? Should I help or am I just in the way? How can I best be a friend in this situation?
And sadly, our own awkwardness can sometimes get in the way of us supporting them, and finding great blessings along the way.
My 14-year-old nephew, Micah, has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and is wheelchair-bound. I don’t get to spend as much time with him as I would like to, but when we are together I try to push through any of my own awkwardness to connect with him. I’m sure I’ve done it wrong a few times, but when I do make those connections, I find myself more blessed than any blessing I could give. I have learned a little about what it takes to care for a child with DMD (a ton of work, patience, and love)…which things are hard for them (um, helping him use the bathroom…lift a fork…transporting him. Pretty much everything!) And I am reminded which things about him are completely typical of a boy his age (He loves to laugh. He wants to be around other kids. He loves Legos.) I have grown a lot from the little time I have spent with him.
Though special needs families have a wide range of unique needs, there are a few things you can be sure will bless them. I have asked some of my friends with special needs children: “What is the best way for friends to show your family love?”
This list is what we came up with:
1. Ask them how you can help! There is really no better way than just sincerely asking. How can I support you? What do you need most right now?
2. Listen. Our friends with special needs kids go through a lot on any given day, and they might spend a lot of time alone with their kids. When they do get time with a friend, a listening ear can be super therapeutic. A good friend will give them space to share without trying to solve problems or fix anything.
3. Share your struggles too. Everyone’s family has struggles, and when you open up about things you are going through, it reminds families with special needs that it’s not just them. No one wants a one-way friendship, and you can be real with these families, letting them know when you are having a hard time, or could use a listening ear or some extra prayer as well.
4. Include their family in the things you do when you can. Consider some family adventures you might be able to plan that would be suitable to the special needs kids in your life. Do what you can to make your home accessible to their children. They will love being included and you’ll all grow from the experience.
5. Celebrate milestones. Special needs families might have milestones that are completely different from yours. They may learn a new skill, or overcome a fear. Maybe they are going through a series of treatments or tests that weigh heavily on the family. Acknowledging these things will speak volumes of love to your friends.
6. Enjoy their child. Whether they are easy to connect with or very difficult, there is beauty in every child. Just sitting with them, or watching them play can bring you joy. Don’t shy away because you are uncomfortable but ask God to give you eyes to see the incredible gift that they are. Then just slow down and enjoy them!
7. Support the other children in the family, too! Sometimes a family with one child with special needs has a difficult time giving other children in their family the attention they need. Offering to take the other kid(s) somewhere, give them a fun day, or just be there to listen or support them can make a really big difference.
8. Bring them a meal on Tuesday. Or Sunday, or Friday. (Don’t wait for a crisis.) Life is busy, and special needs families have more to check off their daily to-do list than most of us could imagine. Showing up with a meal for their family is a great way to show love. When making your next casserole or pot of soup, ask the Lord to show you a family that you might make extra to bless with.
9. Support their mission. My brother’s family has become very involved in spreading awareness about DMD, and in fundraising to support research for it. One of the greatest ways I can support their mission is simply to spread the word and give where I can to support this cause that has affected them so deeply. There is usually some way you can get involved, whether it is doing a fun-run in their honor, gifting donations, or posting information on social media.
10. Pray for them. Perhaps the greatest way you can show love to anyone is to go to the Lord on their behalf in prayer. Letting your friends know that you pray for them and offering for them to come to you with specific concerns is a great act of love. Following through with consistent prayer is the greatest act of love you can give!
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