What Special Needs Kids Have Taught My Children

“Mommy! Guess what?” my first grader said excitedly at the beginning of the school year.

“What,  honey?” I asked.

“There are two special needs students in my class this year. Can you believe it? We are so lucky,” she said and ran off to play.

I wasn’t really surprised by her enthusiasm, but it touched me just the same. Her life has been shaped by the impact special needs kids have had on her siblings and our family. Her older brother received a Community Award in the third grade for serving Paul, a boy with learning disabilities. He shrugged off the award because he didn’t do anything to deserve it. “Paul is my friend, Mom.”

When her older sister was in the sixth grade, we attended the end of the year Awards program and the school gave several special needs kids trophies for their hard work. I wept in the middle of the row as I watched my daughter’s friend with Down’s Syndrome jump up and down and wave her trophy wildly in the air and do a victory march.

And then I’ll never forget watching my children serve a meal at a children’s home in Africa that housed some of Kenya’s most vulnerable handicapped children. I thought they might be afraid of the loud noises, the smells, and seeing mentally ill crippled children walk on their knees. But they boldly loved on these beautiful people and I they taught me so much about Jesus that day.

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We proudly wear our “This is How We Roll” shirts to advocate for our good friends whose son is wheel-chair bound. My kids love books like I Am in Here: The Journey of a Child with Autism Who Cannot Speak but Finds Her Voice and are learning to see special needs students as more like them, than different. And when the high school in our town voted in the Homecoming Queen a few weeks ago, the newly crowned student wheeled her chair onto the court, we all smiled at each other. It made us proud to be a part of a school that values everyone.

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I have great kids. While they are 100% normal (and by that I mean, they stuff dirty clothes under their beds and leave empty toilet paper rolls regularly and spent an hour yesterday pulling weeds because they needed an opportunity to get along. ahem), they also understand that life is really about loving others.

Here are 4 powerful things special needs kids have taught my children:

  • Don’t Give Up When It’s Hard: Day in and day out, my children work alongside children in wheelchairs, with safety helmets, cochlear implants, autism, behavioral issues and who are non-verbal. I love that kids with these struggles are integrated into every classroom. My kids watch them tenaciously struggle and achieve what comes easy for others. They are inspired by these children who refuse to give up.
  • Compassion Makes You a Better Person: It really comes down to love for others. It’s a God-given emotion to want to come alongside someone who is facing a challenge. Every special needs child we have know, loves without limits and are compassionate.
  • Gratitude: My kids have learned to be thankful. They see their friends achieve great feats and are proud of them. It’s also hard not to be thankful for health and perspective when they realize their struggles are different. They watch their teachers come along side and cheer on kids and it spurs gratitude.
  • It’s Ok to be Different: I’ve written before how my kids sometimes feel different in our culture because of some of the choices we’ve made. Special needs kids have taught them how to celebrate being unique. Different is good.

Last week at my first grader’s parent-teacher conference, I got an update on my daughter’s reading level and looked through her test scores and worksheets. But when her teacher said, “Your daughter is kind to everyone, especially our special needs learners who are non-verbal. She always makes sure they have a partner and are included in the class activities.”

I felt like I’d won the lottery.

Because nothing-not straight A’s or clean bedrooms-makes me more proud than the way my kids have allowed special needs children into their lives and impacted them to be better people. It’s not just about rooting for the underdog, it’s about seeing our special friends as they are–strong and beautiful and a gift in our lives.


Raising Boys to be Men of Faith: 4 Things We Can Teach Our Sons

When nurses handed us our swaddled babies, we sighed deeply. We might have kissed their downy heads or examined them head to toe. We might have felt a bubble of joy deep down or wept openly. We might have done all of these things. And while the words may not have been spoken openly, in that moment we had achieved what women from the first century and still in many countries today deem the highest act of motherhood: we had produced a son.

I have one son. He was fathered by my husband, an only son, too. With this child, a family name continues. He is now 11 years old and he has lived up to the words scrawled over his crib. Definition of a Boy:// Noise with dirt on it.

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Yes, he is typical. He is his Dad’s shadow, loves to taunt sisters, doesn’t mind a stain or two, generally has messy hands, runs instead of walks, eats and eats and then asks for a snack. His backpack is a disaster, he forgets his lunch in the car and leaves his clothes on the floor.

But there were things I didn’t expect along the way: like the way he reaches for my hand, is naturally kind to others, always roots for the underdog, how he feels joy and pain deeply and is ruled by a desire to make peace. I didn’t expect to be his first love.

Lately his Daddy has been talking to him privately about boy things. And girls. With it has come a maturity, I didn’t expect. It’s a necessary hard part of parenting. We must remind ourselves if we don’t teach them, the world will show them. I can’t help but think about my son as a grown up man, someday, someone’s husband, a father. It makes me want to raise the kind of boy I would want my girls to marry. It makes me want to look ahead because the future will be here tomorrow; it makes me want to raise a man of faith.

I want to encourage you, Boy Mom, whether your babe is in your arms or his shoes are smelling up his room right now,  teaching your son now about grace and girls, sex and faith is not only building character today, it’s preparing him to be a good man, husband and father in the future.. You’re not only his mother, you’re his example. So much of who my son will be is being formed now and who he is today was influenced years ago. You can never start too young and it’s never too late to start.

Click over the MOB Society to continue reading the 4 Things We Can Teach Our Sons….


Parenting 101: A Guide from an Older Mom

Something weird happened a couple of years ago: I became the older mom and younger moms started assuming I had answers to their parenting questions. (I know. I can hear my kids laughing at the very thought.)

But instead of wearing a permanent sticky note on my forehead declaring I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I’M DOING EITHER, I thought I’d put together of little guide of my sage advice in dealing with some parenting issues. I hope it is a source of encouragement and help. (I also hope you appreciate sarcasm.)

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Temper Tantrums

We’ve all experienced them, right?

If your child has never had one, HOLD ON. It’s coming at some point.

Tip: If ignoring and stepping over your thrashing child doesn’t work, I suggest throwing yourself on the floor. Add in a bit of kicking and screaming for good measure. If it doesn’t distract your child, it might scare them into behaving or at least give them some company. Plus, it’s good to get a view of your floors this way and it might make you feel better.

Talking Back

You might be staring at your tiny baby on your lap right now and be thinking “It’s just not possible.” Oh, bless your heart.

Tip: When my kids are disrespectful, it takes a lot of self control on my part to RESPOND correctly, which mostly means not being disrespectful right back. Or yelling. Remaining calm and in control goes a long way.

But if that fails, see Temper Tantrum above or break down and sob uncontrollably about your hurt feelings. Sometimes they just need to remember you’re a person, too.

Chores

Tip: If you’re struggling to get your kids to pitch in around the house, simply stop doing it all yourself. It’s sort of a shock to their system when they have to dig dirty clothes out of the hamper. Unless they are a teen and then they don’t mind at all. In this case, I suggest sliding an invoice under their door for rent. Also known as a WAKE UP CALL.

Cleaning Up

The other day my kids avoided a nasty hairball on the floor, only to point it out to me (from upstairs). In this situation, I’ve found it’s best to quietly pick up the vomit with 17 paper towels and then chase your kids around the house with it for a bit. It doesn’t really teach them much, but it’s really fun.

*Updated: My cat left another gift on the kitchen tile before I published this post. My son walked right in and grabbed paper towels and cleaned it up. Miracles happen, y’all.

Sibling Rivalry

Let me tell you what not to do: Don’t send your kids into the back yard to “work it out.” Because one of your kids might just get punched in the nose, not that I know from experience or anything.

Tip: While I really hate hearing my kids fight, arguing is often the best way to work something out or compromise.

Now, I just go to the backyard.

Paying for College

Um.

Dating

I’m banking on the Second Coming of Jesus before I have to figure this one out (sticks head back in sand)

Sleep: Naps, Sleeping Thru the Night/Sleeping In

I have one kid that has always required half the sleep I do.  Tip: Might I suggest room darkening curtains for them and ear plugs for yourself? And that whole don’t wake a sleeping baby? It’s truth.

Picking Your Battles

I once saw a child wearing the strangest assortment of mismatched clothes with church shoes at the store. I remember thinking my child will never go out in public looking like that. And then a few years later, I realized I was a really great mother–before I had kids.

That’s all I’ve got, people.

Y’all have a happy Monday.


Signs You Might Be a Mom

I cleaned out my big blue purse this week. You know since it was taking me 9.2 minutes to find my keys in the sea of stuff. Plus, I thought I was imagining an odor coming from the bag. Besides all my junk, I pulled out a progress report, a Pictionary Card Game, a smashed granola bar, two hair bows, a battery,  a plastic lizard, a small screwdriver and behold, two of my son’s dirty socks.

If my purse was ever stolen, there would be NO DOUBT I was either a mom or the Unabomber.

Some signs you might be a mom (from me and mostly the best Facebook Community ever):
You double-knot everything you tie.

You find yourself humming “What would the fox say?” (I dare you not to look it up on Youtube).

You really want Repunzel to GET A HAIRCUT.

You ask your husband if he needs to go potty while you’re on a date.

You can discipline your kids with JUST A LOOK.

You count to 5 constantly (keeping track of all the kiddos).

You have wipes and Kleenex in every room/car/bag.You go to grab your wallet and you pull out a Baggie with a tooth!
You point out diggers/construction trucks/animals out loud even when you are on your own.
You might be a mom of boys if…you find a snake head in a bowl of water on the kitchen counter!You dish your husbands dinner, making sure nothing touches, and cut his chicken into bite-sized pieces.You read closed captions out loud…even when alone.

You can stop any argument or fight with the kids by just shouting, “wow pow pow pow pow pa pow!!” And then they all break into dance.

You go to a meeting and pull a cheerio out of your pocket with your business card.

You have a pair of Star Wars angry bird underwear in your purse.

You find miniature ninjas in the bottom of your coffee cup when you finally finish drinking it…

You are constantly humming kids songs and don’t even realize it.

All sorts of things come out of your washer/dryer that were hidden in your son’s pockets… coins, rocks, sticks!!!

When your husband has a little something on his face, you lick your finger and go to clean it without thinking twice about it.

You call random people you know by your kids name, especially when they are ticking you off.

You say “so help me” several times a day.

You have a Hello Kitty bandaid on your leg, and a Batman bandaid on your finger.

You find yourself uttering all of your mom’s sayings from your childhood…”give me strength” or “I hope your child whines half as much as you do one day”.

You send the kids outside to play so you could watch Mr. Rogers in peace and quiet.

The only money in your wallet is plastic play money.

You go to the bathroom with little eyes staring at you.

You find yourself enjoying the toy aisle to see what’s new when you’re supposed to be grocery shopping.

You unscrew the top of the sippy cup and drink.

You can snap your fingers and their heads snap to see who’s in trouble.

You use your own shirt as a Kleenex, mop, napkin, and pouch for carrying toys to the correct toy box.

You look at one of your children that is just like you and get scared of the future.

You realize that your mom was right about you having one just like you and then you laugh because she gets to babysit.

You find reasons to discipline your child with an early bedtime just so YOU can go to bed early, too!

You  accidentally called your husband “daddy” in public (probably more than once) when the kids weren’t with you.

You have baby wipes stashed in multiple places in your car and house…and you may have whipped them out to wipe tomato sauce off a colleague at lunch recently

You know you’re a mom when you drive hours, sit in freezing weather, and rearrange schedules just to watch your child play an hour of soccer.

Moms, have a great weekend!  You deserve it.


Giving Our Kids a Moral Compass

I’m horrible at directions. I can’t read a map and I’m at my navigating best when someone is showing me exactly where to go.

One time I described what goes on in my brain when I see a map to my bewildered husband who had drawn a perfectly uniform grid on a napkin to help me get from Point A to B. I said, “is this how you see things? In a neat, tidy grid?” He shook his head.

I scribbled all over the paper and said, “This is how I see it. It’s like a nest in here,” and I tapped the side of my head.

No matter how you see the road of parenting, it’s hard to navigate without a compass.

When my son has something heavy on his heart, he is restless. After the third time of letting me know he couldn’t sleep the other night, I patted the bed and said, “Spill it. What’s bothering you?”

It didn’t take long for him to tell me that the book he checked out from the library for his English project had a few cuss words in it.

And it bothered him.

I hugged my sweet kid and my first thought was That’s it? That’s what was bothering you?  But I didn’t because for his entire life, I’ve taught him those words were wrong and asked him not to use them. It’s only to be expected that he would have an internal red flag when he saw them in a book.

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It was his moral compass giving him direction.

Now, you and I both know that cuss words are A Thing in middle school. Kids are given just enough freedom to express themselves and many, many children try on cursing for size.  I was raised black and white and cussing was on the top ten list of sins you should not do. But I long for grace to be the banner we wave in our home, not rules. So, we talked long about what this was really about. We talked about the way he felt when he discovered one of his nice friends curses occasionally, “It makes me wonder if he is a Christian.”

“Do you think I’m a Christian?” I asked. He nodded his head.

“Have you heard me say a cuss word?” and we both knew the answer. It’s not a common every day thing, but cuss happens y’all.

We talked about grace and not generalizing, but also about the importance of acknowledging when something upsets his moral compass and speaking up about it when it’s necessary.

The next day, he got a new book from the library without cuss words. He also decided that he would offer more grace to his classmates.

How we give our children a moral compass:

We Teach them Absolute Truths

Truth is absolute. There are definitely absolute truths or standards by which to live our lives and raise our kids. The Bible is filled with truth: There is a God, God is love; actions have consequences (Romans 1:18). Truth is absolute; it is not subjective. Truth doesn’t shift when our culture changes it’s mind.

“In a society where ultimate truth is treated like a fairy tale, an outdated idea or even an insult to human intelligence, the motto of the day becomes, “WHATEVER!” Believe whatever you want. Do whatever seems best to you. Live for whatever brings you pleasure, as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone. And of course, be tolerant. Don’t try to tell anyone that their whatever is wrong.”-Linda Keffer

When we teach our kids these truths, we need to take a principal like “don’t have sex before you get married”, and offer a precept (a scripture that tells us this) with it. When we couple these together, it reveals a characteristic of God that says He loves me and wants me to experience purity in my mind and body and relationships and so He protects me with the absolute truth. (Teaching from Right From Wrong by Josh McDowell)

We Let those Absolute Truths Be Our Guide

It’s so easy for our children to question what truth is in our constantly changing world, especially when there are being fed lies by our culture, especially in media. Lies that say they have to be sexy or thin or tolerant. We live counter to cultural lives by not jumping on every new norm that presents itself in society.  It’s okay to say what we believe, to stand up for Biblical principals no matter what we read or hear in our society. When we teach absolute truths from the Bible, we let those truths guide us.

Present Opportunities to fall in love with Jesus

As a teen, some of my decisions to remain pure, not cuss-party-drink-or-date-boys-that-do, were driven by fear and not always by relationship. While I want my kids to have a healthy fear of momma and daddy and God, I mostly want them to make choices because of their relationship with God, out of a desire to honor and follow Him. It goes beyond attending church once a week and doing moral stuff. Our kids need to see us pursuing a relationship with God; they need us to lead them in devotions, teach them how to pray, homeschool them in the ways of God.

If our kids don’t have a moral compass, they will feel lost in the world, constantly changing how they see truth. Our kids are going to make mistakes, just like us. It’s how we learn how to get it right. And when we offer grace, we show them more of Jesus.

It’s not an easy road to navigate, but if we ask Him to guide us, He will.