Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Giving Thanks for Children with Special Needs

As we find ourselves again facing that lovely, quiet, humble little American tradition known as Thanksgiving, I now know why I love this day more than most of the noisier celebrations we honor each year. In this complex world in which we live, I love a day that has as its sole purpose the simple act of giving thanks, even as we stuff ourselves into gastric oblivion.

This holiday embraces the old-fashioned idea of being thankful for what we already have. Pausing to give thanks for the abundant blessings already in our lives, no matter how small they may seem at first glance, is an act too often overlooked in today's materialistic world. On Thanksgiving, we are free of witnessing events like those involving crazed adults fighting over overpriced games and toys, at least until the coupon clipping and shopping frenzy begin in earnest. That day-long reprieve alone is a relief and makes me happy to celebrate this gentle day.

Thanksgiving invites us to slow down for a few hours, not a bad idea, especially for those facing the daily challenges of parenting a child with special needs.

I know that it can be tough to uncover the blessings in your children's challenged lives, and in your own, especially when so much of what families hear about disability is negative and focused on a child's perceived shortcomings and apparent brokenness. Depending on where you are in this parenting journey, this day, this year, may or may not seem deserving of your thanks. All the more reason to dig deep and reflect.

This Thanksgiving, take few moments between the turkey and pie and football and family squabbles to really look at your children, to see where their strengths and gifts lie, to honor what your children bring into your life, to see how far you have come on this rocky journey. For one day, put aside your tough role as an advocate and just be your child's mom or dad, sharing hugs and kisses and board games and movies and walks and talks and quiet time together.

Give thanks for your tears.

Give thanks for what you and your child have achieved so far in life, no matter how hard-won or small the gain. Give thanks that we live in a country that is years ahead of many others when it comes to understanding the value and rights of these children. Give thanks for Internet access that has opened up the world for all of us, helping people connect worldwide and access valuable resources, while networking with other families who are also trying hard to juggle it all, just like you. There is comfort in numbers...

On this day, give thanks for the ways in which your child has made you a more responsible parent, a better human being, one who is more tolerant, less judgemental, more patient, and a better child advocate with the ability to multi task on little sleep. Be thankful that your child has taught you that it's okay to ask others for the help you need. Give thanks for your growing recognition that it is our individual differences, and those of our children, that really do make the world go round. Give thanks for all of your children.

Give thanks for the freedom to celebrate your personal faith, and all the ways in which it helps you face, survive, and even celebrate the gifts of each new day of life.

Pausing to reflect on the gifts of special needs, even when you have to search hard for them, can help give you a better handle on your challenges, giving you more energy for the challenges that lay ahead. It balances out the rough moments. Reflecting on your blessings can be a powerful motivator, helping you focus more on what's possible for your child, and on the important role that you play in that child's life success, a positive focus that may help create additional blessings in your life.

Since I try to practice what I preach, here are some blessings from my own life that I will be giving thanks for tomorrow:

-Seeing my book Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs published and out in the world, where it belongs, thus honoring a big promise I made to my son before his death to help other children with special needs (and their families) live better lives.

-Meeting so many wonderful families at my book signings across the country whose commitment to and love for their children with disabilities has given me great hope for the future of these children, and others still to come. I am grateful for the many blessings you have shared with me this year, including your examples of courage, love, commitment and faith toward your children. These all fuel me on....

-I am grateful that I had the honor of meeting many wonderful people this past year who recognized and supported the value of my work, including: Timothy Shriver, Felecity Huffman, Marlee Matlin, and others. It has been a year of great blessings, amazing moments, heartfelt stories, and my own healing from the loss of my much-loved son.

-I am thankful that Eric's spirit is still strong and very present in my life and in my work, and that my daughter has now successfully taken her place as a responsible young adult in the world, while continuing her three-year relationship with a wonderful, talented and spirited young man!

-Finally, the food choices at the table this time of year are simply the best!

Blessings are everywhere; we just need to take time to slow down, reflect and then honor them. Once you begin searching, the list just seems to grow...and for that balance in my life, I am incredibly grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your book and this website. Your words have made a great impact in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family,
Michelle Feig (Emma's mom)
East Lansing, MI