A biblical perspective in parenting a particular wants little one
We had two children and thought we figured out this parenting thing.
Are you giggling already? You should be But understand where I come from. God gave us two beautiful daughters very early in our marriage. For six years we worked hard to train and nurture them as God commanded. It’s not that we have been perfect or always successful. It was just that when we had problems, we could trust the Word of God and a band of godly counselors to give us their wisdom and practical experience. We felt we had everything we needed to overcome any parenting problems that got in our way until AJ showed up.
Around our son AJ’s third birthday, he was diagnosed with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and global developmental delay. Dianne and I immediately went from confident parents to confused parents, and one of the biggest areas of confusion for us was finding the balance between understanding and justification.
You see, when our daughters Bethany and Kaylee refused to have their dinner it was easy to understand that it was disobedience. But if AJ didn’t eat his dinner, was it rebellion or was it sensory processing issues? When the girls in the store had a tantrum, it was because they deliberately refused to obey. But if it happened to AJ on a trip to Wal-Mart, it was defiance or he was overly stimulated by the noise and activity of the store (to be fair, a trip to Wal-Mart usually puts me in a bad mood).
Suddenly we no longer knew the answers and no longer understood the questions. We didn’t want to be understanding enough to justify his sin as being “out of his control,” but we also didn’t want to be so tough that we did not acknowledge that AJ was having very real physical and mental struggles that required our consideration. We also didn’t want to raise AJ from a place of fear, we just wanted to discipline him to avoid the public stigma of a recalcitrant child. So Dianne and I stumbled on for quite a while and tried to gain a foothold, but we felt more lost with every step.
As a parent with special needs, can you relate to this struggle? I remember well when God gave us the straight answer to our confusion. Our aha moment came when Dianne was doing her devotion. I remember putting down her Bible, looking at me, and saying, “In every passage I find in the Bible about parenting, God never gives the parents of children with special needs different rules.”
Although the term “children with special needs” does not appear in the Bible, God clearly recognizes people with disabilities in His Word and reminds us that He created them for His glory. Exodus 4:11 says: “And the Lord said to him, Who made man’s mouth? or who makes him stupid [unable to speak], or deaf or seeing or blind? Am I not the Lord?
Do you remember the man who was born blind from birth in John 9? Jesus says in verse 3: “… neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”
I believe that this is the basic truth that we must remember in order to have an understanding spirit towards our children with special needs: In the Bible, raising a child with special needs is the same as raising any other child. I cannot raise a child unless I am filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5: 17–18). I cannot raise a child without knowledge and wisdom from God (Proverbs 1: 7, 9:10). I cannot raise a child without having loving charity that surpasses all else (1 Corinthians 13).
Understanding this principle enabled us to take on the burden we carried and hand it over to Christ, which is the commandment for all parents of every child (Matthew 11: 28-30).
Of course, raising a child with special needs requires changing your parenting methods. For example, our eating process for AJ is different from our other kids, but he still has to eat what’s on his plate. Our method of handling a bad day in the store for him is not the same as what we would treat his sisters, but we don’t let him act how he wants as we go from aisle to aisle. How can we navigate these nuances with a mind of understanding and grace? It can only be done by using the Bible as our guide and signpost. Finally, in 2 Peter 1: 3 it says: “Accordingly, his divine power has given us everything that concerns life and piety …” This is either true or not.
As a parent with special needs, how can you raise judgment and understanding? Just like a teenager, a headstrong child, a preschooler, or any other child. In the end, Dianne and I may not have figured out this parenting thing after all (and neither do you), but I’m glad we know whoever does.
Adam Riveiro is the pastor of the Liberty Baptist Church at 800 Washington Street in Easton. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the church and its services, visit www.mylibertybaptist.org. Adam and his wife Dianne are also the authors of the book Ministering to Children With Special Needs, available at www.readyscribepublications.com.