My sister is raising two sons with disabilities. We don’t often get the time to hang out with one another without a list of things to do and places to go. We live hundreds of miles from one another. So our time together is precious.
She recently came to visit without her children. She needed a break. She was exhausted, physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Her life, as a mother, is centered around her sons’ needs.
The challenges of a blended family of 6 and maintaining a household is overwhelming. I imagine adding the necessities of children with disabilities could feel overpowering.
Life, to some degree, is different for her. Thankfully, she shares with me the anguish of being her sons’ advocate, wondering if she is doing the right thing and expressing she never feels she’s doing enough.
I struggle with knowing how to help, and I feel inadequate.
I don’t know much about disability so I I am hesitant in offering opinions and feel powerless when I don’t have answers.
After spending a weekend together, I realized I do a few things that are helpful. Maybe these ideas will help you support someone you know who has kids with disabilities, too.
1. Be a good listener.
We all want to be heard and understood. A few easy ways to actively listen are:
- Listen to their heart. What are they feeling and where do they struggle?
- Affirm their feelings. An example could sound like this, “That would be confusing/hurtful/overwhelming for me, too” or ” I would also feel sad/angry/tired if I were in your shoes.”
- Ask, “Is there any way I can help?” or “What can I do for you?”
Support by listening with your heart, validate their feelings and offer to help. Knowing they are not alone could be encouraging and uplifting.
Listen beyond the words. Listen for the deeper need. Let them talk about what’s happening as it may be what they need in order to move in the right direction.
2. Offer rest.
I imagine having a break is vital for a parent of children with disabilities. Most of us live on autopilot and don’t take the time to rest. Yet, it’s essential for our mental, physical and spiritual health.
My sister expressed she didn’t know how tired she was until she took a break from caregiving. She took naps, slept in and went to bed early. She allowed herself to slow down and rejuvenate. She came to my home for a time-out.
There are many other ways to give or encourage a respite:
- Ask if you can run some errands or do chores.
- Ask how you could help them find rest.
- Investigate local respite care services and offer to do the research for them.
Rest is essential in life. A little food is helpful, too. Rest is like the food and water we all need. Rest is what sustains us on our journey.
3. Affirmation and support.
I’ve noticed many parents of kids with disabilities usually feel they are never doing enough. Words that affirm, strengthen and highlight what’s working are supportive and encouraging. Affirmations can be reinforcing.
You can be a cheerleader in their life. Here are a couple of ways to cheer them on:
- Point out what they do well.
- Ask them, “What do you think is working right now?”
- Send them an encouraging text, scripture, quote or handwritten note.
Affirmations are markers that can encourage someone to keep going. They are supportive and reassuring.
My level of inadequacy and feelings of powerlessness diminish as I realize I can “do” much more that I thought I could.
I hope the lessons I learned from a weekend with my sister are helpful to you. We can listen well, promote rest, offer to help and encourage with our words.
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