For several years, a part of me dreaded November, December and early January. The holiday season—from Thanksgiving through Christmas and New Years—can be a wonderful opportunity for family and friends, traditions, spontaneity and general festivity. But for those of us experiencing the unique challenges of parenting someone with special needs, there can be a looming shadow over the joys of that season. Recovering afterwards can get emotionally and spiritually complicated too.
Our third daughter, Carly, has severe disabilities that add stress to social gatherings and travel. Relaxing for more than an hour or two at any time of the year is rare. Managing her health as well as sensory, developmental and behavioral needs is difficult enough at home. Those challenges mushroom when we are on the road or trying to join a party. For many years, taking that package of complexity over to grandma’s house or into an extra crowded church service triggered grief and more resentment than I care to admit. By January 2nd—and sometimes long before that—I was exhausted, bitter, depressed and racked with guilt feelings for being so self-centered and dragging others down with me. For me, overcoming the post-holiday funk has been a very real battle.
Thankfully, God is patient and has provided some tools that are softening the edges of my emotions and keeping me more mentally positive. Carly is 21 years old now and I’m in my mid 50s. I’m grateful to be learning alongside other special needs parents about things that give us victory over the shadows.
I am learning to honor my need to process grief. Parenting Carly gives me many reasons to rejoice in the unique and wonderful ways God has designed her. Still, there are times when I also feel sad, angry, worried or discouraged. Holidays bring different, sometimes unexpected, triggers toward sorrow and disappointment. It’s nobody’s fault, but those are real and important feelings. I’ve learned that each person in our family experiences them, too. Denying them isn’t healthy. But festering in them isn’t helpful either. So each of us is learning how to take those feelings to Jesus and each other. I’m very grateful that Larry and I, along with our children and some extended family, are getting better at talking things out with each other. We find comfort in the resonance. It also reveals opportunities to collaborate about what we might do about it.
I am learning to celebrate successes. Many years ago, I sobbed when I realized that hanging Christmas stockings on the fireplace mantle would create a safety hazard for Carly. I felt robbed of a tradition and freedom. But when I discovered that they looked really cool hanging from the staircase railing away from busy hands, I grinned with the satisfaction of a clever compromise. When I got even one sheet of Christmas cookies in the oven, my shoulders eased in satisfaction. When my children got to enjoy an evening playing a game with their cousins, I gave myself an internal “high five.” When our family returned from a two-day road-trip to the grandparents’ house, I checked one off for the “win”—even if it wasn’t smooth sailing the whole way. During my post-holiday reflections, I ask Jesus to show me the strengths and gems to be remembered out of the holiday chaos.
Source: Special Needs Parenting- Key Ministry