My son was five. The six of us were headed to Uganda in about three months. And there were so many reasons I did not want to encounter the realities uncovered by the Vanderbilt Assessment, or my child’s pediatrician, or our family tree: ADHD, and eventually, accompanying (and profound) dysgraphia.
But by the grace of God, I had time to sort through our new normal (my son had not changed, but our methods thankfully did!) before “normal” got an African makeover. His disorders are one of the specific reasons we’ve decided to homeschool him—but that also ratchets this game to a whole new level.
Thanks to a lot of hours up to my frontal lobe in books, podcasts, articles, prayer, and real conversation, this is what I understood: My son’s disorders are not only part of his story God is writing: They are part of mine. God continues to make beautiful things where before I saw (or foresaw) ashes.
Why is this important to me? Paul David Tripp writes,
In some ways, everyone fears judgment. She fears the hammer will come down on her because she has failed to measure up and she will spend her life paying for her crimes. That’s why mercy and forgiveness stories quickly get our attention and hit us so deeply. In some way, everyone is afraid of being poor.
You see, I see a disorder as on a spectrum of our imperfections–weaknesses we all have, with labels or not, some perpetually and with biological contributors. Some of mine surpass those imposed by a disorder. We’ve all got junk. All of us find ourselves in dire need of grace.
I have grown in my gratitude for my son’s disorders. They’ve changed our family. They’ve changed me. And here are just a few of the ways.
- To detach my value from achievement—my son’s included. I’ve been a high achiever all my life; so many things are relatively easy for me. The irony of my being a writer with copyediting experience and having a son who physically cannot write or spell is not lost on me. Along with increasing my compassion and understanding of our own innate gifting (or lack thereof), my understanding of grace has catapulted to a new plane: My value and my son’s aren’t touched by our abilities or performance. Our value lies in God’s creation of us in His image, and in Jesus’ ability to perform on our behalf. End of story.
- To detach my value from my child’s social skills. My ability to please people is at times, I confess, almost inseparable from my identity, though God continues to pry this from my clutching fingers. Having a son who greets his friend at the pool with “Guess what? I didn’t brush my teeth today!” (insert noxious breath in face), speaks entirely too loudly in a restaurant, knocks over Candy Land in frustration, or sirens “That’s not faaaaaair!” over the entire neighborhood when friends are over is occasionally quite embarrassing. My husband and I work diligently at the behavioral level (here and here are just a few of the many methods that do work), though my son’s level of maturity statistically will be 30% behind because of his motor skills maturing before his impulse control. Still: Popular opinion in not where his, or our, value lies. God determines my faithfulness as a mother—which still doesn’t…or at least shouldn’t…touch where my identity lies.
- Bonus: Kids with more obvious weaknesses do change their friends and siblings…for the better. My other children are more patient, more enduring, and more gracious because there’s a kid around who requires a little extra energy to love. And I was just thanking God the other day for the graciousness of my son’s friends. That spontaneous, out-of-the-box brain does think of some great ideas when they’re playing around!
- That loving him well means fighting tenaciously for him to find his gifts. It means bearing his burdens as if they were mine. It means advocating his strengths, and working with him in honesty about his weaknesses. I’ve gleaned so much about endurance in loving! There is something about getting your hands dirty with someone in their weakness—especially those that make our lives incredibly challenging—that shows me so much of God’s enduring love; how He delves into the nitty-gritty and stays there, day after day.
- He wants to be a zoologist when he grows up, you know. So my shelves are stacked with children’s animal encyclopedias, with his nature journal (in which I write what he dictates), bird guides. When we brought home guppies from the creek, he peered in the jar; this nine-year-old noted, “You know, many of these are in different phases. Some are still in the yolk phase…” His knowledge of Scripture and its application floor me, too; his natural math aptitude will always outpace mine–partially because, with the dysgraphia, he would much rather fluidly solve problems in his mind. His disorders certainly mean no shortage of tremendous strengths.
- Humility–and patience. And more patience. Let me count the ways–! It’s hard to be “mother of the year” when all the other moms at playdate hear the earsplitting meltdown your son is erupting forth outside, or when his impulsivity breaks something in your mother’s house (again), or when your son’s toilet habits gross out the whole family. Particularly when your child looks normal and acts…almost normal, the expectation is that your son will be normal. Many of my blog posts when my children were young were frothing with idealism, with all I wanted for my children. And I’m still a dreamer—with God’s dreams, I hope. But this disorder helped me step further into grace: into what I cannot do for my children, but He can. It increased my dependence, decreased my boisterousness and self-absorption, cemented my parenting efforts more on the One who held their hearts and my dreams.
Tell us: How has your child’s story changed you?