Social media outrage was prevalent when Youtuber Myka Stauffer and her husband James decided to ‘rehome’ their child with special needs. The couple adopted a child with special needs from China in 2017 and featured him in YouTube videos. When the needs of their son, Huxley, became too much for them to handle, the couple explained their decision to (in their words) ‘rehome’ their son in an emotional video. The couple claims to have researched and spoken with professionals before adopting Huxley, yet the struggles they communicated are frequent to almost every parent raising a child with special needs. The purpose of this post is not to critique the decision of the Stauffer’s, but to learn from the emotional comments they publicly conveyed.
In a quote from Myka’s YouTube video her husband James explained their decision to followers stating: “With international adoption sometimes, there’s unknowns and things that are not transparent on files and things like that. Once Huxley came home, there was a lot more special needs that we weren’t aware of.”
I believe this sentiment is something every parent of a child with special needs has to overcome. It’s the feeling of this isn’t what we signed up for. And in the case of the Stauffers, it literally wasn’t something they signed up for, but most parents raising a child with special needs probably didn’t plan on their child having extra challenges. In fact, the Stauffers probably had more warning than most parents, as they knew they were adopting a child with at least some type of special needs. Maybe they didn’t know or understand the depth of the needs, but they were not expecting to adopt a typically developing child.
If the Stauffers had spoken to any parent raising a child with special needs, they would have learned the numerous unknowns and unexpected parts at nearly every twist and turn along this journey. Every parent of a child with special needs is quickly thrust into learning to deal with unknowns. We are not given some sort of special training or a manual at the point of our child’s diagnosis. And even the best developmental professionals can usually only provide a guess as to our child’s outcomes. While at its onset the diagnosis seems unfair, it doesn’t change the new reality that parents are expected to function within. But it seemed that the Stauffers (like many parents) were unable to move past the raw emotional state of feeling that they were dealt an unfair hand.
If I’m completely honest, even after a decade of parenting and deeply loving a child with special needs, this feeling of an unfair hand dealt to my child, myself, and my family still sneaks into my mind. It sneaks in at milestone times like a birthday when I am reminded of his actual age and what a typical child’s life would be like at that age. It sneaks in when I wish our family could do something simple like sit, relax and watch a movie together, play a board game, or go on a hike. It sneaks up on me when I feel like 110% of my attention has gone to my child with special needs; I blink and my other two boys are young men. It sneaks into my mind at the end of the day when my body aches or the exhaustion sets in from the physical demands of continual care and constant supervision to make sure his needs are met and he’s safe.
But if we as parents of these amazing kiddos allow this thought of unfairness to stay in our minds and hearts, the result is us giving up. Maybe not to the extreme of rehoming, but we may give up on the fact that we can experience a joyful and full life with our child.
“As special needs parents we don’t have the power to make life “fair,” but we do have the power to make life joyful”Anonymous
Below are some ways that have helped me when the unfair feeling sneaks into my mind to steal joy:
- Laugh at Mistakes
Ecclesiastes 3 explains that there is a time for everything and in verse 4 (NIV) the author says there is a time to weep and a time to laugh. One of the many things my son with special needs has taught me is to laugh at my mistakes. When I drop something, feel frustrated, or let out a growl my son is unable to read the social cues of the situation. He usually finds my hurried mistake or feeling of frustration downright hilarious. He will often break into a full laugh… even when I am at my wit’s end because of his noncompliance. Some would argue that this is not the time to laugh that is mentioned in Ecclesiastes, but I believe learning to laugh at some of the absurd events that take place in a home (especially in a home with a child with special needs) gives us less weeping and more times and things to laugh over.
- Learn to Dance
The author of Ecclesiastes continues in verse 4 saying there is a time to mourn and a time to dance. Let’s not skip over the time to mourn. Every now and then we need to mourn–to grieve our losses and let out a good cry. But we cannot stay there, because there is also a time to dance. When we learn to dance with our child we set aside the striving and simply accept our role as a parent of a child God created. We stop our minds and constant striving to force change and improvement. We slow down and enjoy the moment with our child. This can be so hard for us as parents as we are often wanting to help our child meet the next goal, get to the next appointment, or make sure we have given our child what they need. And all these things are important, but there are times we need to remember to just enjoy the moment with our child. Maybe this moment is found in literally cranking up some music and dancing or just enjoying a still moment together in a book. But creating moments where we stop and learn to dance along the journey, is where our joy can be renewed in our relationship with our child.
- Spend Time with the Source of Joy
As 1 Chronicles 16:27 explains, in worship before the throne of God is where strength and joy are found.
Splendor and majesty are before him;1 Chronicles 16:27
strength and joy are in his dwelling place.
When I find myself feeling the emotions similar to the Stauffers of an unfair or unexpected challenge, I often realize I haven’t spent enough time with God– the source of true joy. It’s in these times that I need to ‘rehome’ my heart—not my child. If I am having the feelings of giving up, I haven’t rested in His dwelling place. As a result, I’ve missed the strength and joyful moments with Him. My focus moves away from the fact that while things may be unexpected, they can at the same time be a beautiful gift from God.