Raising a child, or caring for an adult, with disabilities in a responsibility for which very few people are trained. The stress and physical requirements can be daunting, as sleepless nights and ongoing frustrations eventually take their toll. Nonetheless, many parents and amateur caregivers will try to go it alone, as though asking for help suggests a weakness on their part, or could cast their loved on in a negative light. Nothing could be further from the truth. As I often said, martyrdom is not sexy and caregivers should seek out as much help as they can find.
Bringing others into the support pool offers many benefits to not only the caregiver, but the person with disabilities as well. God created each of us with unique skills and talents, and from 1Peter 4:10 “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” Caregivers, like everyone else, are blessed with their God-defined gifts, but those gifts may not be what their charge needs at the time. Conversely, the individual may have needs, desires, and interests which can not be met by the people they see everyday, as God may have gifted others with those talents.
Our world today enables people with disabilities to experience the talents of others in ways which have never existed. From artists and museums offering art classes to people with autism, to churches reaching out with special needs ministries to help spread the Word of God, people are enthusiastically bringing their skills to those with disabilities in unprecedented ways. The most well known example is Special Olympics, where staff and volunteers have brought the thrill and fun of sports to people who at one time never had these opportunities.
When our twins were still preschoolers, we learned about a division in Plano Parks & Recreation called Therapeutic Recreation, which hosted a variety of events for people with disabilities. One of these was a Parent’s Night Out, available one Friday night each month, which for a few hours watched young children with disabilities while their parents could experience a rare evening alone. I remember our first evening. We dropped the twins off at the church hosting the program, saw their room and met the volunteers. As we were leaving for our date, the Program Director stopped us and said “We understand you might be nervous leaving them this first time. It’s not unusual for parents to peek through the windows to see what’s going on. That’s perfectly fine.” I almost laughed out loud. “No, no, no. If we had any concerns like that, then we would not be having this lovely conversation. Trust me, you will be calling us long before we’re calling you!”
Many times people want to help, they just don’t know what to offer. They may be concerned about making a mistake, accidentally hurting someone, or not being able to handle an unplanned crisis. Obviously, you know your loved one better than anyone and can judge the legitimate risks. For our entire marriage, Carole and I have been on our own with no family nearby who can provide real help. When our twins were six years old, I took a risk…I asked my sister, who lives almost a thousand miles away, if she and her husband could come watch our kids for a week so I could take Carole on vacation. After a brief pause to think about it, she said “Yes”. A year later, she and my brother-in-law came to Dallas, spent a day learning the ropes, and Carole and I left for a great time in Rome! To our surprise, when we returned they told us they had such a fun time, and recognizing the blessing this brought to us, they offered to watch our kids again for a week every couple of years. As a result, Carole and I have enjoyed some well-needed breaks, all made possible by my sister’s generosity to help in a way most people might not consider.
In the end, caregivers can not be shy or reluctant to ask for help. You never know the blessing it will bring to you, your loved one, or those who are invited into the support circle. For parents, there’s another element to remember. God has blessed you with a special gift, and it is your moral obligation to share your gift with as many people as possible!