You and Your "Different" Child? You're Not Alone

It is no secret that I count among one of my greatest motherhood blessings the extraordinary gift of my friendship with Sally Clarkson. She has mentored me through her books and her tapes (way back when) and then, through her personal words spoken into some of the darkest places of my doubt and frustration. So many good words have come forth from this beautiful lady.

This one is different.

This time, Sally has partnered with her son Nathan to shed light on a dark place that so many of us keep tucked into the shadows of our public lives. When you are the mother of a child who struggles-- to learn, to share, to be still, to speak up, to fit in--you quickly learn that the world of Christian women (and men) look upon such kids with disapproval. And they look upon their parents with smug superiority. Before you have a child like this, you know exactly how to raise a child like this. When you live with a different child, it feels like all you know is how much you don't know.

Sally knows. She's walked the walk of frustration and despair and anguish. She understands how powerfully we love the children whose gifts we see so clearly and whose pain we absorb into our very beings. She understands how lonely the experience of parenting a "different" child can be. I'm someone who has always tried to keep life "under control." But this experience of being the parent of a child who lives outside the box? There is very little that is under my control. I cannot control his emotions or his feelings or the way he responds to struggle. And I really cannot control all the things that happen outside our house to make life even harder for him.

Those lessons in recognizing what was under my control and what was not? They were hard, hard won. Actually, I'm quite certain I'm not finished with those lessons yet. 

In the process of learning of them, though, I've actually also recognized how little of life I control in general. That's a valuable lesson. And like most of the valuable life lessons I've learned lately, that's one learned first in the book of life volume labeled "Parenting Kids Outside the Box."  Kids like these are more. So they teach us more. All of of life stands out bolder with them. Everything that is true is more true with them. 

"Nathan's differences stretched me and challenged my own limits of wanting to fit in, to not bring more criticism and judgment, and my deep desire to have life be controllable. By loving him through the peaks and valleys of his own life journey in our home, I learned even more the meaning of the preciousness and value of each human being, who is crafted mysteriously by the hand of God. I learned to appreciate and celebrate difference (not just "cope with it') because all human beings are a work of the artist and have infinite value to the One who made them."

Sally reaches into the hearts of women who feel alone in meeting the needs of the children they love so much. And Nathan? Oh, Nathan, what treasure you give to mothers with this book.

Nathan holds in his words the gift of hope. Nathan tells us that we will love our way through this hand-in-hand, and on the other side of childhood, we will be stronger and better for the things we faced together.

Listen up, mama who is so tired and so worried:

From the first day a mother suspects that this child might not march to the same beat as the rest of the family, the first time he cries unconsolably in a situation where another baby could be comforted, the day the school calls and says they have no idea what to do with him, to the day he lifts his arms in victory because he's met a personal milestone, this journey beside a child who is different is a long one. It is not for the faint of heart. And we aren't all super good and cheerful and virtuous every step of the way. Some of us stumble and fall and wonder why God thought it was a good idea to put us in charge of the care of anyone at any time. Some of us feel tremendous guilt for things for which we wish we could have a "do over" ticket. Some of us are just weary in the waiting for clouds to part and the sun to shine again.

Sally understands all of that. She walks alongside us on the long journey and she offers tangible help for which many of us are downright starved.

Mental illnesses are not casserole diseases. Well-meaning folks don’t show up on your porch with a covered dish and a shoulder to cry on when your child is struggling with mental illness or a learning disability that makes everyday life a bitter struggle. But you wish they would. With this book, Sally Clarkson offers weary moms the nourishing feast for which they are starved. Nathan grants us unprecedented, invaluable insight into the mind of the child as he grows. With warm understanding, they give us tangible tools and healthy, hearty food for the journey.

If you love an oustide-the-box child, you need this book, and you have already waited too long to have it. 

I read the advance copy of Different in the autumn and its words filled me with hope. When the box from the publisher with the actual, real book arrived, I set it aside. (OK, well, maybe in the mix of Christmas decorations, I lost it for awhile, even before I opened it.) Today, I found it, and I opened it. I was delighted to discover a companion Bible Study! It's lovely! I hope to use this right away with my 14-year-old who could use some encouragement and a hero(ine) or two to inspire her as she becomes increasingly aware that she, too, is a square peg in a round hole world.