Disability looms over families. By definition a life-long disability is unrelenting; there isn’t a day I wake up that my oldest son isn’t significantly disabled and needing care. Frequently that care includes an army of people who are serving our disabled children through the educational and medical systems, adding complications to family life.
What About the Non-Disabled Siblings?
The other children in the family can feel it as well — and sometimes they feel lost in all the attention paid to their sibling with disabilities. They can see the money going towards medical and therapy bills rather than family vacations or recreation. They can feel the grief that mothers and fathers frequently carry. They can weary from people asking them about their brother or sister with the disability.
Extraordinary conflict can rise up within the soul of a brother or sister of a disabled child. They want to love and care for their disabled sibling, but they also desire and need attention and care. In its worst forms, the disabled child is resented by his or her non-disabled siblings, and the siblings do not trust that their parents truly care for them.
That resentment can be fed by well-meaning, kind-hearted people at church who inquire after the disabled sibling, but don’t seem to get around to the rest of the children. And the enemy of our faith loves to increase the chaos inside of families, especially those who are already clinging to Jesus for help.
A Gift You Can Give
One of the sweetest gifts you can give to a mother and father living with disability in one or more of their children is to have loving regard for all the children. It is an encouragement to the parents, but it also makes the church family attractive to the non-disabled siblings.
It can be very simple, such as knowing the non-disabled child’s name and asking his parents about his interests. It can include recognizing her uniqueness as a gift from God, noting what is praiseworthy about her and communicating a specific interest and affection for this sibling.
Of course, it can also include greater investment of time and energy in those children. Frequently the best long-term investments start with the simple things. But do not discount the simple things that help build up a family experiencing disability and the longer-term impact it can have.
Recently we attended a church gathering with the entire family. Paul is well-known and kindly regarded by our church family. But I was equally encouraged that each of my other children had an adult who either took special care to interact with them personally or inquired of me about them, sometimes not asking about Paul at all. It included Sunday School teachers and small group leaders or just people who knew them because we’ve been at our church for so many years.
I left that gathering affirmed, refreshed, encouraged and connected — and so did my children.
Church, may we help one another raise our children — all our children — in the knowledge and fear of the Lord.