Let’s be honest: parenting is hard. Parenting a child with special needs is really hard. And when your special needs child has mental illness, it can be flat out daunting.
This isn’t about comparison – it’s about compassion. If you are a parent with a mentally ill child, or you are close to a family with a mentally ill child, then you understand. These are families who sleep with one eye open, families who avoid crowds and small group settings equally, families who sit next to you in church… Families who have a daily safety plan reality to their routines that most of us can’t possibly fathom.
My family completely understands. Our daughter Maddie was born prematurely with several complications, including extreme pressure on her tiny brain and her right eye never developing. Significant surgeries came early to address both, and we had hopes that she might never know (or remember) the severity of these events…
Maddie spent her early childhood as a happy, playful, and talkative kiddo with dozens of friends and many, many prayer warriors around her. At the age of 8 we started noticing small signals of anxiety, initially at school where she began to withdraw from certain friends. We had no idea the Grand Canyon we were beginning to walk into.
By the age of 13 Maddie was holding on by a thin thread. Most of our close friends could see that something was challenging our sweet daughter as she began erratic mood swings, even in situations she typically enjoyed or with people she trusted. We were so close to her and so accepting of her unique nature that we never saw the depression coming… We felt blind-sided, even with all the signals right in front of us.
Today, Maddie is 16 and fighting daily against anxiety and depression with a medical diagnosis of severe pyroluria (a natural deficiency of Zinc and B6). Maddie has regular panic attacks, and occasionally cuts herself when things get unbearable. She struggles to eat well. And sadly, she wrestles with wanting to die. These things are hard to write, but we have learned that transparency gives our family the only reprieve that brings us any consistent peace… God’s abundant grace.
Families with mentally ill children need a secure love surrounding them. They must have a strong hope for their child’s future. And desperately want a significant purpose for all of their challenges. Thankfully these can all be found in Grace Based Parenting. How should we parent these special needs children? The same way God parents us: with grace.
Our mentally ill children need medical support, counseling, and lots of prayer. But deep down inside they need the same four freedoms all of our kids need: the freedom to be different, the freedom to be vulnerable, the freedom to be candid, and the freedom to make mistakes. These are so huge for special needs kids with mental illnesses!
Our peace won’t come from the world’s definitions of success. The world says success is found in things like outward beauty, higher education, and complex medication. Chasing those with our sweet Maddie will only add to her anxiety and deepen her depression. We will choose above our sphere… We will chose grace under pressure.
Our story isn’t over. We can’t predict the details of how it will all unfold, but we know we are aiming Maddie at the same final destination that we aim our other two children… Eternity. We have chosen to invest daily in Maddie’s character with faith, integrity, poise, disciplines, endurance and encouragement. Join us.