“24 Practical Tips for Helping Out a Mama of Kids With Disabilities” originally appeared on The Mighty, and was reprinted with permission.
I’m in a rough season of raising my little tribe of people. You know, the season when you stand to eat breakfast, shovel in lunch while you make the kids food and then you can settle down to eat a cold dinner. I’m in the trenches right now with my four little people. I know it won’t last forever, but right now I’m not seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
There are also some added pressures and stress that come with having a child who has a disability. Sometimes these pressures and stresses can throw my entire family out of whack. Things that I feel should be simple for our family, aren’t. I am still coming to terms with this — realizing we have to skip certain activities or live with a loud and stressful dinner every single night because of my little people and having my 3-year-old who is not yet self-sufficient at feeding himself or communicating. I’m still learning. I’m still trying to work through a lot of what this means for us a family, and me as a mom.
Recently, I had a few people ask me for practical ways to help out a mom who has a child with disabilities. Thanks to some input from my fellow mamas who have kids rockin’ their extra 21st chromosome, I’ve created a list of ways to come alongside a mom who has been given the awesome but challenging task of raising a child who needs extra care and attention.
1. Be intentional.
Do not wait for a struggling mom to ask for help. More than likely she is busy with doctor appointments, administering medication or attending therapies. If she is not shuffling around appointments, she might be on the phone with a doctor’s office or consumed emotionally with the needs of her child and her lack of support. Some of us struggle with anxiety and/or depression from the added pressures. Many of us lack the strength to reach out at times. We need a tribe who can help pick us up when we are too weak to carry on.
2. Call her.
Take the time to be a safe person for this mom, someone she can share with what’s really going on in her life. Often sharing things about my son Charlie is difficult for two reasons. First, people honestly do not seem to have the time to hear what is really going on. There is a lot and I can’t quite say in passing, “I am really fearful of Charlie being diagnosed with Leukemia.” Second, often what we want to share and need to get off of our chest, we don’t, because we are fearful of being judged. I’m sure a lot of us have some pretty unusual stories to share.
3. No judgment.
Period. Listen to what this mom is going through without coming up with your own ideas of why a situation is the way it is and without your own ideas of how to fix what she is going through. A lot of times we just need to share about the true feelings or challenges we are experiencing, but to share it with a person who isn’t walking through it can be a scary thing.
4. Take her a meal.
Or three. Or if you’re really up for cooking, make her family some freezer meals.
5. Help her load up into her vehicle.
This is a biggie to the mamma who has small children who physically cannot get into their car seat without assistance. Personally, I am still going through this phase. I am still loading my littles in and everyone else is long gone before I even get the stroller into the van.
6. Ask her if you can go to the grocery store for her.
7. Send her a card or note to let her know you are thinking of her.
Often times as moms we can feel isolated because we truly cannot leave our house. Some of our kids have to be kept away from germs or maybe our kids just cannot handle certain social situations.
8. Stop by and give her a special drink or treat.
Who doesn’t want to receive a treat dropped off at their door step? That can make even the dreariest of days brighter.
9. Volunteer to babysit for a few hours.
For us moms, knowing there is someone who wants to watch our children with disabilities is a big deal. You may not realize it, but people don’t go out of their way to babysitting our kiddos.
10. Make yourself available to babysit for doctor’s appointments and therapies.
I’m pretty sure we had 100 doctor’s and therapy appointments during Charlie’s first year of life. It was so stressful! Can you imagine dragging your three children to three therapy appointments each week? Help a mother out!
11. Offer to take her out to a place she enjoys.
12. Volunteer to go on an outing with her to help out with the kids.
Places like the zoo and pool become a lot more interesting when you have a “runner” or a child who cannot communicate well.
13. Be a good listener.
Don’t pretend to know what this mom is going through or how she feels (unless of course you are in the same situation). No need to offer advice, but listen to what she going through. You don’t need to fix all of her “problems.” Just offer a listening ear and give this mama a hug.
14. Ask her specifically how her child with a disability is doing.
Notice their accomplishments and rejoice with her. You may not understand the significance of her child drinking out of a straw, but it might be a miracle to this mama.
15. If her child knows sign language, learn a few basic signs to help communicate with her child.
Most people like tacos.
17. Communicate with her child who has a disability the same way you communicate with any “typical” developing child.
Ask questions, make jokes, give hugs and high fives. Be patient to wait for an answer. Most of the time our kids want so badly to respond. They just need a few extra seconds or minutes to get there.
18. Keep inviting this mama to things even if she has been saying no.
Please realize we aren’t saying no to your invite because we are hanging out with other gal pals getting mani-pedis. A lot of times it is truly because we just can’t handle the stress of going somewhere. Our kid was up all night with breathing treatments, our kid can’t have diaper changes in a public environment, our child is on oxygen. The list of very interesting reasons why could go on and on. At some point, we will join you.
19. Be trustworthy.
Don’t betray this mom’s confidence by sharing things she has told you in private. We mamas have a lot of fears for what the future may hold for our kiddos; we might struggle with the diagnosis, worry about our kids reaching milestones, hearing incredulous things from doctors. Some of us might be emotional roller coasters and we are trying to keep ourselves together. It’s the greatest gift to have a person you can talk to knowing they will not betray your confidence.
20. Accept the behaviors our children may display and do not take offense to it.
Sometimes it is hard to explain sensory issues and social or behavioral issues; unless you live with them day in and day out you might not fully understand. Have some grace. Maybe my kid biting your kid really has nothing to do with “bad behavior” or “being mean,” but really has everything to do with my child’s sensory needs to bite on things.
21. Offer to keep an extra eye on my kiddo.
My kid can run away in the .005 seconds that I take my eyes off of him! And one of these days I hope to have an actual conversation with someone at church or at the park rather than chasing my kid.
22. Truly seek to understand what life is like for us mamas.
Whether that is reading up on a diagnosis, going to a therapy session with us, asking questions or finding a way you can better understand what life is like in our shoes.
23. Remember her birthday.
Get a few other friends to write notes of encouragement to let her know she is doing a good job and present these to her as a gift. This would hit the jackpot for this mama’s Birthday!
24. Teach your child to love and accept our children for who they are.
Take the time to talk to your children about kids with different abilities. Let them ask questions, be curious and teach them to be patient. And for crying out loud, do not teach your child to be kind to my son just because he has Down syndrome. Please teach your child to be kind because it is the descent and right thing to do.
I know most of these items take time and a bit of sacrifice. Coming alongside a mama who so very badly needs help, support and encouragement will definitely take time.
Ideally, wouldn’t it be nice if a few people did a few things for this mom? I think what most of us “mamas of kids with disabilities” would want others to know is that we can often feel misunderstood or not sought out. We can’t make it to as many events or even consistently get to church. We don’t always have the flexibility to be at parks, swimming pools or play-dates. And when we do go, it’s not as if we have many people jumping up to help shuffle our kiddos or keep an eye on our “runner.” It’s truly not because we don’t want to be there — we badly want to be there — we just simply can’t do it. This can make friendships and relationships difficult. We want friendship, we want closeness, but we realize unless friends are willing to bend more our way during certain seasons of life, it probably won’t happen.
So! All of this to say, now that you have some pointers on what you can do to come alongside a mama in need of encouragement, go find that mama and do something for her. Don’t let the busyness of life get in the way. You have no idea how much a simple gesture can help that mom keep fighting the good fight of raising her children. Which is truly the most important job in the world. Help this mom fulfill her motherly duty by spurring her on!
We need each other. It truly does take a village.
More from The Mighty:
- I Let My 4-Year-Old With Autism Use My Camera. Here’s How He Sees the World.
- What It’s Like to Have ‘High-Functioning’ Anxiety
- When My 4-Year-Old Defended My Chronic Illness to a Restaurant Manager