Kick Off Your Running Shoes
By Cathy Steere
Homeschooling Children With Special Needs
“Homeschooling, parenting, life … is not a race against others”
Have you ever been admonished, “Stop comparing your child to other children!”? You then quickly shake your head in agreement, “Yes, yes, I know, you’re right, I shouldn’t . . . I won’t.” But secretly, in your mother’s heart of hearts, you can’t help but compare. If you are a mom who has a child that seems to lag behind in some area, it seems nearly impossible to not see every delay he exhibits as though it were a bullhorn sounding out the alarm, “Look at HER child, tsk, tsk . . . so far behind all of the rest. Wonder what the problem is in that home. Must be the mother’s fault . . . yes, it’s always the mother’s fault.”
Or, you could be that rather fortunate mom who has that unbelievably high achiever for a child. You watch your child fly through school, sports, and social situations with seemingly flawless ease. You, too, can’t help but notice your child’s shining success and privately give yourself that little pat on the back. Obviously, you are doing something right!
Why do we do this? I think the reason we think this way is the result of sinful pride . . . for both kinds of moms mentioned above. If we didn’t care so much about what other people think, and if we cared more about what God thinks of us, it would never even cross our minds to compare our children with others.
I think that as a mother of a special needs child, the proclivity to compare is very great. We already have a sense that we tread on foreign land, territory not common to the majority of parents. This lays the foundation for feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. We may have family, or friends from church, who do not approve of our decision to homeschool, causing us to feel judged and defensive. We listen to other homeschooling moms discuss their ‘normal’ children and we stand in awe at their children’s accomplishments. I have listened to moms chatter on about science fairs, community basketball, band, ballet, drama, fencing and glass blowing, yes, glass blowing! And I stupidly stand there recalling to myself, how that very morning, my 11-year-old son who has autism needed me to help him blow his nose! It’s as if we moms are on separate planets-some sort of parallel universe in the homeschooling galaxy.
What has helped me in my efforts to overcome this tendency to compare is to recognize that homeschooling, parenting . . . life, is not a race against others. I know, because of our natural sinful pride, this is easier said than done, but you really must keep it in mind if you want to keep yourself from bitterness toward your friends, your child, or even God.
The sin of pride is in all of us. Have you ever witnessed your children in need of this reminder, that ‘it’s not a race’? My boys, 11-year-old Drew, and 9-year-old Elliot, hear this reminder from me all of the time. We pull into the driveway after errands; both boys jump out, and with a collective slam of the car doors make their way in a mad-dash to the house. Obviously there is something truly horrid about not getting there first. What is funny is that the one lagging behind is always the one to yell to the other, “Remember, it’s NOT A RACE!” How different things look, however, when you are in the lead: “It most certainly is a race. . . and I’m winning!”
Not only do we need to recognize we are not failures when we view ourselves as ‘behind,’ we, too, must guard ourselves from the sinfulness of arrogance by bragging when we consider ourselves ‘ahead’. Anyone can seek out the child who lags behind their own. For the moment, it feels like a safe place to be. In reality, what does it really matter who is ahead and who is behind? Is this what God says we ought to do? Does He check who is winning or who is ahead of whom? Isn’t that what really matters, what God thinks?
Don’t be confused with what the scriptures refer to as running “the race set before us.” The race mentioned in Hebrews 12:1 is one of believers persevering in obedience to faith in Christ. This, too, is not a race against others. What is important to note about the race mentioned in Hebrews is that sin, such as the sin of pride, hinders the Christian in this race and, as Matthew Henry writes, “takes from him every motive for running, and gives power to every discouragement.” This being the race that truly matters, it ought to give impetus for us to frequently consider God; what are His thoughts of us? How do we compare to His standards of faith and practice? Is God pleased with us?
When Drew was seven years old, we tried attending a children’s Bible club which met once a week. Having a child with autism made this a rather anxiety-filled endeavor. It was loud, chaotic, and exciting, all at the same time. I remember one little boy, younger than Drew. He was amazing! He miraculously memorized huge sections of Bible verses in his workbook, was the star athlete during game time, had a great sense of humor, and, on top of all of this, was an extremely attractive little boy. Everyone loved him. And as much as this little boy had going for him, Drew didn’t. Drew was physically awkward and found game time to be a real challenge. He was socially backward and struggled to relate to others more appropriately.
One evening I watched as the boys checked in. They would earn points for wearing their uniforms, bringing their Bibles, and for having attended Sunday school the week prior. I listened as Drew answered the check-in lady’s questions. Just as I thought he was done, he paused, then blurted loudly, “Oh, and my brother had a large poopie today!” I was mortified! I quickly leaned over and tried to laugh it off with the check-in lady, “And how many points do we earn for that?” She laughed, too, but I have to admit, in that moment, I felt like we just didn’t fit, that this wasn’t the place for us, that it would never be. Why couldn’t Drew be like that other amazing little boy? Why did everything, even the simplest things, have to be so hard for him? While my immediate feelings were natural, dwelling on them and nursing them would have been sin. How could I focus on all of Drew’s shortcomings when God, in His mercy, had brought him so far . . . far for him? That was the key. I needed to concentrate on comparing Drew to Drew . . . not to anyone else. When I considered that only four years prior Drew was unable to even answer a yes or no question, wasn’t potty trained, and screamed at the slightest thing out of order in his environment, it was a near wonder that Drew was able to show up and participate at all in that Bible club. By focusing on the gains Drew had made over the years and comparing his own past to his own present, it caused me to grow in my thankfulness to God. God was glorified in my thoughts and a growing peace saturated my heart. There was no room for bitterness, resentment, or jealousy. My heavenly Father had heaped a mountain of blessings upon me and my son and I had nearly missed seeing it for keeping my eyes on that illusive race against others.
The next time you find yourself distressed over how your child compares to someone else’s, remind yourself that ‘it isn’t a race’. Compare your child only to himself, and then thank God for how He has richly blessed you.
Cathy Steere and her husband, David, live in the beautiful Pacific northwest, and homeschool their two sons, Drew and Elliot. For the past several years the Steeres have implemented an individualized neurodevelopmental home program with their oldest son, who has autism. Cathy is the author of the book Too Wise to be Mistaken, Too Good to be Unkind: Christian Parents Contend with Autism.