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Sometimes He Does

I ran across a tough story recently. Veronica Galbraith, a single mother of a teenaged boy with Autism in the UK committed suicide after she was compelled to put her son into care when she found herself unable to cope with his behavioral issues. There have been a lot of news reports of parents who hurt, abandon or even kill their kids with disabilities, and the tendency of the media to express a lot of sympathy for the parents, often at the expense of the murdered offspring, has caused a lot of well-justified anxiety among the disability community.

But the story of Veronica Galbraith feels a little different, and it gives us the opportunity to examine the lives of parents of kids with disabilities with a renewed sense of purpose. Galbraith seemed to have had other issues, to be sure, with the death of her brother and some other serious family issues as well. And she appears to have had some pretty serious mental and emotional (and possibly alcohol-related) problems, too. So once again, saying she was overwhelmed with her caregiving responsibilities probably presents an oversimplification. The report seems to suggest that while her son’s behavioral challenges were more than she could handle, it was likely the loss of him in her home and her inability to help him that brought her to the point of suicide. And as almost always is the case, a lack of a solid support environment almost certainly exacted a terrible toll on her.

The thing is, however, that these external stressors aren’t mitigating circumstances. They aren’t beside the point. They ARE the point. I follow a great many special needs parents online, mostly on Twitter, and the stories I read every day paint pictures of families for whom disability often only complicates, albeit significantly so, a litany of issues ranging from irritating to tragic. We don’t spend every minute of every day dealing with disability challenges, but because those challenges are omnipresent, we are always special needs parents, regardless of whether the monster is driving at that particular moment or not.

In our desire to present real life situations as parables, there is a very real danger of creating narratives that are ultimately inaccurate. Parents do not care for our kids in a purely good or evil way, and we don’t approach those kids with a monolithic philosophy. The truth almost always lies in a grey area, in a place where parents care much more than they are given credit for, but screw up more frequently and dramatically than anyone really sees. I believe that the majority of special needs parents don’t dehumanize their kids. But most of us prove all too human ourselves.

I love my daughter, and I think about her constantly. I spend a lot of time with my stomach twisted in anxiety, but I spend a pretty large amount of time exalting over her victories both large and small. When things are going well, I feel the latter more than the former. Things often don’t go that well, but I get it right enough to sleep at night and wake up the next day ready to try to do better. Through a fog of selfish choices and uninformed choices and outright terrible choices, I occasionally get it right. Those moments of success come at just the right intervals to keep going, like lily pads for a leaping frog.

When I read the story of someone like Veronica Galbraith, I don’t wonder if she got it wrong more than she got it right, but rather if she BELIEVED she got it wrong too much. And I realize, and remind myself when necessary, that the secret to successful parenting isn’t just about educating yourself, or listening closely to what your kids are trying to tell you, or fighting the good fight like a steely-eyed warrior. Those are vital points, to be sure. But none of that happens if you lose heart, or if you convince yourself that you really can’t show up for work the next morning.

There’s a saying that every special needs parent has heard at some point, rivaling the Holland Thing for frequency of appearance in our inbox. “God never gives you more than you can handle.” But we know better. Sometimes he does.


Another member’s (Shannon Dingle) view on the God and What You Can Handle concept.

Julia’s view on What God Gives Us…

Be sure to visit Build-A-Bear Workshop’s blog…where site co-founder blogs about her daughter’s journey with special needs as well as a traveling bear’s story of visits around the world.

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