Special Needs Parenting

If Found: Please Return to NORMAL

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Today it is my pleasure to host guest poster Sheila Temple. Sheila posted for us about adopting older special needs children as part of our 31 Days series, and today she’s back talking more about the adoptive special needs parent life.


Several Februarys ago I was the mother of two, blonde, blue eyed boys that were “near” perfect. I mean they would wrestle, bite each other, argue about game pieces, and even run away from me at the store. Now that was ordinary, ornery, normal behavior for these two.

Normal is a word that packs a punch nowadays. What is normal and how do I return to that state? Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, we would like to click our heels together and return to the place in our memory of the proverbial normal.

But the truth is, we can’t go backwards, we can’t erase all of our past mistakes and blunders. Our only recourse is to embrace the new normal and make it ours. We can adjust our schedule, pare down to the things that are simple and basic and pray for daily mercy to act in sensitive ways towards our children and their needs.

After 13 years of parenting adoptive children we are still dealing with the number of children that others think we should or should not have, by conception or, heaven forbid, through adoption. Every family can make their own decisions, thus we live in the land of the free and can grow our families in many ways. If you don’t have a child people are critical, if you have too many children people can be critical, if you only have one, comments turn toward having another one so the other child won’t be lonely. The pressure from the outside is enormous. Many of the above circumstances can reduce us to tears or make us contemplate coming to blows with people on a daily basis. (Family members included!)

In a normal day, for my husband and I, we count numerous pills for our 16 year old and place them into the day-to-day container, and dispense them at the necessary times. We drive all three girls everywhere that they go; even though they are old enough to drive the ability to do so is still in the future. We buy paper products of many kinds. Anyone with teenage daughters (and all 3 girls at home right now) know that paper products are paramount to being comfortable.

I calculate and plan for the menstrual cycle of one of the girls, consult with a gynecologist regularly about why one hasn’t started her period yet, and, ironically, take the other to get a Depo-Provera shot, every three months, so she can mentally handle having wet pants without a period every month. This is now normal for me.

As you read, you can understand that the challenges of having older children with special needs are not coming to an end, but on going. Folks, I am 57 and I am just telling you, in a transparent way, this is not how I envisioned my future with my sweet family. I am exhausted and frustrated on any given day.

I have fought against our new normal, tried to run away from it, prayed about it, cried about it, tried to push it out of my conscientiousness, tried to laugh about it and been to a counselor many times to see a light at the end of the tunnel. Many of you have been in my shoes. Where do we turn with out disappointments and the what ifs? How can we enlighten others without turning into whiners?

My first and foremost coping mechanism is my faith.

I cling to it, I believe in it! I proclaim that this is the way our life was planned. WE are the family that these children belong to. We are the family that is able to help them with their special needs, from hangnails, to dealing with bonding issues to making it through major surgeries. From grieving to happiness! From brokenness to wholeness! We are the solution.

My second priority is to surround myself with people of like faith who know that the ultimate goal is to restore children.

We cannot do it alone; it takes friends that have the tenacity to stick with us in the best and worst of times. Rest is optional, but giving up is not an option. It will only add to the distress. There is relief and joy when I am having a good day and am able to drop by to take a meal, take dessert or just say “hang in there” to a family that is having issues, mentally or physically, with their special needs child. I go with the intent of listening, providing a need and assuring them of my prayers of support.

Realizing that our older children will never be babies, toddlers or preschoolers again, we must move forward and make the hard decisions that give them a future and a purpose in life. I have to keep every thought captive to accomplish this. I read my Bible, hover over devotionals, and pray like a mad woman. I also write about my experiences so that I can recall how I was feeling at certain times in our experience, to better interact with those that need kind words at certain times.

My advice to you as friends of special needs families is to love unconditionally, try not to second guess their decisions, and listen to them without judging them. When families are distressed, kind words and loving hearts are what make them feel understood, cared for and able to move forward.


Sheila Temple is a wife, mother of six, public school teacher and a follower of Christ. She and her husband Rick have been married for 28 years. Because of her family’s devotion to the children of China, Sheila and Rick’s two oldest sons are now working with students and orphans in China. 

Sheila is also author of Chinese Take Out, An Adoption Memoir:

How do you summarize growing from a family of four to a family of eight in six short years? Chinese Take Out is the story of our children and their adoptions at the ages of three, twelve, six and twelve respectively. Try to imagine, if you will, the stress and sensory overload under one roof! And the miraculous unfolding of each beautiful life.

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