Ministering to the Special Needs Mom
According to statistics by the Disability and American Families U.S. Census Bureau Report, one in twenty-six families is raising children with a disability. An estimated 2.8 million families, 1.3 percent, reported raising two or more children with a disability.
The Gosney house is part of the 2.8 million, as our twenty-two-year old son, Taylor, suffers with severe autism.
When a woman feels called to women’s ministry leadership, she has no idea all the different types of women she will eventually minister to. These statistics indicate that sooner or later a special needs family will likely attend your church. And because you are a women’s ministry leader, your connection will be mostly with the mother—the “glue” that holds the family together.
While all women are different, most special needs moms have several things in common. They are self-sacrificing, often exhausted, and if they are a believer, they are trying to grow in their walk with the Lord in the middle of an unpredictable, even chaotic, life.
When a special needs mother becomes part of your church, you have a wonderful opportunity for ministry! Not only for you, but also for the other women in your church. Yet in order to effectively minister, you must get a grasp on her personal life.
Develop Understanding and Promote Empathy
To gain understanding, you really need to visit her in the home. Ask if you can come to their house when her child is there. Be willing to bring a refreshment so she doesn’t need to wait on you. A small treat for the kids would be wonderful, too; just ask about allergies or diets first. Also make visits when the kids aren’t home—you’ll want to know her woman-to-woman, as well.
Try to discover these things about the family:
- What are the family dynamics? Do grandparents or other relatives live nearby for support? If the family has little help from extended family members, naturally their need for personal ministry will be greater.
- Is the family receiving services from special agencies, or are they dealing with their situation without respite providers or outside help?
- See what other circumstances are creating stress in the family. Is the husband working overtime because the wife is unable to work outside the home? Do you sense financial strain?
- What emotional and spiritual needs do they have? Ask what their prayer needs are and begin praying and checking in periodically for updates.
- Is there anyone in the family grappling with child’s diagnosis? Perhaps you can guide them to a Christian counselor or therapist.
The information you gain about the family will be valuable for everyone at church to learn to minister to the family. You won’t be able to meet all their needs, nor should you try. But you can be a conduit of compassion by helping others understand and minister.
How to Include Her in Ministry
Most special needs mothers find attending women’s studies or events hard. Sometimes she may simply be exhausted and unable to get out in the evening. But most stay home for another reason—lack of funds or availability of respite providers.
- Would her child be able to be supervised with the other kids at church, provided you offered an additional worker to assist with her child? Be aware that an additional worker may need training or guidance from the family.
- If the child’s disability is such that bringing them to church causes more stress, consider asking the church to sponsor the cost of an in-home sitter.
- Whenever possible, use church members to either be the sitter or be there in addition to the sitter. This buddy system builds a sense of unity and continually educates the church body on how to watch the child. If the family should have an emergency, different church members are equipped to help.
If she doesn’t show up for Bible study, never assume she’s just lost interest. Check on her to see if she’s okay. Do whatever it takes to help her make up lessons or videos she’s missed. If possible, create a Facebook page to connect all the women in your Bible study. Then the special needs mother can stay updated and feel connected when she’s not there.
Assess Her Spiritual Needs
A special needs mother is a lot like everyone else; she is a work in progress, with her own strengths and weaknesses. Identify some of her areas of weakness and begin ministering to her.
Be aware that your special needs mom may be carrying a lot of hurt that she needs to process. She may have a husband in denial, may feel abandoned, or have “scars” from a bad experience at a previous church. Try to listen and learn from what she tells you. Don’t feel you have to address any bitterness immediately. Instead begin praying for specific things you see and get to know her and build trust. She will respect you and receive your biblical guidance as the relationship progresses.
- Be willing to meet with her one-on-one to guide her spiritually. Also, connect her with several women who are willing to take turns meeting with her for spiritual growth and support.
- Creativity with communication is a must. While some people consider texts and emails impersonal, a special needs mom might consider them a lifeline in a busy day. Message her with Scripture, prayer reminders, and worship songs. She will love every message even if she cannot respond.
She May Be a Gold Mine of Wisdom
As much as you desire to minister to a special needs mother, many are deep women of God who have much to share with others. Due to their inability to be part of the “normal world,” many have learned to lean on God through prayer and listen to Him in their solitude. They may not have huge chunks of time to study Scripture, but if they truly believe the Word, they still grow. Most have realized what it means to walk by faith and not by sight. Their child’s situation has thrust them into a life they never dreamed, and they’ve seen the faithfulness of God with their own eyes.
- Consider who in your church needs to learn from your special needs mom. Suggest they get to know one another.
- Think about ways to share your special needs mom’s testimony with your women’s group. If she’s unable to speak before a group, her faith story could be written and shared with the ladies—either as a handout or through your online group.
Whatever you do, don’t become overwhelmed by the process! Special needs moms are some of the most flexible people you’ll meet. If you face roadblocks in your efforts to minister to them, don’t give up. The next thing you try will likely work!
By Sheila Gosney