Receiving this unwelcome comment seems to be unequivocally loathed among many special needs (SN) parents. Most people are well intentioned and share a genuine desire to offer support to others going through hard times. But the statement “God will never give you more than you can handle” is one that comes up frequently in the SN community as one of the most hated sentiments of all. Why is this?
Because collectively, we are not handling it. In fact, it’s killing us. A study done on mothers of children with intellectual disabilities or autism found that we are 40% more likely to die of cancer; 150% more likely to die of cardiovascular disease and nearly 200% more likely to die from misadventure (a category that includes accident, suicide, and homicide) than other mothers. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0113430
This study did not even consider those who have a child with significant lifelong physical disabilities. And even if we are fortunate enough to escape the chronic disease risks of the SN life, we still have far higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders and PTSD than mothers of typically developing children.
Perhaps our premature death or psychiatric problems are still considered acceptable struggles within the realm of ‘Gods plan’. Theological views aside though, trying to calm someone down with platitudes dismisses their experience of hardship and diminishes the actual support being given.
It dismisses the shattering of a mother’s heart when she hears her child’s diagnosis for the first time. It minimizes the agony of a mother who wakes every hour of the night to soothe a child whose brain won’t allow them to sleep. It ignores the wounds inflicted on a father watching his child being drugged and then resuscitated in the triage bay after another uncontrolled seizure. It overlooks the physical toll that caregiving takes on the body and the hopelessness that clouds the mind when exhaustion takes hold.
The truth is, a lot of days, it really doesn’t feel like we’re handling it at all.
It’s easy to say ‘It is what it is’ or ‘This is what is meant to be’ but it is far more difficult to put those expressions into practice. Truly embracing acceptance as you navigate the grief and hardship of disability takes a strength for which many of us are still searching.
There seems to be a misconception about special needs parents, in general, that we are somehow ‘the strong ones,’ chosen for our fortitude and ability to overcome seemingly insurmountable things. This could not be further from the truth. We are regular people, just like everyone else on the planet. Some deal with the stresses better than others. Some are able to recover from the trauma, and others are swallowed alive by it. Our struggle is real, and we feel every moment of it deeply.
If we appear strong, we have become that way through the demands of a terribly complex life, because we have no other choice. And we do desperately need your support. However, receiving the type of encouragement that acknowledges our battles instead of dismissing them, would feel so much more supportive. Something like, “Wow, you are going through so much right now. I want you to know I see how hard you are working” or, “I’m sorry you have to deal with all of this. It must be incredibly difficult” would be great ways to offer your empathy. This, in turn, will aid our own belief that we really can survive this day and the next.
But please don’t put us on a pedestal. And please… Don’t tell us that God chose us for this.