In March of 2013 Karen Wang wrote an article on this blog with the title 15 Reasons Why Its Hard To Get Along With Special Needs Parents. During this time we had over 120,000 individuals read this article, 32,000 people share this post and 293 readers leave a comment. One of the points of discussion in the comments was reason #12: “Another person with good intentions said, “God only gives us what we can handle.’”
Many parents of children with special needs reject the concept of God not giving us more than we can handle (especially when it is foisted on them by someone that does not have a child with special needs). Many parents will point to themselves and say “I am proof that I cannot handle. look at me: I am an exhausted/nervous/wreck, How can you call this handling?”
Handling and Not Handling at the same time
Lets take a step back and discuss this.
Does God really give us things that we can’t handle? Or does God just give us things that we feel we can’t handle?
He most definitely gives us things that we feel we can’t handle. Everyone has days when they feel overwhelmed, alone or sad. At that point in time you really feel and believe that you cannot handle things. Parents of children with special needs are not strangers to difficult and challenging days, but at the end of the day that is how you are feeling.
The Difference between Feelings and Actions
We need to differentiate between feelings and actions. For example: you can be extremely mad at someone. You are so mad that you feel like you want to hurt them or worse. But did you actually go through with it? Did you Act on it? Feeling a certain way and acting a certain way are two very different things.
At the moment that you weren’t handling did you ever feel that you could not go on? But somehow you found yourself going on? Are you a hypocrite for feeling like you can’t go on anymore and inspite of that you still go on? The answer is no, of course you are not a hypocrite. The feeling of despondency is a very strong and very real feeling, however, it is just that, a feeling. Feelings and behaviors are two different things.
The key is to understand that the feeling is a true feeling but that that does not mean that it has to be our behavior. As the saying goes: don’t believe everything that you feel. There is a difference between emotions and behaviors. It is ok to feel overwhelmed, mad and frustrated.
The bottom line is if you are feeling overwhelmed that is ok. if you are behaving overwhelmed that is not ok
Short Term Actions
Judaism is a religion of action. In the Torah There are 613 commandments or Mitzvot. These are things we should be doing every day, each commandment being a good deed on its own. Doing a mitzvah is about doing something good in the here and now. The focus is always on the action. A mitzvah is still a mitzvah even if you did not have the correct feelings.
What we as parents always need to remember is that we may be feeling like things are out of control but it is the action that counts. So even if we feel like we are not handling we somehow manage to trudge through. We continue to care for our families through thick and thin. When we act in the right way we are ok.
Long Term Solutions
Once we have established that it is the action that counts we need to start working on the long term project of improving how we feel. This is a lifelong challenge. There are things that happen in our lives where we know that if this would have happened in our lives five years ago we would not have been able to handle it emotionally. We need to continue to grow like a muscle that becomes more flexible as it is stretched and stronger through resistance. Our challenges will only make us stronger.
This is life. By being proactive and expanding our emotional capacity we will be able to handle not only our actions but also our feelings and emotions.