Many parents, when they learn of their child’s disability, need to grieve…not for the child, but for the idea of what they thought parenting would be. They must process through the grief of what they may not be able to have, while coming to terms with the new reality of what they can have. This is not easy.
Shouldn’t supporting families through such challenges be the very nature of the work of a religious community?
I think that many educators consider grief counseling to be the work of clergy. Too often we compartmentalize our congregant’s needs into “clergy stuff’ and “school stuff”. But when a child with special needs significantly struggles in religious school, parents can be thrown back into the grief cycle, this time wondering if they will have to give up on their idea of bar/bat mitzvah (not to mention Confirmation, Jewish marriage or many other significant Jewish life cycle events).
How, in the midst of all of this, is anyone expected to keep faith?
My friend, Sheri Dacon, writes a powerful post about the way in which church can be a burden to families. The messages here ring true across faiths. Read: Why Church is a Burden for Special Needs Parents.
In her post, Sheri makes reference to the stress level of parents (mothers in particular) of children with disabilities being compared to that of combat soldiers.
I’ve made a similar reference, too: “Parents of children with special needs can spend many hours of their days in “battle”. They often struggle with doctors, insurance agents, therapists, secular school teachers and so on. When they join a faith community, what I believe they most want is to find a place where they don’t have to fight, where they can be accepted as they are and where their family can come for respite and rejuvenation. It seems logical that they should be able find this in a synagogue community.” Read: Parents as Partners.
We need to create spiritual homes that will honor families, regardless of where they are on their path. We need to build communities that are truly in the business of supporting one another through life’s challenges – not just the ones “pretty” enough to bring out in public. We need to give families a reason to keep faith rather than providing them with every excuse to leave.
But, before I make it seem as if the professionals are the only reason people lose faith, let’s remind ourselves that life, including religious life, is a two-way street.
Families have to be willing to give in order to get. Yes, all that I mentioned above has to be there. But when it is, families have to be show up, be present and make a commitment to the community in order to truly find the connection they seek.
This is why K is to Keep Faith. Let’s find our way together.
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