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So, Who's Disabled?

July 15, 1997

Mother, why are you cleaning up this room; isn’t this your little girl’s room? “Yes, but she’s only three, not big enough to clean up yet.” "Oh! And who took the toys out of the box and scattered them on the floor?"
“She did.”
So her ability to transport toys works in only one direction?
Mother, you look so tired. Why are you fretting so over the laundry, the dishes, the house cleaning, etc., when you have three children in there fighting over toys?
“Oh, I will tend to them when I get the time.”
No, I mean, why don’t you put them to doing some of these chores? Perhaps then they wouldn’t be so bored, fussing and fighting all the time.
“Well, the oldest one is only seven, and it is more trouble trying to get them to work than it is to do it myself.”
When they are two and three years old, it is more trouble to involve them than it is to do it yourself, but if you wait until they are actually big enough to be of real assistance, by then they will have developed routines and habits that do not include working. If you serve the children until they are three or four—maybe even six or eight—and then try to get them involved, they feel that you are making uncalled-for demands. If, on the other hand, you had involved them in helping themselves and others from the time they were walking, chores would be natural to them. There would be no hassle, no unlearning process, no abrupt change in policy.
Some parents have misconceptions as to children’s abilities. Others feel guilty for demanding their children assume responsibility. By the time most parents decide their children are old enough to assist in the work load, they have already instilled in them the assurance that Mother is their servant and they are the deserving recipients. When Mother tries to reverse the “Mama is servant” trend, the kids will raise such a fuss about helping, that Mother retreats, finding it more comfortable to be a complaining servant than to trouble herself teaching them. To fail to teach the young ones responsibility simply because you detest conflict is to surrender to timidity as a vice.
Certainly, we do not want to demand more of our children than they are capable of giving, for that could be very discouraging to them. But to demand less than their capabilities is to permit a dispensation of irresponsibility and unnecessary dependence, which breeds weakness. Those who expect servitude are always unthankful. Those who receive servitude will come to demand it when it is withheld or delayed. Don’t wait until you feel ridiculous serving big kids before you decide to place responsibility upon them. By then they will possess the mentality of “the rich and the famous.”

strong in spirit
Have you ever felt that your children failed to appreciate the things you do for them, that they took you for granted? It is your fault, not theirs. You have babied them, made them weak with your giving. You gave them everything but what they needed most: independence, self-sufficiency, skills, discipline, thankfulness, and the ability to serve others. Your generosity has made them into the despised upper-class. If you serve children until you are confident they are fully capable of serving themselves, you have cultivated slothfulness in them. When you become critical of the way they fail to do their chores, it is a sure statement that you have waited too long to involve them. Why are you angry at them? You bent the tree, so it grew in the direction you pointed it.
Parents keep serving the little ones, putting off the day of placing demands on them. What is it that usually triggers in parents a decision to demand more of their children? Selfish frustration. Frustration born of criticism. An unavoidable sense that the children are domestic parasites. Why do parents wait until their children’s slothfulness is pervasive? Most parents are ruled by their own feelings. They don’t have a preconceived plan for training their kids; they just wait until pressured and then REACT. When they grow tired of serving the children, or become irritated at their ineptitude, they are then provoked to demand participation. The motivation to demand responsible participation from their children did not come about as the result of a conscious decision to train the children for their own welfare, but as a result of the parents’ involuntary irritation.
You can know that you have waited too long to turn over responsibility when doing so causes the children to rebel and feel mistreated. At this point of frustration, the children are resisting the new, invasive order. A confrontational spirit then arises between parents and children. The anxiousness and criticism of parents prevents them from being trainers. They are antagonists. At this late date in the child’s life (five or six years old), parents are trying to fix something that is broken, rather than mold something that is growing.
If you unexpectedly gave your neighbor $1,000.00, he would be embarrassed to take it. After your urging, explaining that you are just making more than you need and thought that it would be a blessing, he would finally receive it with a profusion of thanks. When you again gave $1,000.00 the following week, he would receive it with less reluctance. After one year of receiving his weekly gift, he would receive it with a quick nod and a formal thanks. Then when you suddenly stop giving money to him, but instead give it to the man across the street, your original recipient would have his feelings hurt. He might even be angry. He would want an explanation. You see, after a year he would have adjusted his lifestyle to your gifts. He may be so dependent on your gift that he would be financially damaged when you stop giving. He has become your expectant dependent. Your gifts have weakened him.

teaching responsibility
Parents weaken their children by doing everything for them, by serving them, treating them as if they were handicapped. But then even handicapped children are not always treated so. I recently read an article in a little periodical called Nathan News. It is a monthly publication dedicated to parents with special needs children. By permission, we reprint a condensed version of an article written by Tom and Sherry Bushnell, parents of 9 children, (3 adopted, 5 birth, and one about to be birthed). Three of their children have various physical and mental disorders. I believe they are greater experts in the field of dealing with handicapped children than any expert with initials after his name. We submit to you their years of experience and their success. If a parent can raise a happy, obedient, hard working, emotionally well adjusted, Down syndrome teenage son, then we parents with average children have no excuse.
Written by Tom and Sherry Bushnell
Along with the knowledge of how to please God, we must teach ourselves and our children to be self-controlled. Here are some positive ways self-control will benefit our special needs children.
*Learning to obey quickly, regardless of whether they understand totally “why,” will assure them more safety.
* Not pouting or whining when asked to do something adds to their capabilities. Practicing self-control helps our children avoid the habits of laziness, self-centeredness, and stubbornness.
* If we are diligent to teach our children self-control while they are young, when they are teens they will reap the positive benefit of being morally pure. Looking lustfully at the opposite gender, masturbation, or feeling sorry for one’s self can be real difficulties with older special needs children.
Sometimes the things we ask our children to learn are very hard, physically or mentally. When our children are disabled, it takes much more effort not only to do tasks, but to have a good attitude while trying. Do you know that a child’s habit of giving up when frustrated may be encouraged by us parents?
To pity our children because we feel guilty or sorry for them is a mistake. It may be almost as painful for us to watch our children fail again and again as it is for them to keep trying. For instance, our daughter with cerebral palsy and autism, age 5, has the use of one hand; that’s it. Her feet stick straight out and her left arm is tucked into her chest. A while ago, she was really getting frustrated because she was the last one to be helped to get dressed. Every morning she would come down the stairs fuming, ready for a fight. Tired of her pouting, we decided that she needed to learn to get dressed herself. She was horrified. She spent the first 2 weeks getting to the breakfast table with only one arm in the same leg hole in her sweat pants.
Except for verbal encouragement and the initial lessons, we did not help her or allow her brothers or sisters to help her. After breakfast, she spent the rest of the morning on the living room carpet, finishing dressing. We consistently disciplined her for anger and pouting, and strongly encouraged her to try harder, not allowing her to give up.
In reality, it was a lot of work for all of us. She knows just how to look totally helpless. She puts on her “I’m so sad” expression, aimlessly making half-hearted attempts at finding the right arm hole. From past observation, we knew she was simply waiting to see if there wasn’t someone who would rescue her.
It was hard for her siblings to watch her try and not accomplish much. They pitied her. One of her brothers felt so sorry for her that when he knew we weren’t looking he put her arm in the right hole. She was very grateful, but it didn’t help her the next day when he wasn’t around and she still had to find a way to accomplish the task herself. After 4 weeks, she was able to get dressed in about 4 minutes. Boy, is she excited! So are we.
Teaching our special needs children to hang in there and keep trying whole-heartedly will make them useful servants for Our Lord. Children that force others to wait on them are more disabled for their vice.
It is a crippled heart that will render them morally and even physically unfruitful for the Lord, not a delayed mind, missing eyesight or hearing, short attention span, or poor memory.
Doing more for our children than we should creates tyrants. It takes a lot of work to teach our children self-help skills, but if they are at all bodily able (even if it takes them a long time) they should. As adults, our special needs children will not be a social menace by constantly manipulating and imposing on others if we teach them perseverance and self-control now.
We will now answer the title of this article: So, Who’s Disabled? Parents, of course. Through their own weaknesses they have established lazy habits that their selfish kids will not allow them to break. You may say, “So, I know I messed up when they were young; is my fourteen-year-old too old to train into taking responsibility?” The question is: “Are they too old for you to have the courage to stand firm in demanding they be responsible?” It is the parents that need training.
The military inducts eighteen-year-old men, most with slothful habits. Can you imagine being responsible for fifty teenagers? No doubt, most of them walked out of a messy room when they left home. Mama will miss them but not the extra work they caused her. But in just a few days, one man has turned all fifty boys into very disciplined, neat, punctual, respectful men. How did he do it? Fear. He is bigger, tougher, and means every word he says. He is even serious when he lowers his eyebrows. He doesn’t speak twice—may not speak once. You’d better guess what he expects, and make sure it is done in record time.
Now, Mother, you may not be tough enough to bring discipline into the life of your eighteen-year-old, but if you would take a double dose of a supplement known as backbone iron, you could. What about your ten-year-old? You can still strike fear in his heart, can’t you? He doesn’t have to be afraid of you beating him, just know you are standing firm on your word when you proclaim denials, added labor, etc.
Let’s hear it one more time: “I work my hands to the bone and no one even cares. They lie around and let me do all the work.” You did a good job of training them. It is the fault of your own cowardliness. When they were three or four, you took the easy road when it was not so humiliating serving them, and now you have a habit that you can’t break. You depend on them to depend on you. They do their part, which is to consume without giving and without being thankful. And you do your part, which is to complain, gripe and serve.
Have you got the guts to go on strike? To quit? Mother, stand up and proclaim, “Do it yourself or it won’t get done. It won’t get cooked, washed, picked up, cleaned, purchased. You won’t go, eat, sleep here, or have a moment’s peace until it is done right and on time. I will say no more. It’s your move, kid.”
Then smile and walk off with confidence, knowing you have gone as far as you are going to go. There is a new order, now and forever, come what may. Then the most important last step is absolute consistency on your part.
It’s your move parent. If you are tough, your home will become a more cheerful place.
We would like to give special thanks to Nathhan News, 5393 Alpine Rd. S.E., Olalla, WA 98359 and for allowing us to edit and reprint portions of this article found in their wonderful publication. If you are looking for good reading, order this periodical.

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2 comments on “So, Who's Disabled?”

  1. This article is one of my favorites. I'm still disabled, but working on it! Every time I read this article my kids get better. Thanks for your ministry and all your encouragment and teaching for us disabled parents!

  2. I think this article is abhorrent. The image of you hitting your disabled child for being upset at being unable to dress herself will haunt me. I pity her. Not because of her disabilities but because of her parents. God bless the son who was decent and kind enough to help her.
    My husband works with students who have Cerebral Palsy. Huge amounts are achieved with them and by them and NEVER ever would such hateful measures be used.
    Reading your article is heartbreaking.