Every year at this time I see lots of articles on blogs and Catholic sites with titles like “25 Things You Can Give Up for Lent” or “Creative Things to Do for Lent” and around the same time some of my friends will declare (on social media, naturally) that they are fasting from social media for Lent. I’m not knocking those approaches, but there are times when my mom-brain just doesn’t seem to have the bandwidth to do something radical like sleep without a pillow.
If you have a non-typical child, you aren’t a typical mom, so those lists of creative Lent ideas simply may not work for you, but you can choose to participate in the three pillars of Lent - prayer, fasting, and almsgiving - in ways that are radical in their own ways. Here are a few to consider:
Fast from trying to “fix” your child.
Ouch. This one might hurt a little bit, but it’s something that I’ve observed in almost two decades of parenting my two children with disabilities and knowing other parents of kids with disabilities. Our society values achievement and we all know that life runs more smoothly for the folks in the middle of the bell curve than it does for the ones on the edges, so we push our children because we want them to reach their maximum potential. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s easy to fall into the trap of pushing our children to be as much like their typical peers as possible instead of helping them to learn how to navigate the world, no matter what that might look like. Our children don’t need to be fixed, because they are beloved children of God. Lent is the perfect season to reflect on that fact.
Fast from therapy sessions. (Yes, really!)
Even if you kept reading after the last suggestion, I know I may have lost you with this one, but hear me out. I’ve spent nearly two decades shuttling my kids to and from occupational therapy, physical therapy, and speech therapy sessions. I’ve fought battles for time slots and insurance benefits. I can’t begin to guess how many hours I’ve spent working on “therapy homework” just this year - never mind all the other years that came before. When my son became sick recently and we missed about three weeks of speech work it felt like a massive failure - like the clock was ticking and I was hopelessly behind. But experience has also taught me that sometimes we need a break from therapy, and I bet you do, too. Lent might be a good time to take that break.
Stop pushing and start praying.
Again, I’m a big proponent of doing what we need to do to help our kids to reach their maximum potential. But it’s easy to get caught up in helping them achieve the next milestone and forget to relax and let them just be the precious souls that God created. It’s easy to let our minds jump ahead to what their futures may look like - what they may or may not be able to do or experience. But our job as parents is, first and foremost, to help them become saints. To achieve that goal we must continually offer them to the Father, ask for his guidance in parenting them, and trust that He has a plan for them.
My personal motto during tough times has always been to “Do the next right thing.” When circumstances seem overwhelming, I focus on the task in front of me, and when that task is done, move on to the next. I embraced this approach more and more over time as I realized that many things that worried me about my children’s futures when they were younger never came to pass, or if they did, the experience was much different than what I had feared.
Today is Ash Wednesday, but it is also the feast day of St. Katharine Drexel, who described this “next right thing” process much more eloquently than I ever could. She said:
Peacefully do at each moment what at that moment ought to be done. If we do what each moment requires, we will eventually complete God’s plan, whatever it is. We can trust God to take care of the master plan when we take care of the details.
Have a fruitful and spirit-filled Lent.
Andi Sligh is a wife and mother of two children with disabilities and three dogs. She is a lifelong Alabamian, Dr. Pepper addict, Catholic convert, and former engineer who rediscovered a love of writing when she became a mom. You can find more of her writing at https://andisligh.com/