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intentionally theirs

When I was pregnant, people had a lot of advice to give.  They loved to share their nuggets of wisdom with me, and I appreciated it all.  I remember gleaning too much from moms who had gone before me.  No matter how many books I read on parenting and how to do it “right,” personal stories and wisdom shared from the hearts of my friends and family are definitely where I learned the most.

As I reflect on those early days of pregnancy, taking our new baby home (driving 20 miles under the speed limit because you could just never be too safe, and figuring out how in the world to be parents when we were absolutely and completely clueless, there is one thing that always comes to mind:

The number of people who told us…

“Make the most of each and every day because before you know it, your child will be leaving your home.”

I never thought about it much back then.  But now I am realizing more and more how true that is!

I look at our oldest son, and my heart simply cannot believe that he is entering high school next month.

How did that even happen so darn quickly? Time has flown by.

I am so reminded these days of how important it is to be intentional with our children–to spend time with them and make memories that will last a lifetime.

Because, as many of you know, the time we have them in our home is so fleeting.

So temporary.

As our family has grown and dynamics in our home have changed so much over the last few years, God has been so kind and gracious to me and Anthony.

We have learned how to be flexible (and die to my control-freak tendencies!).

And not sweat the small stuff.

And make time for our children.

Doing the things they love to do.

One of the questions we get asked a lot is “How do you have fun times together as a family when there are many who have special needs?  How do you ensure that your ‘able-bodied’ children don’t feel left out?”

I know that this is one of the things most parents grapple with when they consider bringing home a child who struggles.  Gosh, I know we certainly did.

“How do you make life fun for the other children in your home when you have severely delayed siblings, wheelchairs, walkers, feeding tubes, and all kinds of gadgets?”

“How do you make sure that your ‘able-bodied’ children never feel deprived of fun times, family outings, and all the awesome things that other children do?”

We are absolutely no experts in this as we are still trying to find the healthy balance.  Sometimes we get it right, other times we fail miserably.  But I can share what we do in our own family and what generally works for us.

When we were paper chasing for Hailee and Harper, I must admit that these were some of my deepest concerns.  How would the dynamics in our family change?  After all, we had always been an active, busy, adventurous, out-and-about family.  In my head I struggled to see things remaining the way they were.

And they didn’t!

By God’s grace and gentle guidance, our lives shifted with the ebb and flow as we discovered our new normal…

A better normal.

A lifestyle in which we incorporated two little girls with Down syndrome into everything we did and every place we went.  Not once did we ever leave the little girls at home while we went out and had fun.  Hailee and Harper went everywhere with us as a family.  We quickly learned how possible it really was to take out two newest blessings to the places where we went.  Was it easy?  No, not always.  But they were a part of our family and we refused to leave them behind.  We told our older children very soon after the little girls came home that our newest blessings would learn to fit into our lifestyle, not the other way around. 

Those early days of incorporating Hailee and Harper into our lifestyle were so good for our older children.  They adapted quickly and got used to taking turns to take the girls out of car seats, carry strollers, and lug big totes containing all the necessaries wherever we went.

There is nothing quite like having many siblings with extra needs to teach a child how to be a servant.

How to serve sacrificially.

Even when they don’t feel like it.

Even when it’s not convenient.

I never thought that Hasya would love the water during her very first outing to the pool last weekend.  Didn’t even think to take a swimsuit for her.  How wrong I was!  She’s a total Salem…LOVES the water!

Today, with another two profoundly delayed children added into the mix, our lifestyle remains the same.

We go out–as a family.

We take mini-breaks and vacations–as a family.

We eat out–as a family.

We go swimming–as a family.

No one is ever left behind.

Of course, we do have some exceptions and times when we need to be flexible.

Our older boys’ winter sport of choice is snowboarding.  They love it and are very good at it.  For me to take the little ones every Saturday in the winter and sit in some overcrowded lodge drinking hot chocolate would just be no fun at all–for them or for me.  Thankfully, I hate skiing!  Seriously, I see no fun in spending a day freezing my buns off because I spend more time on my rear than on my two legs!  I am more than happy to send my hubby (who loves to ski–weirdo!) and big kids off to do something that they enjoy doing.  The kids are making memories with Dad–and I’m snug and warm by the fire at home with my little ones. 

We just make it work!

Little water baby can sit there all day!  Notice how he’s filling out?  So much better than just five months ago!  Praise God!

We are constantly working at spending intentional time with these blessings whom the Lord has given us.

“Yes, but what about one-on-one time with your older children?” you may wonder.

Another very valid concern.

Again, we do not have this mastered.  We trust the Lord to lead and guide us in all these things.

For me, a trip to the store or running an errand with one or two children is always precious time. I hardly ever go out alone–I always use the time to spend special moments with one or two children.  When I go out with them, I usually incorporate a yummy dessert, lunch, or something else fun into the outing.  Just sitting down together without distraction is quality time and memories made.  For the longest time, Anthony has taken out one child at a time on a date each and every Thursday–it’s his time with them.

Being intentional doesn’t have to mean expensive trips and long periods away from home.

It’s the quick run to the store, working on a project together, making a meal together–anything that builds relationship with our kids and gives us moments to share hearts.

As a family, we are still figuring it all out, this intentional parenting thing.

Look Harpy, the squirrel went up there!

God is so good and so gracious to meet us where we are.

He is so faithful to give us fresh ideas and ways to make this big family idea work.

Nope, I am not going to smile big!

For me, there is nothing sweeter than having my whole family together.

It’s usually crazy and we get many stares when we are out in public.

But that’s okay! 

When we’re in public, most people are so kind and loving and many ask questions about our children. It is always a blessing to share.  Of course there are the exceptions.  Just last Sunday we were driving home and stopped to get something to eat.  As we were waiting for our food, Harper found a little girl her own age to “chat” to.  The girl’s mother took one look at my precious little darling, saw that she was not “typical,” grabbed her child, and walked to the opposite end of the restaurant (in case her daughter caught something).  Totally broke my heart that my children still have to live with such prejudices–even in this country.  It hurts!

Thankfully, those experiences are in the minority.

They are all such teachable moments for our big kids.

And our littler kids.

Like this one…

…who is almost impossible to photograph!

“Cade, smile!”

“Okay, smile and let me see your face.”

“Great!  I can see your face, now open your eyes, please.”

Silly boy!

He thinks it’s the biggest joke.

Not quite walking in Dad’s footsteps.  Funny.

There you have it!  Some thoughts on how we try and make large family with various special needs work in our family. It’s not always pretty, it’s always a little bit crazy, but somehow we always make it work. If I didn’t answer a question you have on this topic and there is something you would like to know, go ahead and leave your question as a comment and I will answer it there.

So thankful for God’s goodness and mercy as we try each day to give glory to Him who called us by name!

It’s not always easy, but always so absolutely worth it.