How to Peacefully Raise and Release Your Adult Child With (and Without) Special Needs

baby ducks jump out of nestI just texted these words to my 23-year old daughter who has autism. “Hi. I haven’t talked to you in a week. How are things?”  Katie lives across town in a little house by herself.  She loves it, and in many ways she has flown out of the nest.  It seems to be working for the whole family, but such a casual interaction with my child seems strange. It would be normal for a typical family, but I feel like I’m missing something. Reacting like a typical mom introduces anxiety from deep in my gut—because I’m a special-needs mom. Special-needs moms keenly know what is going on with their child or children. They always help. They relentlessly teach their kids what they need to know.  I’m not doing these things as well as I could.

Granted, I spent 20 years in a state of hyper-vigilance—teaching, guiding and monitoring progress—checking up and looking in.  (Katie calls it “nagging” now. How age-appropriate.)  This habit of intense concern doesn’t die easily.  Now that I’m not doing as much to help Katie, I wonder if I’m tired, lazy, or in a state of denial.  Or maybe I’m learning to let God truly guide my child?

I think it’s a combination of the above, but I mostly feel guilt that I am not teaching her much about finance and budgeting, planning, cooking and cleaning. These are the current tasks to be mastered. This struggle of feeling inadequate to train Katie is not new, however.  It is as old as her second birthday when autism first manifested.  Here I go again.

But then I found a white rock in my purse this morning. It was a visual reminder from a Bible class. On it, the teacher had written, “Rev. 2:17”.  The verse reminded me that at Christ’s return He will give us a new name, and it will be one that only we understand.  I love this. Christ and I alone will know what name will be on my rock because He knows what motivates me, what I have been through, what I struggle with and what I need.  He knows me (and you) intimately, even better than we know ourselves.  It’s the same for our children. God has a spiritual understanding of our children that transcends human thought.

What about me? I need to get over my delusion that I always know what my daughter needs, and quit feeling guilty for not providing every opportunity for her to get it.  Truly only God knows what she needs at each moment. I need to be content that He will fulfill the purpose of Katie’s life even if she makes mistakes because of my inadequate training.

This is not an excuse to neglect my responsibility to teach her. However, instead of worrying about my lack of intervention, I need to be in prayer that God will prompt me strongly when something critical to her life or spirit are in need of my attention.

What is a key to peacefully raising and releasing your child without shirking responsibility? It’s not worry and hyper-vigilance.  It’s not inaction and guilt. The key is prayer, listening, and then action.

As we trust God to alert us when needed, we are able to let our children complete God’s purpose for them.  Our interventions are unproductive unless God calls us to the task.  Let’s liberate ourselves and our children by listening for our call.

P.S.  A few days after I wrote this post, I felt the need to check in on Katie.  When I went to her house, it was 91 degrees inside and she did not complain or think to even call us.  The next few days the heat rose to 106 degrees outside. Obviously, we had the air conditioning fixed.  I think God called me.  What do you think?