Two brutally honest, yet faith-driven women, talk candidly about finding and giving grace in the messy middle of mothering children with and without “special needs.” Tammy Jensen’s children are young adults (ages 19-24) and Eilene Frank’s are still little (birth through six years old). This is their very candid conversation...
TAMMY: As a mom of a child with special needs, I rely on His grace to get me through the hard days. Parenting is not easy, and then you add the special needs of your child into play and it gets harder. I have been known to go to a closet and cry just to be with God and feel His grace upon me. Have you had a similar experience, feelings, etc?
EILENE: I don’t have a special place because even if Hudson (6 years old with Downs Syndrome) can't find me, Bryson (age 3) can. Hadley (infant) must be with me to keep her safe from Hudson. To be honest, we are working on it, but sometimes I yell and cry. When I get to that point, Hudson doesn’t respond well to it. Bryson will say, “Momma, calm down,” “Momma, I love you.” If I need a real break, I put them all in the car. I am not alone, but I will just drive. The drive has to end at some point, but I have been able to take a breather and just be. Jason and I are trying to acknowledge that I need time away, so I was able to have time with a girlfriend last night. We can love them better when we have some time to ourselves.
T: I believe God's grace is present in all aspects of our daily life and even little things are provided because of His grace. Where do you see God's grace in your life daily? Why is His grace so important to you on the daily?
E: There are really hard things happening with Hudson. He is not verbal and he gets frustrated with not being able to verbalize. I see God’s grace in that I know the day will eventually end. I know that sounds harsh, but I am being honest. There was a day that I put Hudson in bed at 6 pm and then realized how early it really was. I just needed a break. I was tired. Bryson can make me pull my hair out and then the next moment he can make me laugh so hard. God’s grace in that there is a new day, is a possibility for a better day. It is God’s grace that they give us the laughter that we need. There is grace in holding Hadley (infant) while she sleeps. There is grace in technology that entertains my kids when I need a moment.
T: We are both moms of three kids. There are times when our "normal" children don't get as much attention as our child with special needs. I remember times when Mack (now age 22) would tell me "Hannah called me stupid!" to just get some attention from me. (She couldn't even hold her head up at 2 years old, let alone call him stupid.) There was a season in our life that he would test me just to get a little attention. How do you show grace to your "typical" two children when there are times that you have to be so focused on Hudson?
E: So this is what we have been really trying to work on over the past few months. Bryson is 3, but I expect him to do big kid things. It is not his job to be the BIG kid, but that is the reality. Bryson is a words of affirmation and quality time kid. His frustration is becoming physical too and it can take over an hour to recover from a meltdown. We have “special time” every night (5 minutes) with Bryson. It was eye opening when he grabbed my face and said: “please tell me that you want special time with me.” I am not really good at showing grace to him, but really he is showing grace to me each day. I need it over and over and over again as his mom.
T: I stayed home with my kids for quite awhile and I know you spend much of your day taking care of your children while your husband works (and for years even went to school after work). Those were some hard times as I felt very alone. John would be at work and coaching at football practice, while I was at home taking Hannah to a doctor appointment, therapy, etc. It is difficult to show our husbands grace during times like these. Talk to me about your experience with this.
E: Yes, it is. In the midst of this, the hardest person to show grace to has been Jason. He feels he is walking in after work and I am shoving all the responsibility on him. Jason acknowledged he needs a little time when he gets home to get settled in and I need to know that afterwards he is going to be as present as possible. Learning to lessen the comparing of our days, and the importance of what we are doing, is how we show grace to each other. Showing grace to each other is recognizing each other’s role in the family right now. Giving each other credit for the role we play in the marriage.
T: I know you have experienced miracles with your family, just as we have. Our Hannah was never supposed to live past a year and here we are 19 years later. She was never supposed to walk, talk, have emotions, etc., and we now have a VERY sassy 19 year old, expressing her emotions more than we would like. Not always appropriately, but still expressing herself. I see God's grace with her daily and it amazes me! I still stand in awe of her and think the world does not value her, yet God does! The world sees her as something wrong or not right, but God sees her fearfully and perfectly made (Psalm 139).
I remember when you were going through some very difficult times with Hudson and his seizures. Multiple hospital stays, trying new medicines, doctor visits, sleepless nights and more encompassed your days and nights. I look at Hudson now and know that God's hand was placed on him and a miracle happened. Talk to me about miracles you have experienced. What amazes you most about God's grace in this situation? How would your life be different without His grace in that instant?
E: When Hudson was born I didn’t have the MOM experience. I looked at him and didn’t know what to do. I asked: Why? Where are we going to go from here? Is he going to survive? I looked into the incubator and didn’t feel a connection. The earliest miracle was someone telling me, “He is not yours. He was given to you to love.” Hudson’s is God’s child and I can be his parent on earth. That is God’s grace. I am not in control of Hudson and his life, but at the end of the day he is God’s child.
Seizures that were misdiagnosed caused him to be in a vegetable state. There was a miracle of a blog that I followed on Facebook. I saw the video and knew instantly they had misdiagnosed Hudson. It wasn’t seizures, it was infantile spasms. There were so many things that were placed in perfect alignment for him to get better.
We have needed grace to give to the people diagnosing him and treating him. Those people are human and we’ve needed to extend grace when they’ve made mistakes with his diagnosis and treatments. I am also learning to show myself grace to do the best I can.
T: Anything else you would like to share with us as a mom, wife, and mom of a child with special needs?
E: As a parent, Hudson is a kid like any other kid. He wants to be involved, he wants to be recognized, he wants to be invited, he wants to be included. Parents need to recognize the importance of exposing their children to all types of people. I didn’t realize how empty my life was until I had Hudson. I missed out on a whole community of amazing people. I feel sad for people that don’t know that. I want all of my kids to know others that don’t look like them, don’t act like them. What a boring world if we stick around with people that look and act like us.
I welcome questions. Don’t hush your kid when they ask them…..let them be kids. As a church we need to ask questions, ask what we can do, we need to be there for each other. That’s how we become givers and receivers of grace.
About Eilene Franks
Eilene Franks has been married to Jason for 8 years and is mom to Hudson (6), Bryson (3), and Hadley (5 Months). She enjoys coffee, finding a good bargain, and meeting and encouraging new moms of kiddos with developmental disabilities.
Meet the Author!
Tammy Jensen is mother, wife and school administrator. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Recreational Therapy and a Master’s Degree in Education. She is the mom of three children over the age of 19 with one being multiple special needs and an adopted son. She has been married to her husband, John for 23 years. Her mission field is education as she gets to impact students lives through the love of Christ. Currently she serves as Dean of Students, Spirit Coordinator and Activities Director at Crossings Christian School.