I have a confession to make. Not everything I do is for the enrichment of my children. Sometimes I do things just because it's something I enjoy.
At a recent event I attended one young mother mentioned how her sisters' lives seem to revolve around their children and the various activities they are enrolled in. One mom mentioned that it would be good for our kids to have one night a week where they can't participate in outside activities because it is mom's night to do something. Another mom mentioned that her friend tells her children that date night with her husband is "to make sure you are happy."
As I drove home from the event I thought about the idea of explaining date night to our kids as something we do to keep them happy. Explaining alone time with my spouse in this way, I realized, would actually reinforce the idea the world revolves around our kids. While it may be true that maintaining a happy marriage will help my children remain happy, the main reason I spend time alone with my spouse is that I really like him. I enjoy having uninterrupted conversations with him that allow us to connect at deeper levels than "When was the last time we changed Elijah's diaper?" or "Have you seen Josiah's backpack?"
The same is true of other activities that take me away from home. I enjoy taking sign language classes, leading worship and having coffee with friends. I could explain to our kids that I am a better mom when I am able to pursue activities I enjoy, but I think it may be better to simply tell them, "I am doing this because it is something I enjoy."
I can't do everything that I enjoy all the time. Sometimes I decide not to do something because I would rather spend time with my family or because my kids need me to be with them. I enjoy being with my kids and I want them to feel loved and to know that they are important to me. And I am intentional about making sure that I am frequently home with my kids. At the same time, I want them to know that I am more than just their mom. God has given me gifts to serve both my family and the world around me. Having children may require modifying my activities, but it doesn't mean that I have to hit the pause button on my life indefinitely.
Having a child with special needs can sometimes exacerbate this issue. Children with special needs often require more of our time and energy. We may become so wrapped up in helping and advocating for our children, that we allow their diagnosis to become a primary part of our identity. If mothers of typical children are tempted to believe that their kids can't survive even one evening a week without them, imagine how mothers of children with special needs often feel, especially when our children require special medical care.
But when we lose our own identities to our children we are not the only ones who lose something. Our churches and communities lose out too. They may lose out because we are not using our gifts to serve, but they may also lose the opportunity of using their gifts to serve us. And, if we are so worried about our children that we do not allow them to spend time in someone else's care, they may lose out on the opportunity to learn about our kids and how to love and serve people with special needs.
I just signed up for a second class in sign language this fall. I'll be out of the house on Wednesday evenings from late October through early December and the kids will be spending a little more time with Al or, in some cases, with a babysitter. But that's okay. I enjoy learning sign language. The kids will survive without me for one night a week.