The Reality of Lent with Special Needs Children

*This is going to be a bit of a lengthy post. The first half was written last night, as a reflection on what we’ve done so far this lent. The second half was written this morning, after I realized just how difficult this season can be with special needs children. If you’d rather just skip to the honest truth about the reality of celebrating Lent with special needs children, scroll down. – Tammy*

I have to admit, I am enjoying Lent. I have observed over 40 Lenten Seasons in my life, but this year, things are finally making sense.

I am finally understanding how wonderful it feels to make more room for God, and less room for me.

I want the family to live simply and austerely for the next forty days; to grow closer to God and truly appreciate how much He has blessed our family. I already mentioned how we are abstaining from all unnecessary, material purchase.  I also want each family member to step out of his comfortable (okay, call it what it really is: disrespectful or rude) interactions with the family and take these 40 days to make conscious efforts to grow and change they way we communicate and engage with each other.

Side Note: I started reading the book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker this week. Watch out – the family knows when I come across great ideas, I am like a runaway train. However, it is Lent and so I will begin implementing the ideas from the book after Easter.

I will leave you with some photos of our Lent thus far:

fat tuesday

Our Shrove Tuesday Celebration, complete with Pancakes, a King’s Cake, and bacon – because really, what’s a feast without bacon? We had pork bacon (is that what you call it? perhaps it’s “pig bacon”?) as well as turkey bacon; Sean’s sister happened to be dining with us, and her boyfriend is a Muslim. Out of respect for his religion, she abstains from pork.

I also placed two pots of flower bulbs on the table to remind us all of the coming of something glorious.

In the interest of time, we ended up purchasing a King’s Cake from Whole Foods. Interestingly, they no longer bake the symbolic baby or king figure into the cake – perhaps out of fear of liability issues? – instead, they just include it on the side. We explained what the baby meant, and Aiden was quite taken with the idea of being King for the evening – as if he doesn’t run the show already 😉 – and took it upon himself to place it where it could be clearly visisble to him, so he would be sure to get the coveted piece. After he manhandled the little baby for the better part of the afternoon, playing with him and putting him who-knows-where, we were all more than happy to oblige. Also, some people weren’t too fond of a face-down baby in their slice of cake.

shrove tuesday

lenten books

Here are two of the books we’re reading this season of Lent. Hannah picked up the Mother Teresa one on a bit of a whim a month ago, and it is just wonderful; there are short readings, reflections, prayers, and activities to do for every day of lent – and it’s written specifically for a family with children! Although not as little one friendly, Dan and I have really been enjoying the Pope John Paul II one.

Lenten Board 1

Our Lenten “Do-Something” challenge cards (making good use of the frame from our DIY Advent Calendar). These are just a variety of ideas – simple things that the kids can do – to help them along their Lenten journey. They’re all working on giving something up, as well as ‘taking something up.’ The taking up part is going to be the most difficult part for some of them; one young man is taking up being especially kind to his sister, even though she can be downright nasty to him. The Do-Something cards help keep things novel, while still maintaining the spirit of lent. Some of the ideas are “Help without being asked,” “Learn a prayer,” “Drink only water today,” and “Forgive someone today.” We’ve got one competitive group of kiddos, and they seem pretty excited about their challenges. Here’s hoping they keep up that excitement for good deeds and acts of charity throughout Lent – and perhaps the rest of year, too?


St. Valentine’s Day Love Buckets (DIY with some Mod Podge.) I’m in the habit of giving the kids a small treat or sweet for Valentine’s day. This year, I wanted to make sure they realized this was all about St. Valentine, so I plastered his face on the front of their Love Buckets – that’s obvious enough, right? I also put this image on the back – a stylized version of 1 Corinthians 13. We also talked about the story of St. Valentine over breakfast; I had to tell the story multiple times, actually – with some kids heading out the door at 6, some at 7, and some not until 9, breakfast times can be a bit scattered. Finally, I pointed out to the kids that the chocolates were fair trade, and the cookies and chocolate hearts were local (I wasn’t able to do this with all the item – some of the kids are extremely picky, and I’d rather pick my battles than set off their sensory issues with new flavors). We just learned the truth about where most of our chocolate comes from in the past year, after watching the documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate. Okay, Hannah has been telling us we need to switch to fair trade for a while, but it wasn’t until I saw that documentary that I really allowed my eyes to be opened to what went into making the chocolate I’ve enjoyed for so many years. Anyways, back to Lent! We talked about the importance of choosing fair trade and local items, and linked it back to how we’re learning about an impoverished country each week, and eating what they would eat for dinner one night.


And now, for the reality. All of the writing above this point was done last night – I had the intention of making a few minor tweaks, and then publishing it this morning. I thought it would just be a pretty little post, all tidy with a bow on top. Sometimes I forget that my life isn’t always tidy. It’s so easy to do behind the protection of a screen and keyboard; I can pick and choose the things I say, what I want to share, the picture I want to paint.

The fact is, I’ve been dealing with special needs children for so long, sometimes I forget just how different they are. I thank God everyday that my patience and love has only grown with the years, not worn thin. I remember once checking one of our children into an inpatient program at a hospital, because she was displaying violent behavior towards herself and others (among other issues that would take another blog post to write). After I had explained the situation to the doctor, he told me that I seemed to be taking things pretty well. This isn’t my first time, Doc. I realized in that moment that this wasn’t normal. I shouldn’t be calm. But I couldn’t help it. I trust in the Lord, lean on him for the strength I need, and know he never gives me more than I can handle – even if I think he overestimates my abilities sometimes.

So this is my normal. But sometimes, I suddenly realize how not normal things are. This morning, for example. We had about half an hour before school and preschool, Dan and Hannah were still home (Hannah would be dropping Aiden off at preschool, then carpooling with Dan to work), and everyone was all ready for the day. I was able to breathe; we were ready, no one was crying, no one was rushing, it was lovely. 

Dan decides we should listen to the readings for the day together (we use this awesome app – it’s available on both iphones and androids, and I cannot recommend it enough). Clare was reading, John was playing his DS.

John has pretty severe anxiety (one of the many difficult of cards dealt to him because of his Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder). To help him calm down before school, he plays his Nintendo DS, or reads. Today, he happened to be playing the DS, and he tends to get very involved with it.

Dan called John and Clare over, Clare a little begrudgingly, John quite begrudgingly. John was fidgety and agitated. Just as the first reading was about to start, he shouts out (DS still in hand, mind you)“This is a waste of my time!” 

Dan tends to get very worked up when people disrespect the faith. He snatched the DS from John’s hands, and threw it across the room (it should be noted that this was done with his left hand – had it been his right, the DS surely would have made it into the trash, where he was aiming – so he says), and shouts back, “God is never a waste of your time! Giving you life? That’s a waste of your time? Dying on the cross so you can sit here and disrespect your parents, that’s a waste of your time?”

After the initial shock passed, Dan walked over to the DS, picked it up, and said that John would be giving it up for Lent. He then apologized for yelling, especially since he gave it up for Lent (as well as caffeine – bless his heart). He was sincerely sorry, and hugged John, but John was just angrier than ever. We listened to the day’s readings, then went over the readings and prayers in the Mother Theresa book. The entire time, John sat with his hands over his ears and his eyes squeezed shut.

About ten minutes after, John had finally calmed down enough to apologize and make up with Dan. I was a bit worried that he wouldn’t, and that this would ruin his day. There have been occasions where something has set him off in the morning before school – something as simple as not being able to find his recorder case – and he will break down so completely that he refuses to go to school. This doesn’t happen too often, but often enough that I was pleasantly surprised when he said he was ready for school.

This is by no means the most egregious happening that’s ever occurred in our family; far from it! But it’s moments like this that I open my eyes and realize that we’re not your average family. What works for some families may not work for us.

I don’t have much of a lesson here, I just wanted to share the reality of our everyday life. Sometimes I worry that by only portraying the perfect parts (not perfect, but go smoothly), we might be doing others a disservice. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get discouraged by reading other blogs where everything is just so perfect. Maybe it’s just envy sneaking in. I start to think what are they doing right…what am I doing wrong. I read these lovely blogs and I compare myself. But I have to remember that we’re different. Even if my children didn’t have special needs, we still wouldn’t be the same. And that’s okay.

The thing that gives me the most strength is putting my parenting in God’s hands. I try to do this everyday, and sometimes I forget, but on the days I remember, things seem to go smoothly, even when an outsider might think things are just crazy.

I guess that’s the message I’m trying to get across – the more I place my imperfect life in His hands, the more my human imperfections fade away. He loves me so completely, imperfections and all, how can I not love this crazy life I have? If it’s good enough for Him to have laid down His life, it certainly is good enough for me.

That is the theme I am trying to convey to myself and to my family this Lent:

More God. Less me.


side note: we couldn’t help but chuckle during the first reading:

Thus says the Lord GOD:
Cry out full-throated and unsparingly,
lift up your voice like a trumpet blast;
Tell my people their wickedness,
and the house of Jacob their sins.

Is 58:1


Finally, a shameless plug for our Little HolyDays link up! Make sure you head over to Molly’s page to enter her super cool giveawayall it takes is a comment! – as well as seeing how Haley is “cleaning up her whiny soul” this Lenten season!

Little HolyDays Lent Dualing Moms


  1. Thank you for sharing your “real”…it means more than you know this week. Everything doesn’t have a bow on top, and I am always glad when people are willing to tell the truth about that!
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