More of what you stand to gain

Yesterday I said that from raising an impossible child, you may grow in the speed of your reflexes and in humility of your heart. But there’s more.

I am not sure why, but the most difficult children are often also the most creative, intelligent, spontaneous, and gifted kids you will meet. You can gain a wealth of creative experience and joy from raising one.

Their minds have ripples and wiggles and light and darkness where the rest of us have straight lines and boxes. Our dividing lines don’t exist to them. In music or art or friendship or science, they are comets of discovery, color, and excellence. Some of them become prodigies in the arts; most of them have fields of interest that blow all my categories. They are naturally talented, amazingly blessed.

For this reason, among many others, they do not fit the status quo. You may be proud or ashamed of them, but you will be slightly uncomfortable.

I do not remember who wrote about a family as seedling plants. It’s as if the whole Zook family has been born tomato plants so far, and suddenly here comes this watermelon sprout and disrupts our “always” rules: a sprout that doesn’t fit, that’s not easily traced back to the family tree. Our whole family, for example, may like staying at home and playing quiet games together, but suddenly we are given a child who loves to party and socialize and get out of the house. The author-whom-I-forget* said it is imperative to make your family big enough to include the “odd one” who also belongs to you. Now you are a tomato-and-watermelon family. Now you are a family who loves to stay at home and who also loves to party.

*Edit: My friend Marlene says this author is Rachel Jankovic. Thanks, Marlene.

I am not suggesting that you let your child lead your home. But I am saying that if you open yourself to his flavor, to his color, you will become more than you could have been. You will be rocked out of your staid little boxes and into more new places, stretching experiences, and creative fun than you could imagine.

And finally, from raising an impossible child you can gain the gift of empathy. There are people in the world who are good at caring, good at listening, good at looking deeply into the hearts of others and seeing without judging. They are the kind who show up at your house with a loaf of bread when times are hard. They know the right things to say, and they know when to cry with you, when to laugh, when to be silent.

I’ve been blessed by people like this in my life, and I’m telling you that the overwhelming majority of them have walked through great pain.

It doesn’t have to be this pain; the same kind of difficulty I walked through. But it was pain, and it changed them. It changed forever how they treat other people who are hurting. This is not original with me. It’s written in the Bible. We call it empathy: I am deeply identified with you in your suffering. It does not shock or offend or frighten me. I have been there too. I am here for you.

Because of empathy, you may become a babysitter for children with handicaps, or a special ed teacher, or a respite provider, or a NICU baby-snuggler, or a classroom volunteer. Or a foster parent. You may become an adult who knows how to draw wayward teenagers back toward love. You may become the kind-hearted grandma at church who asks to rock a colicky baby for his frazzled new mom. You may become, by the grace of Jesus, the sort of person who walks toward difficult children instead of away from them.

There are many situations in life that are out of our control, many kinds of agony, many ways to learn empathy: and one of them is through raising an impossible child.

If this is you, please know that you are not alone. You have the grace that it takes to get through this; if you do not, then reach for it, tired parent. Pick up the phone to ask for a sitter, visit a doctor or a counselor for some help, drive to your best friend’s house and cry. I like to think that the Lord gives his toughest sons to his favorite daughters. I think about the words of Simeon when the hardest child of all was given to his mother: “A sword will pierce through your own soul also.”

You were chosen for a reason, and for such a time as this. You are loved and not forgotten. Please do not give up.


I feel the inadequacy of what I have to offer, because I am trying to reach you through my computer screen and because of who I am. I can’t say all the right things. I pray that Jesus will pour his fullness into your need.

There is more that I will learn from raising my son (and each of his siblings), but I have not learned it yet. Wish me grace. What would you add to my list? What have you learned?

One more word on parenting tomorrow, and then I’m done.

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6 years ago

I’m thoroughly enjoying this little series you’re doing! I don’t have any children of my own, but I tutor several with learning differences. These kids are so gifted and have taught me so much about thinking outside the box. They see things I’d miss because I’m too busy trying to walk my straight line. They build block towers with incredible designs and figure out the most complex locks. They amaze me every day. Thanks so much for sharing your life!

6 years ago

The author is Rachel Jankovic. I know because that portion of her book made a deep impression on me when I was struggling with what our middle child was adding to our family.

I don’t pretend to know about parenting an impossible child, but I am grateful that humility and empathy is possible after hitting a wall for which all previous rules and coping strategies fail. In other words, that redemption grows life not poison out of something that feels like death. Thank you, Jesus.

6 years ago

I can so relate to this! Our first child is one of these and I have to say before I had children I was very idealistic. The biggest thing he has taught me is total dependence on Jesus because some days there’s nothing else left. And yes I’ve been totally humbled and I can no longer criticize other parents. We’re all in this together and some days your best efforts fail. This is the first time I’ve commented here although I’ve been following along for awhile. I find it encouraging to hear that I’m not alone. ?

6 years ago

Love this! Our third child threw us for a loop! I have never prayed and cried over a child so much! But you are so right about them being gifted and talented and I need to remember to look at the positive, even though the negative is so obvious! They are world changers – I just hope I’m still sane to see it! 🙂 Thanks for this. It is encouraging to know I am not the only one! And I recommend the book called the “Spirited Child”. I don’t remember the author but it really helped me see my son in a different way.

6 years ago
Reply to  Shari Zook

Yes, that is one – sorry didn’t quite have the title right! I will have to check out the one you suggested. May God give you strength for each day!

6 years ago

I wrote this prayer/poem for my daughter as she struggles and loves her impossible child.
So I’ll pray it for you too.

Make her capable
Able to do the job
That You gave her
Even when it’s hard
Even when it’s complicated
Even when it’s messy
Fill her with the knowledge of how
Give her the tools to do it properly
Grant her patience for the long haul
Bring her support from her husband
Cause him to lift her up in prayer
Let him be her friend and encourager
Make two into one
As they give their lives to you
Turn them to surrender and peace
And then-
Make her capable
Able to do the job
That You gave her

5 years ago
Reply to  Beth

I copied this to make it mine also, to gather my scattered thoughts. Your daughter is privileged to have you sharing her burden.

6 years ago

I haven’t parented a child like you describe, but I’ve worked with children with learning and behavior differences (teaching, tutoring, etc.) and I want to say “YES!” to the part about them so often being gifted, colorful, outside the box, and so many more adjectives.

I also want to say another YES to what you wrote about pain giving you the gift of empathy and the ability to listen without judgment. I think it is so amazing and fascinating how God creates beauty out of pain and difficulty like this.

6 years ago

Truth sister! Thank you for writing, you give a positive angle in a world of “let’s fix that child”

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