How do I remain grateful despite the mental pressure it puts on the family as a special needs parent?
Kisa Family Scholar
Special Needs parents have a lot on their plate. Many parents have asked questions about remaining grateful even through the mental pressure it puts on themselves and the rest of the family. In order to answer this question, let’s take a look from a bird’s eye view
The Bigger Picture
Sometimes it helps to shift our view to see a bigger picture and how within that bigger picture we can find our meaning. First, we can examine what is the purpose of our creation. When we look at any creation in the world, we can assume that there is a creator and that that creator had a purpose in creating his/her creation. Similarly, our Creator is Allah and He has told us His purpose for creating us. Allah mentions in the Qurʾān that He has created jinn and mankind so that they can worship Him (I did not create the jinn and the humans except that they may worship Me.1). The worship in itself is a tool for the ultimate purpose, which is to acquire attributes of Allah in our own capacity, so that we can reach perfection. Worship is not confined to just our prayers but rather, every action we do for the purpose of getting closer to Allah (swt) in whatever we do and through whatever situation we are put in. Throughout our life, we will come across life events that can be looked on as blessings or calamities, but how do we determine which is which?
Are certain events or situations blessings versus others being calamities?
The example of a vaccination for a baby comes to mind, whereas a baby will go through pain when he/she gets a shot, the parents will still take him/her to the doctor to get the vaccination because in the long run, the vaccination will keep the baby safe. Another example we find is the pain of delivering a baby. The pain is so great, yet mothers around the world are willing to go through that pain to have a baby. Therefore it is as if the pains one goes through are tools to bring happiness, so then we can also understand that calamities can also be or lead us to blessings.
The troubles we go through in this world are solely intended to be used as tools for us to reach perfection. Imām Jaʿfar aṣ-Ṣādiq (ʿa) has quoted the following ḥadīth on authority of the Messenger of Allah (ṣ): I swear by Allah that no one can attain greatness before Allah, unless his sufferings (hardships) increase2.
The following ḥadith gives us a sense of how we should evaluate challenges and can be used as a barometer for evaluating both blessings and calamities: Someone talked about calamities and things that God has allocated to believers in front of Imām Jaʿfar aṣ-Ṣādiq (ʿa). Imām (ʿa) then said the following in response to what had been said: “The Messenger of Allah (ṣ) was asked: ‘Who experiences the worst calamities in this world?’ The Prophet (ṣ) answered: ‘The Prophets experience the worst calamities in this world. Then those who are most similar to them, and then the believers experience calamities based on their level of faith and good deeds. The calamities experienced by those whose deeds are more will be worse. Whoever has a weaker faith and less good deeds will experience less calamities.’3”
This ḥadith shifts the paradigm on how we look at calamities. Whereas people may feel as if challenges are calamities, this ḥadīth shows that they are instead a means to be closer to Allah and an indication of a person’s status before Him.
We perceive blessings to be those things that are in our good interest. We perceive calamities as those that are apparently bad for us. One must wonder though, do we really know what is good and what is bad for us? Allah mentions in the Qurʾān, And it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know.4
In order to determine if a certain thing is good or bad, we would have to come up with an absolute scale of goodness and evil, and that can only be given to us by the Creator of these phenomenons. The Creator has very clearly stated that He knows and we don’t. Our Imāms (ʿa) have mentioned that calamities are like gifts for the believers from Allah (swt) and are for our own spiritual elevation. Imām Jaʿfar aṣ-Ṣādiq (ʿa) has said: A believer is similar to a scale. The stronger his faith, the more his sufferings will be.5 Once we understand and believe that we were created with the purpose of ultimately gaining proximity to Allah (swt), then the next step is to view calamities and hardships as trials that are a natural part of life and servitude to Allah. The tests that we face as believers aid us on our journey to Allah: Imām Muḥammad al-Bāqir (ʿa) has said: A servant is always faced with calamities, divine destiny, and blessings. He must persevere in the face of calamities that Allah sends down on him, he must submit to divine destiny and be grateful for Allah’s blessings6.
As stated, once we realize that we are not owed anything and that everything we have is purely out of the mercy and love of Allah (swt), the appreciation of these blessings also comes with the fear of losing them. We can’t help but think of what would happen to us if we were deprived of our lives, the five senses that are critical to our wellbeing, the oxygen that is necessary for our survival, and the many other blessings that we take for granted. What would happen to us?
One of our biggest blessings is the very faith that Allah has instilled in us.
He has asked that we believe in Him and be grateful for all He has bestowed on us, And believe that He loves us more than the love of 70 mothers. Our faith in Allah, the manifestations of His love for us, and our complete trust in Him, all aid us in understanding and facing the trials that are a natural part of the life of this world.
Practical Gratitude Tips for Caregivers of Children with Special Needs
That’s not to say that it isn’t normal to feel burnt out or mentally exhausted from the different pressures special needs parents face. It can be very difficult to slow down and feel grateful, but the beauty of being grateful is that it is one of the ways to address mental pressure. It is a tool that can be used to release some of the pressure you feel. Some practical ways to be grateful are the following
- Focus on the positives, look for the blessings within the calamities and the nearness you may feel towards the Prophets and Imāms (ʿa) who are tested the most
- Look for a community you can rely on, with people going through a similar situation as you
- Remind yourself to practice gratitude as it can make you feel happier, and use it as a tool to bring about happiness in your life, less stress and positive relationships.
- Let go of the fears you are holding by increasing your trust in and remembering Allah, He is All-Powerful.
- Identify your negative thoughts and be curious about the way your thoughts have formed and what that means about your beliefs and and your dreams. Become aware of what they are and what they mean to you. Then you can identify what belief foundations you need to strengthen- hope, tawakkul, taqwā and so on
- Focus on getting through one day at a time, and celebrate even the ‘small’ wins
- At the end of the day, make a gratitude list, use your tasbīḥ to “count” your blessings while saying alḥamdulillāh.
- Get your family involved in practicing gratitude! Use prompts like what went well today at the dinner table, or what was your favorite part of today at bedtime.
- Write it out: Take some time every day to write a note or letter to someone or something that you are grateful for that day- get creative!
- Make it a practice to wake up and say alḥamdulillāh as you start your day.
Gratitude is a skill that gets better with practice. A beautiful ḥadith to remember on difficult days is that Prophet Muḥammad (ṣ) said, Imān (belief, faith) is split in two halves: one half of it is [in] patience, and the other half is [in] gratitude7.
1 Noble Qurʾān, 51:56
2 Mishkāt al-Anwār fī Ghurar il-Akhbār, Ch. 7, Section 7, Ḥadīth #1737
3 Mishkāt al-Anwār fī Ghurar il-Akhbār, Ch. 6, Section 7, Ḥadīth #1710
4 Noble Qurʾān, 2:216
5 Mishkāt al-Anwār fī Ghurar il-Akhbār, Ch. 7, Section 7, Ḥadīth #1741
6 Mishkāt al-Anwār fī Ghurar il-Akhbār, Ch. 7, Section 7, Ḥadīth #1752
7 Kanz al-ʿUmmāl, Vol. 1, P. 36, Ḥadīth #61; Mustadrak al-Wasāʾil, Vol. 11, P. 287, Ḥadīth #13039; Tuḥaf al-ʿUqūl, P. 48
Felt, Emily. The Role of Gratitude in Special Needs Parenting
Khomeini, Sayyid. Forty Hadith, An Exposition, Second Revised Edition. Iran, Ansariyan Publications – Qum, 1939 P. 219-232
Yazdi, Muhammad. THEOLOGICAL INSTRUCTIONS. Iran, Institute of Imām Khumaynī (IIK) Ḥawzah ‛Ilmīyyah, Qum al-Musharrifah 2006 P. 88