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6 Ways Parents of 'Different' Children Can Show Them Love

  • Sally Clarkson Whole Heart Ministries
  • 2017 9 Jan
6 Ways Parents of 'Different' Children Can Show Them Love

After giving birth to two children, I thought I was a pretty good mama. My first two children responded happily to my ways of loving, living and training them, and I felt quite successful in my parenting ventures. When I gave birth to my third child Nathan, I was ready to go from strength to strength and show forth my motherly wisdom for the third time. Little did I know what was in store for me.

Unlike my first two, he refused to cuddle or allow me to be affectionate. He wouldn’t nurse, and was inconsolable even after my attempts to sing him to sleep at nights. Sometimes he would become agitated and wail and wriggle for hours on end. I was often exhausted, feeling like a bit of a zombie through my days. 

Of course, there were some moments of his early years when he would melt in my mama arms and for a few minutes, be as sweet as any toddler I had known. I would wonder if there was some sort of secret method to the madness, because more often, he would defy every request, fall on the floor and scream, and throw his older siblings into strife-induced chaos. 

It would be many years before I would more clearly understand the underlying issues that defined some of the “differences” in Nathan’s life. Many times I was frustrated, and felt like I was out of good options. Even so, at every step along the way, God seemed to whisper to me over and over again, “I made this child and formed him in your womb. There is no formula for him, or any of your other children, that will make all of his challenges go away. I want you to love him as I love him. Treat him with honor and respect because he is made in my likeness, and I will give you the grace to raise him. Leave him in my capable hands.”

Yielding my beloved, difficult child helped relieve me from always feeling I was responsible for his maturity and well-being. I did everything I could, but at the end of the day, when I gave him into God’s hands, I learned to walk in faith.

Over time, I created a code to help myself develop patient and loving ways of responding to him, at least on most days! To make it easy to remember, I  came up with an acronym around the word L.A.U.N.C.H. I knew I wanted to launch him into life with emotional, spiritual, mental, and relational strength. The launch code helped me every day to have a place to go in my mind when I needed a way to respond to him. 

L-Loving Him with the Love of God

Over time I realized that it was God’s love flowing through me, not the love I could churn up of my own volition, that allowed me to truly be patient through the difficult moments. Recognizing God’s love as the source of what I gave to Nathan even made my own desire to love him grow stronger. The things that frustrated me most began to take a backseat to that underlying truth, that God loved Nathan with an everlasting love, a love that never ran out and always gave me what I needed to help him along the way.

A-Affirming Him Daily, Believing Toward Who He Will be Someday

In our parenting, Clay and I have always sought to help our children discover the particular vision God has given them for their lives, and to encourage them as they try to inhabit the characteristics of that vision. 

Because of my background in discipleship ministry, Jesus’ relationship with His disciples is the example I have turned to over and over again to model how to encourage my children toward a vision for their lives. Jesus was constantly speaking positive things into the lives of His followers. Peter was “the rock” (Matthew 16:18), and Nathanael was a man “in whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47); Jesus affirmed Mary, sister of Martha, for choosing “the good part” (Luke 10:42), and declared to a righteous centurion that He had “never seen greater faith in all of Israel (Matthew 8:10).

We referred to this habit as “speaking forward” toward who our children would become in time. By choosing to affirm him for the positive attributes we saw in Nathan’s life, we saw him develop hope and confidence.

U-Understanding the Limitations of His Mental Challenges

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn was that Nathan’s areas of difficulty, (ADHD, OCD, ODD, learning disabilities), were never just going to go away. Many of the challenges he struggled with in childhood continue into adulthood, and will probably remain with him throughout the rest of his life. I had to accept that he wasn’t choosing to act out his misbehaviors just to irritate me. I researched his various mental and learning conditions, and began to gain an understanding of what behaviors to expect, and how to respond to them. Seeing him through the lens of his desperate need for my help to become a whole and healthy person encouraged me to accept his limitations and develop a new normal for how to proceed.

N-Never Passing on Guilt to Him for being Limited 

Using guilt to manipulate the response we want from people is like poison to their souls. Accusing a child of being “bad” or “disappointing” or “always disobedient” can create even more problems in their life. I had to remind myself to love him by accepting the daily challenges of living with him, and practiced using self-discipline to avoid negative reinforcement. It helped me to become a healthier parent to all of my children, and even heartened me as I grew stronger. 

C-Changing His Heart Gradually through Training in Character and Inner Strength 

Though Nathan couldn’t change his personality or learning challenges, everyone has “muscles” of character that can be developed. With that in mind, I was able to systematically train Nathan to live more into his potential each year. I did not see him as a diagnosis, but as someone who had the capacity to uniquely express virtue through his own personality.

Every day, I looked for ways for him to develop a little bit more self-control, to master a new responsibility, and to grow stronger through the repetition of manners. Of course, results don’t happen overnight, but I saw him grow little by little as I stayed faithful to my charge as a parent.

H-Holding Expectations Loosely and Leaving Him in the Hands of God

Life with all four of my children taught me that I was never, ever going to be able to control our circumstances, even for one day. Expecting life to be tame was a great setup for being disappointed when life threw any number of curveballs at me.

Even so, after years of growing as a mother, I learned to let the fretting over those unexpected difficulties slip away. I learned to take life as it came, and trust God to meet me in the margins. It helped all of us to enjoy our days, and move more quickly beyond the conflict moments. It allowed us to stretch and grow in grace.

Looking at my wonderful 27-year-old Nathan now, I cherish his friendship, and admire the wonderful adult he has become. The work I was given of helping to shape his life not only helped him to grow into a vibrant adult, but it shaped my character and faith as well. I have become a better and more mature person in the process. I can see that God wanted to use my “different” story to truly make something beautiful out of both Nathan and me. 


Adapted from Sally Clarkson's new book, Different, which she co-wrote with her son Nathan. Different will be released at the end of Januar7 2017. 

Sally Clarkson is the beloved author of numerous books, including Own Your Life, The Mission of Motherhood, Desperate (with Sarah Mae), and The Lifegiving Home (with Sarah Clarkson). As a mother of four, she has inspired thousands of mothers through Whole Heart Ministries, which she founded with her husband, Clay, in 1998. Since then, she has advocated relentlessly for the power of family through her Mom Heart conferences, speaking to audiences on several continents. Visit her at

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Publication date: January 9, 2017