Birthdays - Celebration or Grieving?

Mark Arnold by Mark Arnold Additional Needs

Mark Arnold

Mark Arnold

Mark heads up Urban Saints pioneering additional needs ministry programme and is co-founder of the ‘Additional Needs Alliance’, a learning and supp...

Do we celebrate all that the year has brought; the triumphs, the highlights, the hard fought progress and victories?

Or do we grieve; mourning another year of lost possibilities, filled with sadness as we compare our own child to their same-age peers?

Maybe we do a bit of both, tasting the sweetness and bitterness together…

Last week was James’ birthday, he turned 15.

Apart from wondering where on earth that 15 years went, it was natural to mark the occasion, which he shares with me (the birthday, not the age!) with a few moments of quiet contemplation.

As James was tearing open his cards and gifts, oblivious to the significance of the day, I thought about what the past year had brought and what the year ahead might be like.

At this point I faced a choice… should I start by thinking about the positive things that the year had brought?  Or should I focus on the harder stuff first?

I chose to be positive, reflecting on all that was worthy of celebration…

James has had another year in school, another year of good health, another year where he has generally been happy, contented and has been able to enjoy the things we’ve done.

He’s made tiny steps in his learning, but a little progress is better than none at all.

We’ve discovered new favourite places to visit, we’ve discovered new things to eat (admittedly, not all of these are actually food!).

James, as the ‘poster boy’ and inspiration for so much of the work that I do, has touched the hearts and encouraged the minds of many, many people to make a difference for the children and young people with additional needs that they know or work with…

In fact, the more I think about it, the more positives I can find to celebrate from James’ last 12-months.

Now that doesn’t mean there aren’t negatives; things that have become harder, more challenging, more of a struggle.

There are things that have brought me to tears, things that have woken me in the small hours of the night with worry, things that have left me feeling helpless…

But by thinking about all of the positives, I have come to realise that they breathe life into me, encourage me, build me up, drive me on for James, my family, and myself.

Thinking about the negatives, unless I can change them (which often I can’t), drains life out of me, knocks me down, demotivates me and holds me back, which is no help for James, my family, or me at all…

So I choose not to focus on the negatives, I choose not to give them fuel, to allow them to dominate me.

I choose positive inspiration, to celebrate the victories, small though they might be.  I choose to focus only on things that feed me, encourage me, give me life.

To do otherwise is just a form of parental self-harm, dwelling on the things that have gone wrong, the things that aren’t possible, the things we can’t do.

I choose not to go there, and I choose ‘acceptance’…

Acceptance of our son for who he is and for all that he brings to our family; acceptance of what our life as a family is like, and celebrating it for all the good things that life brings.

I don’t love James any less for the additional needs that he has… in fact I love him all the more.

His 15-years of life so far have been inspirational to me and to us as a family; we are different, very different, as a result of having him in our family.

James has taught us acceptance, a deeper level of love, to celebrate difference, to care and campaign for the vulnerable, and much, much more.

My work reflects our journey with James, and I absolutely love it!

So next time it is your child’s birthday, or maybe on any other day, remember you have a choice; a choice of focussing on the positives or the negatives, a choice of acceptance or rejection, a choice of inspiration or depression…

I choose positive, inspirational, acceptance… I refuse to choose anything else…  what about you?


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