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Applying Love Languages to Families With Special Needs

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly
The Truth Network Radio
January 10, 2023 5:00 am

Applying Love Languages to Families With Special Needs

Focus on the Family / Jim Daly

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January 10, 2023 5:00 am

Raising a child with special needs has many challenges. Jolene Philo will help you discover how to use Love Languages to express love to your child with special needs, as well as their siblings and your spouse! It’s a terrific conversation you won’t want to miss.

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Think about today, because if you think about what am I going to do with my child who has special needs when they're 40 years old and yada yada yada, that's too overwhelming. So think about today and just say to yourself, can I make it through today? Can I get strength from God to make it through today? And the answer to that is probably going to be yes. And then do it that day.

And maybe all you can do that day with the love languages is think, how could I use them tomorrow? And that's enough. That's Jolene Filo, and she's with us today on Focus on the Family. Your host is Focus President and author Jim Daly, and I'm John Fuller. You know, John, some of the most amazing people that I've met are those with special needs. I'm thinking of Trevor Hendershot, who was here with his dad and talked about his difficulty being born with Down syndrome and how he's overcoming that situation by working for the Ducks, the Anaheim Ducks, right.

And I think the Los Angeles Angels, you know, he has more jobs coming at him now than anybody I know. And of course, Tyler Sexton, who was born with cerebral palsy, became a physician after being told he couldn't. And he runs a pediatric ward of a hospital, terrific human being. But the bottom line is it's not what you grow up to do.

It's who you are in Christ and being made in the image of God. And today we're going to talk with a very special guest who has worked with Gary Chapman, who is the author of the five love languages and how to apply those to families with special needs. Yeah. And there are a lot of challenges if there's a special needs child in the family. And Jolene Filo knows that very well. She and her husband Hiram raised a son with medical special needs. And as a teacher, Jolene created an inclusive classroom for kids with disabilities. She's authored a number of books for the special needs and disability community. And one, as you said, Jim, is called Sharing Love Abundantly in Special Needs Families, the five love languages for parents raising children with disabilities.

We've got copies of that here. Call us 800, the letter A in the word family, or you'll find the link in the show notes. Jolene, welcome to Focus on the Family. Well, thank you. It's great to be here.

It's good to have you. And man, just thank you for all those years as a school teacher. I love my school teachers. I think, you know, in my chaotic childhood, school teachers brought me consistency and boundaries, and I just enjoyed it once I got into school.

I didn't want to go the first day, but then I was caught. And so thank you. I'm sure you have built into many students over the years, and what a great profession. It is. It's, I think, and sometimes underrated, but it is so important. I agree.

Boy, there's, other than being a parent, there's no other opportunity to really speak into a child's life. Oh, shape and mold. Let's go back a bit and talk about your husband, how you met, and how did your life with him get started? Well, we met in college at what was called Westmar College in Lamar's, Iowa, which you might know as the ice cream capital of the world. I didn't know that, but I'm glad. I want to go there now. It's the home of Wells Blue Bunny Ice Cream. Oh, okay.

Yes. We met at Freshman Orientation Dance. We were very different.

He was very shy. I was very verbal. Lots of ways that we were different, but we shared some common values of hard work and an emphasis on family and the importance of family.

And then our faith as Christians. So we met, as I said, early on, and we were married after our junior year. We graduated then in 1978 and moved to South Dakota, and that's kind of how our life together began. We love South Dakota. Jean and I and the family, we've done a lot of, you know, camping up there, and what a great state.

It is. Let me ask you, though, then Alan came along, your son, and that was not what you expected, but what happened? Well, it wasn't at all what we expected. When I went into labor and we drove to the hospital, which was 90 miles from where we lived, we got there in time for him to be born, and at first everything seemed to be fine, and he started having trouble breathing during the night. The doctor came in the next morning and sat down beside me while I was eating breakfast, and if you know anything about hospitals and doctors, having them sit down beside you is not a good sign.

Right. And he said that our son was having trouble breathing. He wanted to move him from the hospital in Spearfish to Rapid City for him to have some more tests, and a few hours later the pediatrician there called and said that Alan had a tracheal esophageal fistula, which means that his esophagus came down from his throat and formed a blind pouch. It came up from his stomach and hooked into the trachea, so immediate surgery was required.

The nearest hospital was at the University of Nebraska in Omaha, so our son was life flighted before he was a day old and actually had surgery before he was a day old. I mean I can't imagine. He couldn't eat? No. I mean as a newborn baby, I mean he just couldn't. The plumbing was all backward, right?

Right. Was the surgery successful? It was. Or surgeries?

Yeah, there were many. The first surgery was successful. We were told up front it had a 92% success rate for, you know, one of the major birth conditions. He was out of NICU within about two and a half weeks able to nurse, and everything was going well. He was a bright-eyed, you know, very responsive child, and two months later when I was nursing him in the night, he quit breathing, so that ended up being another trip down to Spearfish onto Rapid City where they found out that where they had joined the esophagus, the stricture had closed, and so all the milk was pooling there and then aspirating into his lungs. So he was again sent to Omaha.

I got to fly with him this time because I was a nursing mother. He had another surgery, and to make a long story very short, by the time he was five, he'd had a total of seven surgeries and dozens if not hundreds of medical tests and procedures to get everything functioning correctly. Did after five then was he, you know, in a better place where things became normal? Yes, and in fact when we moved from South Dakota to Iowa in 1985, so he was about three or four, and started kindergarten a few years later, we had a hard time convincing people that he'd had such a tough beginning.

He did have one more surgery when he was 15, but other than that physically he was just fine. You know once Alan reached that stable point, in your book you talk about your church offering a class that transformed your marriage and parenting. What was it? It was the first Love Languages book, the Love Languages for Couples. Thus the connection.

Yes, yes. So you know we took the class in Sunday school. There wasn't anything for kids yet, but we did it for the couples and it was very helpful. Right, and those classic, you know, there are a handful of authors that really look into the design that God has made. And I think Gary Chapman really hit something here when he identified those five love languages.

I don't want to put you on the spot, you don't have the list, but words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch are those five. And so how did you see those begin to apply in your little family? Well, you know, you just kind of start using them when you think that, hmm, if these are effective for adults maybe they'll work for kids, but you don't really know how to apply them for kids.

So you just start, or how to figure out what they are in your children. And I don't think Gary up until that point, he had not really written about that yet. He now has written about that, how to apply them to your children. Exactly.

This was kind of early on, right? Right, right. So we just started, you know, using all of them with our kids and they seem to thrive with them. And so then I was like, well, if it works in my family, maybe it'll also work at school. Let me, oh, that's interesting. So let's stick with your family. So you learn this with your husband. So what love language is he?

He is physical touch. Okay. And remember how we talked about the opposites thing? Yes. That's my lowest. That's funny.

What is yours? My top one is acts of service followed by words of affirmation really closely. So you begin to apply that in your marriage. Did it help?

It did. And it continues to help. In fact, we now live in a multi-generational family. So my daughter and her husband and their two kids live with us intentionally. And all the adults other than me are physical touch.

Can somebody give me a word of affirmation here? Well, in fact, it's so funny because my daughter finally said to my husband, okay, we've got to step things up a little bit here. We need to try and do some nice things for mom.

And I bet if you just ask her every day, if she would like to have a latte, which is one of her favorite things, we have a little espresso maker, you would just fill her love tank like crazy. And that was correct. Does your book have the quiz in it? Yes. At the end of chapter one, all the quizzes are in it. Because that's really good.

It's great to do. I really couldn't identify. John and I always talk about this. Mine was kind of even on everything. So I'm not sure what my dominant love language is.

Just a big lovable guy. I need to call Gary and have him analyze me, I guess, or something like that. Now with your kids, I remember having this experience. And I told Gary about this on a previous broadcast. I remember Troy, particularly, Trent was a little more difficult.

But Troy, I think he was four years old. And I was reading the prep to do an interview with Gary. And I just asked him off the cuff, he was right next to my chair early in the morning.

And I said, which love language is yours, four years old, being a teacher, you can identify with this. And I started to read him and he goes, Oh, physical touch. He just knew it. You know, and he has always been that way. He loves to hug. He loves when I tickle his arm or his back or you know, whatever it might be. But he had no doubt and still to this day has no doubt.

He's very self aware person. Is that kind of common? Do you see that distinction with the kids typically? I have not seen that so much. And maybe it's just because the parents don't really take the time to go through them with their kids.

Yeah, maybe it's because they aren't educated enough. Alan had that experience as your son. I think your husband began to stroke his cheek when he was going through such difficulty, right?

Yes, yes. It's it's one of my favorite stories. Actually, when our son was in NICU, of course, I had just had a baby. So there were several times when I would need to go and just rest and take a nap where we were staying. And my husband would go in during those hours, and he would just be next to Alan's little bed. And Alan, of course, was covered with tubes. You know, he had drainage tubes, and he had things that were monitoring everything and he had a feeding tube. And there wasn't a lot of space on him that was available for physical contact. So instead of having the nurse try to get Alan up into his arms, all the time, which was difficult, Hiram got into the habit of just putting his hand in and stroking Alan's cheek back and forth, back and forth.

And of course, there's now research that proves that that's very good for newborns who are in NICU. And that the most amazing part of this story is that for many, many years afterwards, whenever Alan would get upset, probably till he was about 13 or 14 years old, when he got upset and needed to regulate, he would look at us and ask, rub my cheek. Oh, man.

Rub my cheek. Wow, he could, he knew it made a difference for him. Yeah, yeah. That's great, intuitive parenting, I think.

I think Troy's very similar that way. When he's stressed, he comes over and puts his arm in front of me, you know, and it's just beautiful. It's a nice thing. And I never pull back.

I never say I can't do that right now. And it's a good way to show that affection. But knowing your children's love language is the key. Now, I can't imagine you in a classroom with how many kids 20, 30? How did you, how did you, A, have the time to really differentiate and know each other's love language? Well, when I was still teaching, and I left teaching in 2003, they still didn't have a lot out.

I'm not sure what the copyright date is on on the Love Languages book for kids. But I just kind of used them all with the whole class. Yeah. So I figured out ways to use words of affirmation. I figured out ways that either I or someone, one of the other teachers or assistants in my classroom could go and listen to a child read one on one. You know, I knew the kids who would benefit from maybe a sticker that they could take home or a pencil. There were others.

So those would be the gifts kids, the kids that needed physical touch. I or all of the kids, I made sure and pat them on the shoulder when they went by or ruffle their hair. I do that with John. Yeah, I I'm going to ruffle your hair right now.

But it's so awesome. Jolene, you grew up in a caregiving family. So what what was happening in your family of origin that you kind of learned how to be sensitive to needs around you?

Yes. My father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was 29. So that was way back in 1959. I was two. Dad was still working full time when he was diagnosed. But I can't remember him walking.

So his decline was quite swift. And he was in a wheelchair the whole time I was growing up. I have an older sister and a younger brother. And we were very active then in dad's care. My parents made a decision that dad would stay in our home, at least until we were all grown up, at least in college.

Right. And then they also decided that they would do everything they could to make sure we went to college. It sounded like you had an aunt and uncle, I think you mentioned them in the book, what what role did they play to encourage the kids, you and the kids? Yes, they lived in the same town. And my aunt was mom's younger sister.

And they just kind of stepped in. And whenever they were doing something exciting, or at least it seemed like pretty exciting when you're six years old, they would come over and get our family and take us with them. So we would go swimming, we would go hiking in a park and Uncle Jim would push dad's wheelchair. We went on vacations with six kids because they had three kids to six kids, four adults in a station wagon with a wheelchair tied on top. And we would just go state to state and see and do things that were impossible for my parents. I like the spirit of that just live life and go right.

And yeah, I have a little bit of a boundary here, a bump. But I'm going to continue that was really good of your dad to participate in that way. My dad was that kind of guy, as long as he could get out and go, he was going to go, you know, one of the things in families that do have a child of special needs is sometimes the siblings may not feel noticed. Because that child understandably consumes a lot of the parents time, right, the caregiving is intense, perhaps.

And so the other kids, they're kind of flying under the radar. And they may not get the attention that the parent would love to give them but is consumed with the other siblings. And so that's kind of them but is consumed with the other sibling that has special needs speak to that issue and knowing their love language. Well, first, I want to say that we had that same experience when I was growing up because we did a lot of caregiving for my father, we were very active in pushing his wheelchair, you know, getting him what he needed, fixing him lunch, whatever it was. And sometimes we were almost asked to do too much. And I think it's really important for the children who are in caregiving families who are asked to contribute, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's a great way to learn compassion and to grow up and to learn to accept people who have different abilities and disabilities. But we also have to make sure to protect their childhood and to give them time to be kids, which is just what my aunt and uncle did for us. When you being that that parent when you feel like your tank is empty, how do you find that little reserve energy to make sure that other child gets a piece of your attention at the end of the day when you're tapped out? Did you use a trigger at all or a little something to say, okay, remember, Mary or Johnny need a little hand on their shoulder a little word of encouragement? That's a really good question. I think the main thing we have to remember is that kids are kids.

And so if our child with a disability needs our time and our energy, and maybe the majority of it, we need to figure out a way to be intentional about giving that to the typical sibling. So we may need to have a little note in our planner saying, have you talked to so-and-so today? Or maybe you have a little notification on your phone that comes up. And don't feel guilty about it. Yeah. I mean, use it as a reminder.

Yeah, just look at it. Oh, okay. So my child likes physical touch. I'm just going to go over and give them a hug.

Or I'm going to make sure that I cuddle with them tonight at bedtime. Yeah. Or whatever it is, just have something in your life so that you remember the typical siblings. Yeah. And Jolene, what I appreciate about this book is it's not just your story, it's what, 40 different families that contributed?

Yes. What are some of the kind of the headlines in terms of what some of the contributions were in terms of how we apply the love languages to our families? Well, I think the first one I went in seeking an answer for was, how do you identify the love language of a child who maybe can't speak?

Or their development is delayed? Or for whatever reason, it's going to be difficult to figure that out. And one of the parents contributed three questions that I like to call the golden questions. As you interact with your child, ask yourself, what calms my child? What motivates my child? And where does my child choose to spend his or her time?

And when you're doing different love language activities with them, you'll notice the ones that are the answers to those questions, and you've probably found their love language. The other thing the parents taught me was how to accommodate for a child's needs. So we have we have to remember that if the child is deaf, we're going to have to have a way to communicate, right?

We need to know sign language, or we need to have a pad of paper, the notes app on your phone, so you can talk to each other, or other communication issues, you've got to make sure you're kind of fluent with their communication boards, so you can talk to them. You also need to make sure that the accommodations you're doing with a child are in line with their developmental age. So maybe their developmental age is six, but they're a 35 year old young woman. So you have to be able to meet their developmental need, but treat them with the respect and the attitude that you would treat any 35 year old woman. So you kind of have to, yeah, that's interesting and differentiating. Actually, I would think most parents have a struggle with that because you're kind of locked in that younger child mentality, even though they present as older adult, they have a mind of an eight year old and you kind of get stuck there. I think not that that's right. I'm just saying it's real.

It is real. And I've seen many parents, in fact, many of the parents who were interviewed for this book who had ideas of how to do that in just amazing, creative ways. And the book is full of those ideas. Jolene, one of the things that I'm aware of when you read the literature with families that have that situation where they have a special needs child, divorce rates can be really high because of the pressure and the stress that the marriage is under. I don't applaud that, obviously, but I don't live in their shoes. I don't know all this, all the difficulties they're going through. So I get that. But I guess the question is for those couples who are in that place right now, maybe again, they're, you know, there's just so much demand on mom that she has very little time for dad and husband and maybe very little time for the other siblings.

And so the gaps are all made up somehow. But the marriage struggles. What advice do you have for that couple to kind of reset their relationship, even with the demands of a special needs child? I think first of all, they need to acknowledge that those demands are real.

And there's maybe a little more than what they can handle in front of them. So my number one thing would be, get some help, ask people for help and welcome people into your home. And second, I think you need to make your relationship with your spouse the priority that needs to come first. And the nice thing about the love languages is it's really easy to figure out what each other's love languages are. And there are really some simple things that you can do to speak them. So for my husband and I, physical touch is his number one love language.

So we make sure we hold hands when we pray at night. That doesn't take any more time than maybe you're doing already. For somebody who likes receiving gifts or quality time, just get out the good dishes and put dessert on the good dishes that night. How hard is that? You don't need to make it more stuff to do.

You need to think about how can you implement it in what you're already doing. And then the third thing is that you have to practice has said, which is this intentional, unconditional love that Dr. Chapman talks about in all the books. That's a Jewish term, correct?

It is. And it means loyalty and love mixed together. So it's that idea of unconditional love, which my husband made clear to me very early in our marriage when we were in a new place. And we didn't have our son yet, but I was just really struggling with being away from home and all of that. And my husband looked at me and he said, Jolene, no matter what happens, no matter what you do wrong or what I do wrong, we are in this together. And I thought, boy, I'm going to have to figure out how to make this work then because you know, that's the end game.

We're in this together. And we have to think that as caregiving couples too, we're in this together. And thankfully I had a very good example in my mother of doing that. She cared for dad for 38 years before he died. Jolene, as we close today, I'd love for you to offer some words of encouragement to that mom or dad who's listening right now. And they may simply be overwhelmed with their child's special needs. It's okay to feel that way.

Don't feel guilty about that. We get it, we understand it. Jean and I have relatives that are in that spot. It will not end in a couple of the cases. It's just the situation they're in. And we pray often that those marriages will remain tight, even though they, you know, struggle from time to time.

But what would be that word that you would give them in that context where they don't have the energy to add one more thing to their plate. And here we are telling them to start using the love languages, you know. So we are saying the benefit here is going to outweigh the cost of time. I would tell them don't look too far into the future. Think about today.

Because if you think about what am I going to do with my child who has special needs when they're 40 years old and yada, yada, yada. That's too overwhelming. So think about today and just say to yourself, can I make it through today? Can I get strength from God to make it through today?

And the answer to that is probably going to be yes. And then do it that day. And maybe all you can do that day with the love languages is think, how could I use them tomorrow? And that's enough. Yeah, that's so good, Jolene. And man, again, thank you where we started for all your years of being a school teacher. And this is what keeps hope alive in schools for us as Christian parents, that there are teachers like you, who look after our kids so well. And thank you for the book, Sharing Love Abundantly in Special Needs Families. And, you know, if you can't afford to send a gift to Focus, we'll get it into your hands. Just call us.

John will give those details. If you can help us to cover the cost of that, to help a family with special needs, we appreciate your financial support to do ministry. And if you can sign up to do that every month, that's great. Or a one-time gift, we'll send you a copy of the book as our way of saying thank you for being part of the ministry. Donate as you can and know that broadcasts like this and resources like Jolene's book and our counseling team, our caring Christian counselors, are made available to you because of donors.

Our number is 800, the letter A and the word family, 800-232-6459. Or hit the show notes for the links to donate and to get a copy of this great book, Sharing Love Abundantly in Special Needs Families. Well, plan to be with us next time as we hear from Michelle Singletary. She has some great thoughts about how to be wise with your money.

And my grandmother, she said, we don't have it and I'm not going to get it and I'm not going to apologize for that. This is all that I can give you and you need to be satisfied with that. On behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for joining us today for Focus on the Family. I'm John Fuller inviting you back as we once more help you and your family thrive in Christ. Oh, hey, Mike.

Got here as soon as I could. What's going on, man? Hey, I just wanted to give you an update on my marriage. Is it good news? Yeah, our marriage is going great right now. I couldn't be happier. Dude, that's awesome.

Yeah, it's like a solid five out of ten. Having a marriage that's just okay isn't where couples really want to live. Give yourself and your spouse an all-inclusive weekend where you'll slow your pace and focus on each other. Get more details at slash getaway. That's slash getaway.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-10 19:20:44 / 2023-01-10 19:32:00 / 11

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