You’ve probably seen them all over the place. The little plaques and wall hangings with these words:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can change,
And wisdom to know the difference

There is profound wisdom in those words when applied to raising a child with developmental or health issues. If you’ve been on this journey for any time at all, you know the intense desire to get your child “caught up.” The race to “normal” can be incredibly stressful.

This simple prayer provides much-needed perspective. Let’s break it down.

Accept the Things I Cannot Change

We don’t want to accept that there are things we can’t change. We are supermoms! We should be able to do anything. (This is where I stand up and say, “Hi. I’m Stephanie. I’m a failed supermom.”)

Though I may be a failed supermom, I am a [mostly] successful regular mom. I do what I can for my child as time, talent and finances permit—just like any other parent. I find creative ways to solve problems—just like any other mom. I love my child even when they are not potty trained until 10 years old, or they melt down in the middle of Walmart when you’ve already invested an hour and the shopping cart is too full to abandon, or they fixate on the shoes you are wearing and get mad because they can’t wear them—not exactly like many other parents, but definitely like all other special needs parents.

In the moment, there are things we cannot change. We cannot suddenly make our children stop fixating on things. We cannot suddenly teleport to a private location when things get bad. We cannot suddenly make all our children’s problems go away. So, let’s more forward.

Courage to Change the Things I Can

BUT…I can start doing the work, moment by moment, to improve behaviors, health and relationships. I can love my child in that moment of breakdown. I can keep my own response controlled, especially when my child is out of control.

One way to keep perspective on behaviors is to remember these two things:

  1. All behavior is communication.
  2. It’s not how the child behaves, it’s what the parent does in response.

The victory is in our response, not necessarily in having a child that is well-behaved all the time. Interpretation: You can ignore the stares and rolled eyes and disapproving looks. If you’ve done the right thing as a parent, you are victorious.

Wisdom to Know the Difference

Can’t change: The fact that your child has special needs.
Can change: How you perceive those needs and meet them on a day-to-day basis.

Can’t change: Your child’s initial response to a stressor.
Can change: Your response to the behavior.

Can’t change: Other people’s responses to your child.
Can change: How you respond to people who are rude, mean, pitying or judgmental.

You get the idea. Notice one thing about these examples: it’s all about relationships. A lot of things will be out of your control, but you can control how you respond and in turn, build better relationships.

I found a second, anonymous version of the The Serenity Prayer that sums up the way to keep it real:

God, grant me
The serenity to accept the people I cannot change
Courage to change the one I can
And the wisdom to know that one is me.


Download your own printable version of The Serenity Prayer below.

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