Special needs families can make thanksgiving something to be thankful for by implementing these four ideas before the holiday arrives.

Special needs families can make Thanksgiving something to be thankful for by thinking through the holiday ahead of time. Today, guest blogger Jenn Soehnlin shares ideas she puts in practice so Thanksgiving is fun for everyone at her house.

How Special Needs Families Can Make Thanksgiving Something to Be Thankful For

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love gathering with loved ones to reflect on all the things we are thankful for and realize how blessed we truly are  while eating some amazing food. 

But, the realities of special needs parenting can make the holiday challenging if we are not intentional about protecting it and making necessary plans to help the holiday go peacefully. Here are four tips I’ve found to help plan for a more intentional Thanksgiving.

#1: Release Cultural Expectations

Just because everyone else celebrates with turkey, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie doesn’t mean you need to as well. Maybe there’s a meal your whole family enjoys and will make for a new, fun family tradition without all the cooking. 

Just because everyone else gathers with the whole extended family, doesn’t mean you have to as well. This is a holiday for you and your family, and you can celebrate it however you feel is best without feeling guilty about it.

#2: Do What’s Best For Your Family

Some relatives can be very supportive of our family’s unique needs, and some…not so much. If you need to say no to a whole family Thanksgiving gathering because it will be stressful and overwhelming for your family and child, then graciously say no. Thank them for the invitation but tell them that this year your family has other plans.

It can be hard to say no to our loved ones, but by saying yes to them we could be saying no to what’s best for our own family. According to Genesis 2:24 we are called to be stewards of our spouse and children before our parents, siblings, and other relatives.

#3: Make The Accommodations You Know Your Child Will Need

Every Thanksgiving the only thing my younger son will eat is the rolls. The only thing my older son will eat is the turkey, so when we go to family’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, I pack a few food items they’ll eat to make the meal more complete for them. Knowing they have a whole plate of food they will eat makes for a smoother meal and less anxiety for everyone.

We always bring their tablets when we go to a family Thanksgiving. When my children start feeling overwhelmed, they can go play their devices in a quiet room. You know what your child needs and will eat, so pack what is necessary and plan ahead to make the holiday go as smoothly as possible.

#4: Celebrate The Things You Are Thankful For.

Thanksgiving is one day we set aside each year to intentionally celebrate the things and the people we are thankful for. 1 Thessalonians 5:8 says “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Sometimes it can be hard to find things to be thankful for on this special needs parenting journey full of stresses and challenges. In the month of November, I reflect on (and journal about) the things I am thankful for. I encourage you to do the same. The intentional change in perspective from the things that are hard to the things that are good, the things that I am grateful for is helpful to my spirit and my outlook on life. Here are some things to reflect upon: 

  • The qualities you love most about each family member. 
  • Provisions and blessings your family have experienced this year.
  • Progress your child(ren) have made–every milestone and every single hard-fought inch in-between. 
  • The people in your village who help you, your child, your family. 
  • What you’ve learned on this special needs parenting journey. 
  • How you’ve been challenged and grown in your faith this year.

I hope these ideas help you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your loved ones. May it be filled with peace, joy, love, and thanksgiving!

Special needs families can make thanksgiving something to be thankful for by implementing these four ideas before the holiday arrives.Jenn Soehnlin celebrates Thanksgiving with her family in Virginia. She is the mother of two young boys who are precious blessings and who both have special needs. She is the author of Embracing This Special Life: Learning to Flourish as a Mother of a Child with Special Needs and enjoys blogging about faith and special needs parenting at www.embracing.life.



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