My Child Is Not A Problem To Be Solved

I struggle with thinking of my boys as puzzles to be solved, as jumbled messes until we put the pieces in place. My child is not a problem to be solved.

“Your son is complicated. It is going to take time to fix this. He’s like a puzzle with a lot of pieces that we need to fit together.”

He said it with a smile, but my heart sank.

Fix this…puzzle pieces…complicated.

“I’m not sure I see it the same way,” I said to my son’s psychiatrist, feeling nervous, but compelled to keep going.

My goal is to figure out how to help him be the best he can be – even if that means nothing changes. For his sake, I hope it does. But even if it doesn’t, I want to figure out how to help him live life exactly where he’s at.”

The psychiatrist looked at me, quizzically. “I think we are saying the same thing.”

We’re not,” I thought sadly. I let it go, but felt the familiar tension rising.

child not a problem to be solved

I have always struggled with the idea that my children and more importantly, their special needs, are like a puzzle.

I understand the analogy. In fact, I think a jigsaw puzzle is an excellent illustration of motherhood in general.

We find the pieces that fit. Slowly, over time, a picture starts to form.

And the pieces begin fall into place faster and faster.

But my children?

I don’t think of them as puzzles to be solved, as jumbled messes until we put the pieces in place to make a nice, pretty picture.

It goes against everything I know to be true about my boys.

And I wrestle with this tension every day.

The world tells me my children need to be fixed.

I see my children as fearfully and wonderfully made, just as they are. I believe there is a purpose and a grand design in exactly who they are today, even if nothing ever improved or changed.

The world tells me I need to do all the things – the therapies, the medicines, the educational programs, the social skills groups and the treatment plans.

I want my children to be all the things. My children must be allowed to be who they are first, with supports in place as needed – not the other way around.

The world believes in standardization, in bringing a child up to grade level and to ‘normative social functioning’.

I want individualization, in seeing my children as children first, in allowing their gifts to flourish first, before determining how best to proceed.

The world rewards my children’s progress.

I want to love my children, right where they are.

My Child Is Not A Problem To Be Solved

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My Child Is Not A Problem To Be Solved

I spend my days in the balance between helping and tolerating, between learning and letting go, between fixing and accepting.

I do this because of what I believe – I am their momma for a reason. I’m here to help my children, to love them and to teach them.

And I fail at it all the time.

Mothering my two boys is a mixture of intense faith, and a very practical need for a God that is so much bigger than autism, mental illness, learning disorders and lupus. 

In my experience, it is rare that anyone is able to describe this fierce intersection of faith and motherhood, in a way that adequately expresses all the reverence I feel.

Perhaps, only another mom, one with experience navigating the tension herself, can possibly do it justice.

My Child Is Not A Problem To Be Solved

Different – The Story of an Out-of-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him

Sally Clarkson’s new book, Different, is one of the best books  I have ever read about mothering a “different” child.

Not only does she candidly describe her experience as a momma, navigating life with a child who struggles with ODD, OCD and ADHD, but her son Nathan co-authors the book and shares his experiences as well.

This book is moving and it’s powerful.

“Eventually, we did find help and support to add to the many things we learned through trial and error and love and listening – and lots of lots of grace. We also learned, through the same trial and error, and grace, to hold fast to what our hearts insisted (at least in the quiet moments). That our boy was not a diagnosis. Not a problem to be solved or a disorder to be fixed.” Sally Clarkson, Different – The Story of an Out-of-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him

It’s familiar and it’s revealing.

“I’ve always known I was different. It wasn’t something I chose or an identity I one day decided to wear. Being different is woven into the very fabric of who I am.” Nathan Clarkson, Different – The Story of an Out-of-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him

It’s practical and it’s filled with hope.

“All those years of challenge and difficulty, being labeled as ‘disruptive’ and ‘too much’ created in Nathan a compassionate heart and humble dependence on God… I have never been the perfect mama. I am flawed, selfish, often distracted, sometimes too idealistic for my own good. But I, too, persevered in letting a different, sometimes tortured little boy know that he was loved unconditionally…Life with my outside-the-box boy has been more difficult that I ever dreamed – and more rewarding than I ever thought possible.” Sally Clarkson, Different – The Story of an Out-of-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him

My Child Is Not A Problem To Be Solved

I cannot say what the future holds for my boys. I wonder all the time if I am doing enough to help them live well as adults. Reading Different (twice now) reminded me that what I am doing today – no matter how seemingly small, no matter how challenging – has eternal significance.

God, the one who created my out-of-the-box boys just as they are, is telling a story in our lives. 

My child is not a problem to be solved. 

Sally and Nathan use their circumstances, their pain, their successes and their relationship to remind us that daring to love first, and trusting that the very things that make our children different, are also the very things that make our children great.

There is a plan, a purpose and a design in our lives – my boy’s and my own.

Little ones to Him belong. They are weak but he is strong.

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  1. Vivienne Walsh says:


    1. Susan McCartney says:

      This is beautiful, Shawna! I am reading the book now and feel more hopeful for my out of the box youngest son!
      Susan McCartney

  2. Unique

  3. Brett Spore says:


  4. Sarah Cosner says:


  5. Tanya Wellburn says:


  6. Intriguing

  7. Shauna – your recent posts have really been speaking to me lately. The wisdom you are gleaning and sharing from your life has been really encouraging. Thank you for making something beautiful out of the struggle and the exceptional.

    One word? Curious

  8. Cindy Fenno says:


  9. Delight.

  10. Creative

  11. passionate

  12. Honest

  13. Beautiful.

    (And, Shawna, I love this post! You said it so well!)

  14. Vibrant

  15. Strong

  16. Confident

  17. ALIVE!

  18. Sarah Baldwin says:


  19. seeing

  20. Rahel Akalewold says:

    Thank you for sharing this with us. I’ve found encouragement and confirmations.

    My daughter is God’s masterpiece designed wonderfully and carefully by God. At this side of the world getting recommended therapies is unthinkable. Throughout years of efforts, I have realized now that God is in control. Cast your bread on the water and you will find it. I have learned taking steps of faith.

    1. Rahel Akalewold says:

      One word: Masterpiece

  21. Krista Lambert says:


  22. Leader

  23. Thanks for sharing this blog with us. My daughter and I her mother share the love for her first born child who is autistic. We have cried, worried, and search every article we can read about autism and how we can help him be independent. He is now 16 years old and loved by his family. He is so special and it breaks my heart that he has so much to deal with on a daily basis. School, friends, siblings, and sensory issues that never end. I am so proud of him as he deals with things better than we do. Lynne and I both beleive that God put him on this earth for a purpose and what ever it is we will be there for him. Thanks for you blog. Glenda

  24. Daily I see I have to surrender and remember to admit I need to give all to God. All means each one of my children totally every part of them on present and future.

    One word: Loved

  25. Lynne Garton says:

    One word: Overcomer

    What a great post. My son is almost 17 and has high functioning autism. I have spent most of his life trying to unwrap his complexities and understand him better. Sadly I spent many years trying to solve him. You are so wise! It has taken me many years to realize that my interventions often just complicated our life and frustrated my son and left me feeling like a failure. I have worked so hard to make life better for him when really a better life for him really boils down to acceptance, understanding, and patience. I have watched him accomplish many goals over the last couple of years with a lot less effort on my part. And the sweetness that comes from watching them accomplish things on their own and in their own timeframe is far beyond what it would have been if I had fought him to get him there. Blessings and prayers for you and your boys!

  26. Jackie Agnew says:


  27. Tenacious

  28. Technicolor!

  29. Promised.

  30. Angela Pruess says:

    Just grabbed it. Can not wait!!!!! Thanks!!

  31. Unique

  32. Treasure

  33. Thank you for your bog. You make me laugh and smile and cry. You let me know that it’s OK that I have something silly like “scissor skills” as a goal for my 11 year old, who is both super smart and severely dysgraphic, and for my 5 year old brilliant sweetheart who has anxiety and SPD.

    Meanwhile their happy-go-lucky and perfectly normal 3 year old little brother out-scissors them both!

  34. Kirsten Santianni, DO says:


  35. happy
    Thank you Shawna! I love the picture with your Bible .. praying it´s what holds me every day. There are so many things that are not in our hands.. we have to do what we have to do in a loving way. Reading your post inspire me thank you I will look for the book

  36. Strong

  37. So grateful Shawna. Thank you. God Bless.

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