The Essence of Good Parenting

That violence and self-centered behavior exist in abundance in our society no one can doubt, but behind the headlines, in homes, communities, and parishes throughout the country, love and commitment are at work.

Karen and Paul Martin have 12 children—eight who have severe disabilities. Four others have died. But all who visit the Martin household can see that it is full of laughter, joyful spirits, and hope.

Twelve years ago the Martins formed a corporation called Barnabas House, after a first-century Christian who sold everything in order to share with the community. The family is now "a nonprofit organization dedicated to permanency planning for special needs children," a step that enables them to continue adopting disabled children, raise funds to help cover the cost, and permitted Paul to quit his job and share full-time parenting with Karen.

At that time Karen and Paul already had four children, three "homegrown," as Karen puts it, and one by adoption. Their family has been growing ever since.

First came the births of Sean, Nathan, and Justin (now 20, 17, and 16), and later Adam (now 9). Impressed by the example of a nearby family who had adopted a houseful of handicapped children, Karen and Paul also adopted Ryan (now 14).

Born with a relatively mild case of spinal bifida, Ryan joined the Martins at the age of 3 months, in a full body cast. What happened next, says Karen, was their "baptism of fire" in regard to special needs children.

They took Ryan to the hospital in his cast, as scheduled, and remarked to the attending intern that Ryan’s legs were brittle and should be treated carefully. Angry at the unwanted advice, the intern yanked him out of the cast and broke both legs. In the course of further treatment, the doctor informed Karen that she was not the child’s mother so he didn’t have to answer her questions.

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Sojourners Magazine May 1994
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