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Q: My husband and I have four kids, ranging in age from 8 to 2 months. Our youngest son was born with Down syndrome. We're doing our best to adjust as a family. But I'm concerned about the impact this might have on our older three children.

Jim: When a family has a child with special needs, everyone in the household is affected. But you also have the opportunity to learn love, show empathy and practice compassion in ways others might not. And you're discovering firsthand that the value of life isn't based on a person's physical or mental condition -- it's ascribed by God and inherent to every human being.

Our counselors suggest several things to keep in mind. First, like all parenting situations, you set the tone in your household. So intentionally create an environment where older children can identify and safely express their feelings. It's normal to feel sadness, disappointment and even anger at times -- and you must model a healthy balance with your own emotions.

Also, communicate value to each child. Realistically, you'll spend a lot of time tending to the needs of your youngest. But don't shortchange the others. While you may not always be able to give every child equal amounts of your time and energy, be intentional about activities that are important to each.

Third, don't make your other kids "caretakers" of the child with special needs. Older children can have an age-appropriate and valuable role in caring for younger siblings. But they also need the freedom to still be kids.

Finally, remember that a child with special needs is part of the family -- not the family. Don't be afraid to find a caregiver for the evening so the rest of you can take a break for an outing. And where possible, apply equal behavioral standards to all of your children. That gives them a sense of being treated fairly and encourages the one with special needs to develop self-control. Rules that apply to all help everyone feel they're on the same team.

Our counseling staff can offer further help and insight; feel free to call them at 855-771-HELP (4357).

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Q: My spouse and I love each other. Still, sometimes we really grate on each other's nerves. If one of us even accidentally does something that irritates the other, things get tense for a while. We both hate that. How do we maintain a healthy balance?

Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: I heard a great story that illustrates a key point about grace and understanding. A family was sitting down to dinner. As Mom set the table, everything looked delicious -- until the kids noticed the biscuits were badly burnt. The weary mother apologized. But the father simply smiled at his wife, slathered the hockey pucks with some butter and ate without complaining. He even said aloud, "I love a burned biscuit now and again."

Later, one of his kids asked why he hadn't thrown the nearly inedible biscuits away. Dad replied, "Your mom had a long, hard day at work. And she's far more important to me than whether or not the food was a little charred."

Much of having a successful marriage is learning how to be patient with imperfection. After all, each of us is prone to mistakes -- and we can all use a smile instead of judgment when things aren't going well. A little grace can defuse a lot of conflict. In fact, many arguments might never get started in the first place if couples offered each other their support rather than anger.

So if your marriage serves you a burned biscuit, slather it with some love, understanding and grace. It'll make that minor inconvenience a lot easier to swallow.

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