With Valentine’s Day coming up on Friday, I would like to talk about love and relationships!
There is no question that having children has a big impact on any marriage. Having a child with special needs has an even a bigger effect on every aspect of family life, from health to finances.
For my husband (aka Mr Angel) and I, parenting a child with special needs has been such a roller-coaster of a ride, with lots of ups and downs, unexpected turns and full of surprises along the way. Over the years I have spoken with many other parents of children with special needs, and I know that we are not alone.
Research shows that there is a slight increase in divorce (one study shows a 10% increase) between parents of children with autism. It is understandable that anything that puts additional stress on a relationship, may increase the rate of divorce. From my own personal experience, and from feedback from fellow parents in our situation, I can also say that going through difficult experiences and coming out the other side, can also make relationships stronger.
So, how can we keep our relationship strong while facing so many everyday challenges? Today I’d like to share how myself and Mr Angel have kept our relationship afloat throughout the years…
Share your views and feelings about what having a child with a disability means
Both members of the couple might have different views on their child’s disability. Some people may be more accepting and more open to the experience, others might initially feel shame and fear and need more time to adjust to the diagnosis.
Some parents might want to dedicate all of their time to the child and provide as much intervention and support as possible, whereas other parents might wish to find a better balance between the time dedicated to the child with special needs and other aspects of family life. This can cause tension if either party feels that they can’t speak openly about their feelings.
As much as you can, share your views with your partner. Also, listen to your partner’s thoughts, emotions and deepest fears, even if they differ from yours. By showing that you understand, you can find a middle ground and help each other out.
Due to the child’s needs and the number of appointments with doctors and therapists, parents often need to take time off work. Quite often, one of the parents reduces their work hours, they may take a career break, or stop working altogether.
This can have a big impact on family finances and can also affect how care is provided to the child with special needs. The parent attending all the appointments often takes responsibility for carrying out recommendations and home programmes, on top of the everyday running of the house, and that might feel like a big weight to carry. The other partner becomes the sole breadwinner, and that is a big responsibility too.
Also, the lack of disability services and long waiting lists means that many families are paying for private assessments and interventions that can put a huge financial strain on the family. Personally – we too sought private intervention in the early years which added more financial pressure.
Knowledge of the services, benefits and tax relief that are available to families is important. We found it useful to attend talks offering financial advice to parents of children with disabilities – we learned more about what was available to us, and these benefits helped to make up for some of the income we lost and relieve some financial stress.
Finding the balance between providing for your child, earning a living and finding some time for yourself is a big challenge.
I found it hard to juggle all of this in the early years, having to reduce my working hours (and salary) and dedicate so much time to my son. But now that he is older, more independent and spending more time with others, we are slowly finding a healthier balance as a family.
Finding time for you and your partner
It’s only natural that couples have less time for each other once children arrive. But a child with special needs will require more time and attention than other children. Typically, children might spend more time with relatives, have play-dates and after school activities, but a child with special needs is more likely to depend on their parents; therefore, couples might not have the same breaks that they would if the child didn’t have additional needs.
Finding a childminder for a child with special needs can be a challenge, but over the years I have found good childminders who understood my son’s needs and were able to develop a close relationship with him.
It’s so easy to neglect your relationship when you are anxious about your child, but your relationship is the most important thing you have! Parenting a child with special needs together can in time, help your relationship grow stronger. Mr Angel and I certainly don’t have it all sussed out, but we do know that we are stronger and happier when we join forces. That finding time for us and nurturing our relationship has so many benefits for our family.
So, what are you doing on Valentine’s Day?
With all of this in mind, I urge you to do something special with your Valentine this year!
Whether you organise a baby sitter and book a table at your favourite restaurant, or just watch Netflix and chill once the kids go to bed, don’t forget to appreciate each other and be thankful that in spite of all the adversities, you have made it this far together.
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