Raising a child with a disability requires parents to learn about and deal with multiple specialists, various healthcare systems, and increased expenses that most parents don’t normally encounter. Learning about the disability, providing daily care, choosing treatment options, managing a complicated medical system, managing healthcare costs, advocating for special needs schooling and coupled with caring for the needs of other family members can cause strains to any marriage.
“Having a child with a disability brings unanticipated grief that most parents are not prepared to tackle. By doing your research you can combat some of the unknown stresses that come with parenting a child with special needs,” says Barbara Heuser, a licensed clinical social worker at The Warren Center a nonprofit agency that provides professional evaluations, therapy services, and support to children with developmental delays and disabilities.
To help keep families functioning and marriages healthy and thriving, Barbara suggests the following tips:
- Seek support from the community. The Warren Center offers many resources to support families with special needs children, including support groups and a Recess program, which is available to children ages birth to seven years. As a part of the Recess program, trained volunteers provide a fun and social experience for each child in their care. There is no cost for this service. The Warren Center also provides case management/service coordination to help families find resources they may not be aware of to help them navigate the complex system and access financial resources, medical specialists, etc. You can also reach out to your church, friends, and family to provide sources of respite and support.
- Be open and listen to your partner. It’s important to share with each other about your grief process to conquer it together. If there are issues that are too difficult to discuss in person, consider processing your feelings through journaling.
- Dedicate 20 to 30 minutes of each day to talk to one another about topics that don’t involve your children. By doing so, you will have the opportunity to remind yourself why you fell in love with your partner.
- If you need help from your partner, ask for it sooner rather than later. If you wait until you’ve become angry, resentment will begin to build. By engaging your partner to help solve problems together, you are acting as a team.
- Take time for yourself to nurture your body and soul. You can do this by exercising, taking a bubble bath, or getting a massage.
- Find creative ways to be romantic at home or take advantage of the time when the kids are in school for dates.
- Find ways to experience joy as a family by researching accessible vacations and activities designed for children with disabilities or sensory-friendly recreation opportunities. These experiences help couples and their children create positive associations and fun family memories, which can get them through stressful times.
- Share responsibilities and give each other credit for one another’s effort. Marriage is a partnership, and the responsibilities of parenting should be shared amongst both parents.
- Express gratitude, even for the things that your partner should be doing. Saying thank you goes a long way and will help reinforce the connection in your relationship.
- At the end of the day, if you are experiencing challenges in your relationship, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
“Services, support and as much respite as possible are not luxuries when raising a child with special needs,” says Amy Spawn, president and CEO of The Warren Center. “That’s why we created the Respite Services Recess program. Parents can drop their child (and siblings) off at The Warren Center and go out on the town, run errands, or take a nap – feeling confident that their little ones are safe and having an incredible time.”