Parenting is a full-time job. Parenting a child with special needs is a family affair. In some families, one parent accepts the child’s diagnosis or disability and is able to grieve and embrace the child that is rather than the child that was hoped for and dreamed about. The other parent may not. In other families, one parent becomes the breadwinner and the other becomes the caregiver. This can lend itself to one parent who does the research and seeks the academic and therapeutic services needed while the other may become overwhelmed by the disability and shuts down or invests him/herself into work.. Sometimes, for survival purposes, one parent earns the income while the other handles ALL of the family’s needs. Over time, one parent may become exhausted and resentful for being the primary caregiver and handler of the special needs. This can cause a rift between the couple in which the relationship that led to building a family becomes weakened and decayed.
Ultimately, you are a couple and it is being a couple that allowed you to become parents. Parenting is an emotional process through which you grow and develop as your children grow and develop. Know that parents are not born, they are made based on your own personal childhood experiences, your values, and the values you hope to instill in your child/children.
Phase 1 – Reconnect as a couple. That means taking time to talk and spend time together away from your child or children. As difficult as it may be, schedule 1-2 hours per week for couple time. You choose the bonding activity (e.g., a walk, coffee, dinner) together and do it. Schedule your couple time and hold to it as you would a medical or therapy appointment.
Phase 2 – Seek couples counseling if you are unable to process your thoughts and feelings about parenting your child without a facilitator. This will allow both of you to gain each other’s perspective in your journey as parents and to begin to align our parenting style. This will also help to create an alliance between the two of you, and you can begin to find support and respite in each other on a daily basis. In other words, you both parent together.
Phase 3 – Practice, practice, practice communicating and parenting as a team. Recognize each other’s communicating and parenting style and respect it. Plan ahead – create a plan of how you will handle disagreements in parenting in the moment. For example, you may establish a signal or state, “Can I talk to you in private, please?” This becomes your code phrase that signals the other that you will not discuss the details in front of your child/children. This helps to create a unified front for your child/children and there is no undermining or over-ruling in parenting.
Dr. Liz Matheis
Dr Liz Matheis and her team specialize in assisting children and their families with Anxiety, Autism, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Struggles