I never gave much thought to what it was like for parents raising a special needs child until I had my own. My wife and I had been married for a few years, and we had always known that we wanted to adopt.
But we didn’t know that with the adoption of our 6-year-old son, that we would be thrown headfirst into parenting a special needs child.
Making changes to strengthen family and marriage
Due to the circumstances which led to our son being placed for adoption, he developed Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), which made it hard for him to emotionally connect with others, as well as other problems which stemmed from his disorder.
Once my wife and I understood that this would be a lifelong struggle for our son, we made changes to strengthen our family and marriage.
Commit to working as a team
My hazy ideas of coming home from work to just relax and spend about an hour playing with my children wasn’t going to work if I wanted my wife to stay sane.
Instead, after some discussions with my wife, I made the shift to work from home so I could be more involved in helping my wife with the daily ins and outs of parenting a child with special needs.
While fathers are often discounted when it comes to child-rearing, having an active father in the home can make a huge difference for both your children and spouse.
According to The Importance of Fathers in the Healthy Development of Children, children with present fathers are more likely to be emotionally secure, have higher cognitive abilities, and develop better social skills.
Relationship between the parents provides the children with a strong familial base
A large part of this is attributed to how a solid relationship between the parents provides the children, with or without special needs, with a strong familial base so they can be the most successful kids they can possibly be.
Working from home was a tough shift because it still works, not just sleeping in and working in pajamas. But, with me at home, my wife knew she could rely on me if our oldest son needs help, but she needs to take care of other things in the home.
By being more involved in caring for our children, my wife and I have developed a stronger bond.
I understand this is not an option for all families. If working from home isn’t possible, try to commit to being fully present when you are home. It can be tough, especially after a long day of work, but your marriage and children will greatly benefit from you being an active parent and partner.
Make time to strengthen your relationship
Parenting can be incredibly time-consuming, especially if you have a child with special needs.
But, instead of allowing it to separate you and your partner, take the opportunity to do things to mindfully strengthen your marriage. Along with the normal advice of taking time to date your partner and express your love, there are a couple of specific things I would recommend.
Marriage counseling helps you head off any potential problems
One of the things my wife and I do to strengthen our relationship is to attend marriage counseling.
When our son was first diagnosed, we attended more often, as we both felt we needed more advice on how to work together. While neither my wife or I felt like our marriage was endangered, we were aware that raising a child with special needs could be tough on marriage and we wanted to head off any potential problems.
We now drop by our therapists every other month, and it allows us to discuss our concerns and inevitable frustrations in a constructive environment.
Couple bubble time
Another thing we do is have “couple bubble time” which is a technique we learned from the book Wired for Love, by Stan Tatkin.
The basics of this technique is that at a set time of day, my wife and I put everything aside and just talk to each other, allowing us to prioritize our relationship for about 20 minutes every day.
Occasionally, this time has been disrupted when our son with RAD has had violent outbursts or nightmares, but overall, by taking a little time every day to reconnect, my wife and I have been able to strengthen our marriage while raising a family with diverse needs.
I can’t guarantee that doing the same things my family did, will cure every issue with your marriage.
However, I can say that it has strengthened the foundation of my marriage and may be able to help you and your partner as you raise your own child with special needs.