Thursday, February 19, 2009

Divorce shocker: imagine raising a child with special needs by yourself

Yesterday morning, I bumped into a woman I know at a neighborhood coffee shop. She has a little girl Max's age who also has special needs, and they used to be in school together. "I'm getting a divorce," she told me.

My jaw dropped. I mean, I had always thought they were a bit of an odd match—she is super-bubbly, charming and full of life while he is quiet and sometimes sullen—but hey, who was I to judge. What floored me most was the thought of her raising her little girl by herself.

If anyone reading this is a single parent, well, I am in awe of you. I need, really need, Dave around to help with Max. Although Dave doesn't like putting on the kids' clothes and could take or leave bathtime, he's always there to help feed Max. In fact, it's usually Dave who does it (we're still working on the self-feeding thing). Max has always had trouble eating—his tongue and chewing are uncoordinated—and when he was a toddler, feeding him upset me. Eating seemed like such a basic skill; how could my child not be able to handle it? Was he that challenged? It was classic I-have-a-kid-with-disabilities denial. Since mealtime didn't make Dave mental, he often fed Max and the habit stuck.

Dave isn't just there to take care of the kids, he's there to take care of me. He'll whack me upside my little head (OK, not literally) when I go on a worry streak and tell me that things will be OK and even if they aren't, we'll deal with them together. He's sweet, as you know, and he's so very sane. His hugs are the best therapy there is.

All of this was going through my head on the train ride to work. Can you even imagine raising your kids alone? (And we'll just forget about those times when you feel like killing your husband because, say, he has left the garbage out on the back porch and the vagabond neighborhood cat ripped the bag apart and scattered trash everywhere.)

Photo by V. Mason


  1. To be honest, I couldn't do this on my own. Moo chokes on his food every now and again. (He forgets to chew.) My hubby Mark is usually the one who fishes the food out of his throat. I don't know what I would do if he wasn't around to undertake this task.
    My hat goes off to the single parents too.

  2. As a military parent, I get just enough of a taste of single parenthood to know that I would NEVER want to be a single parent. I value my alone time way too much for that.

    Our respite care worker's son has been sick and so I've spent 20 consecutive days with Connor and no breaks. I love my son dearly, but this is not something that I want to do ever, ever again. I've resorted to staying up until ridiculous hours at night just so that I can pretend like I'm alone, like I'm doing right now. And keep in mind that's WITH all of the support that I get from the military community around here, not to mention long-distance support from family.

    But doing all on my own? I'm realy hoping that's something I'll never have to worry about.


  3. Couldn't imagine it, don't want to imagine it AND I definitely REMIND myself what a shock it would be whenever we're going through a bumpy patch. Reminding myself what a great dad and support he has been since BC has been born and how tough it would be without him is the perfect salve for those days when he's crashed my computer by downloading useless software that can let him check the time in New Delhi or the Galapagos Islands, when he's forgotten our wedding anniversary, eaten my last Lindt chocolate OR when he's driven off to work for the day with BC's walker in the back (again....).

    I definitely give those single mums a round of applause and I really, really don't want to be one.

  4. My aunt recently took a 4 hour bus ride to come for a visit and told me how there was a young single mom on the bus travelling with her severely disabled 4 year old daughter. The idea of that floored me. I wondered, where were they going???

    My aunt, who had spent the majority of the bus ride talking to the young woman explained, they were coming back from an appointment at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto - a 7 hour drive from where they live. My jaw dropped.

    When Kasia was smaller and didn't travel as well, I used to see our own 4 hour drive to the Hospital for Sick Children as a burden and I dreaded every visit. And that was with my husband in a comfortable vehicle!

    If I've learned one thing though, it's that we as parents do incredible things...things we never would have imagined ourselves doing. But given the choice, I would never want to do this alone.

  5. I think about this sometimes when I find myself succumbing to the stress and getting snippity. Like you, I have a husband who's kind of laid-back and sunny about Emmett's disabilities. Though it sometimes drives me nuts, I need him to help me from slipping completely into despair at times.
    I don't think I could do this alone. No, scratch that - I guess if I absolutely HAD to, I could figure it out. But I don't want to.

  6. I've got two kids with special needs, daddy is deceased, but I get help from family, thank goodness. One child is adopted (was a foster child whose mother was, well, just a mess, long story) and the other is biological. Thank heavens for moms! And dads, too! I could not manage without help from them. My daddy comes by with his big red snow plow and clears our drive and snowblows the walk in the winter, he makes repairs around the house, and they both love the kids 'to the max' as it were! They also babysit when I need to go to the store, and help out when the ends don't meet at the end of the month (like when we had to have the plumber in).

    There are days when it gets hard, but it could be much worse. I do treasure my parents! I couldn't do it without them.

  7. This was my biggest fear when Charlie was born--that my husband wouldn't be able to handle it.

    I am extremely blessed in that Charlie's extended family loves him like crazy and jumps at any opportunity to help. Thank goodness for them. REally, when your kid has special needs it does take a village (or two).

  8. I've had it on my *to do* list to comment on the last 4 or 5 of your posts. Life just can get away from you sometimes! I have an Aide that helps me with Gavin and my husband pitches in when he gets home from work (if Gavin's not asleep). Then...the weekends? Gavin and Daddy are joined at the hip. Even with all that, I still feel so busy! I've been alone and done it, but it can get lonely. I think divorce is more common than we think when a family has special circumstances. My sister has triplets and says that the divorce rate of parents with multiples is high.
    Good post...I think you should re-do your Wordle now so your husband can be in there!! ;-)

  9. The stress definitely gets to us, but I can't imagine facing these struggles without my hubby.

  10. I don't know how any single parent does it, particularly those whose children have special needs and many appointments to attend. I think they have a front row seat in Heaven!

  11. I couldn't do this on my own either. Since Jude has such terrible seizures he cannot stay in daycare. My husband had to quit his job and is a stay at home dad. It amazes me the strength he has. Sometimes I want to strangle him, but overall he is a rgeat hubby.

  12. You are absolutely right, Ellen. Raising any child is difficult, but it really becomes a two - person job when raising a child with special needs. I know a few mothers who are raising children with special needs alone. One is the mother of a child with autism who is completely nonverbal, and the other has a daughter with severe quad CP who can't do a whole lot on her own.
    I've been alone with Daniel for a month at the longest - without Hubby, a babysitter, anything. I love my son more than anything in the world, and I feel blessed to be his mother. But that was the longest, most difficult month of my life. There are times when I am physically and emotionally exhausted to the point that I can barely manage, and that's with a supportive husband by my side. How single parents do it without the shoulder to cry on at the end of the day is beyond me, and I really respect them for it.

  13. I would say I couldn't do it on my own because frankly if you would have suggested my life now to me 2.5 years ago I would've said I couldn't do it - but I have done it. We all (or most of us) do what we have to do. Now, would I WANT to do this alone? NEVER!!!!!!! My husband does so much for Bennett and me. I can't imagine being without him.

    I don't think single parents get enough credit.

  14. My hubby is a commerical airline pilot, and is gone for an average of 3-4 days (3 nights) a week, so I am a part-time single mom. Thoses days can be rough (esp. if it has been a bad sleeping night).

    However, I can't REALLY relate, because the days hubby is home he takes the baby (okay, he is 2, but he is MY baby) all day if I need the break, plus my mom is 5 miles down the road...

  15. I have 3 kids already and 1 with special needs we are expecting Number 4 in april and NO i can't image doing this on my own. I know a few single parents and they work really hard but the ones i know don't have special needs kids .. i'm sure it's a little rocky.

  16. Felicia, I am sorry to hear about all that you've been through. You clearly have a strong spirit; your kids are lucky to have you as a mom. I'm so glad you have family helping you out. My mom and my sis have also been my salvation at times.

    As we've all learned, you adapt to the challenges life deals you. If anyone had ever told me, before I had Max, that I was going to have a kid with disabilities, I probably would have questioned how I'd be able to handle it. But, I have. We ALL have. We are pretty amazing people, aren't we?!

  17. Andy is my rock. He's been so involved in Elijah's care and I really have no idea what I would do without out him.

    Elijah has feeding issues too and feeding him all of his food can sometimes be overwhelming for me. Andy always feeds him supper, is usually the one to give him his baths, and almost always puts him to bed. I'm with Elijah all day, but the evening is all about daddy. Um, yes, I know I'm lucky!

    And I love that video of Max eating! Gives me hope that someday Elijah will do it too!

  18. No I cannot imagine it at all.

    I've read (on the internet though so who knows) that the divorce rate for parents of sick kids is 80% instead of 50%.

  19. Both my guys were from my first marriage. I got married really young, and although there were other issues, it really fell apart when our oldest was diagnosed. Our younger son was diagnosed a couple of years later, but by that point, their dad was basically out of the picture.

    Out of state, out of mind, he was on to more positive things that didn't include a couple of "damaged" kids. I was left working 3 part-time jobs and bankrupted myself (lost everything but my house) to get the kids on Medicaid because at the time, they were uninsurable due to pre-existing conditions.

    My ex was young too then. I can be forgiving. It's all good now, and he is as involved as he can be and we are friends.

    Been with Hubby (another Dave!) for about 15 years now. He took on the responsibilty and has been a fantastic dad to our guys. He married me knowing that I didn't want to give birth to any more children without knowing my medical history (I said before in another comment that I was adopted), because I just didn't think it would be a responsible thing to do.

    I've been extraordinarily fortunate to find such a loving and giving man---one who would not only take on me and my baggage---but would be willing to make a lifetime commitment knowing that the odds were against him ever having his own biological child with me.

    I thank my lucky stars every day. Truly I have a blessed life.

  20. Part of me wants to think I can do this on my own. But I know I'm not superwoman and not going to pretend to be one. When it boils right down to it, I don't think I could. I do need help. Be it from my hubster or family.

    Thanks for the post. It made me stop and think of how helpful my husband has been. Yes, there are times I'd love to ring his neck (more times than not??), but I do appreciate him. Good reality check. Thanks.

  21. I've thought about this a lot. Not because we're near divorce or that the word is even in our vocabulary, but because of the incidents of divorce are so much higher in families with special needs children. Because we(you, others) have come this far and not gotten to that place. I can't imagine what it would take to raise a special needs child on your own. One blogger, Bonnie Sayers, raises two children (both on the autism spectrum)as a single mom. It's just amazing....but you do what you have to for your children...right!

  22. It's extremely hard. My son is very strong. It really takes two people to keep him from hurting himself in a full meltdown. Its just me and I've got bite marks on 40% of my body to prove it... If Dave has a brother let me know, LOL!!!

  23. Tain't easy. While Mango was still in the NICU, his father did ok. Once he came home, it was a whole nother ball game. He didn't want to help with anything to do with Mango, and refused to help do anything related to chores. When the emotional abuse became too much, I decided to move us out. Once Daddy saw I was serious, he tossed us into the street.

    Here we are, 5 months later, in a much smaller space - which is a blessing actually, but cold, drafty, BROKE, and our transmission just went out on our old wreck. Now I don't know how to get us to the market, his doctor's appts, therapies, the hospital...

    So I'm begging everywhere and everyone for help, annnnnd his father STILL doesn't care. Tain't easy.


Thanks for sharing!

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