Research shows that among parents of children with special needs, the divorce rate is 80 percent, compared to 50 percent among the rest of the population. The challenges of raising a child with special needs, along with the typical demands of life, often prove to be too much for marriages.
My husband and I just celebrated our ninth wedding anniversary, which led me to reflect on what works for us as parents and partners in the care of our son with special needs. It takes consistent hard work and thoughtfulness to achieve a great balance in our lives and relationship, and a few key elements are central to that balance.
Focusing on the long-term goals: We each have our own career goals and our own sense of purpose for what we want to accomplish in our lifetimes. This gives us a sense of purpose and directs our actions toward these goals. We firmly believe that by having our son Richie watch us achieve our own goals, we set the tone that high achievement is both possible and expected.
We choose where to invest our time and energy based on how it fits with our bigger plan, and we try to filter out the things that don’t help to get us closer to our intended destination. Of course, life has a way of doing away with some of our plans, but we try to stay on the path toward a greater purpose together, which unites us.
Communicating constantly: Perhaps the greatest attribute of success in our working relationship as parents, and in our relationship as a whole, is our ability to communicate. We have daily conversations about what is happening in our son’s life and how to improve his outcomes. We talk about what happens in his physical therapy sessions and how we plan to improve his development. We discuss ways to improve his speech and expose him to new experiences. We talk about our own short and long-term projects and discuss how we will budget our time to allow us to be engaged with our work and still carry on our parental and family duties. Once we talk about what is happening, we make plans and set dates to actually carry out the plans.
Dividing the labor: Very often, the way parents divide the labor of parenting begins unevenly. Moms might take on a heavy load in the early days with feeding and other child care-related tasks. With a child who has special needs, life sometimes seems like an unending stream of “have-to-do” lists, and this creates the necessity for a more even distribution of labor in order to avoid burnout, depression, frustration, and resentment.
Communication plays a significant role once again in ensuring that both parents are working together to care for the child with special needs. For us, frequent discussions about the tasks that need to be completed and who will complete them help us to maintain a balance. We have to recalibrate this balance as things change to ensure that all Richie’s needs are met.
Playing to our own strengths: We each work within our own talents and skills sets to manage the needs of our entire household. Being on top of all the details of our son’s health and micro-managing his schedule are definitely within my skill set. Similarly, my husband has a skill for strategizing and planning. His strength is in helping to devise plans to get what we need for our son and to ensure that we keep working toward our goals as a family. We appreciate each other’s strengths and contributions, and we apply these skills to our lives in order to support our family’s goals.
Working together as a team, we really are living the life of our dreams. It isn’t flawless, and we certainly don’t get the balance right 100 percent of the time, but overall, we are achieving a work-life satisfaction that allows us to have flourishing careers and a great family life.
Do you have any tips for team parenting? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Nikki (Charisse) Montgomery has served on the ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital Family Advisory Council since 2013. In addition to being a professional writer and editor, she is pursuing a graduate certificate in patient advocacy. She is a hospital volunteer and a parent mentor, and she volunteers with Muscular Dystrophy Association. Nikki and Richie are subjects in ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital’s Beyond the Frame photo exhibit, on permanent display inside the hospital’s main entrance hallway. Nikki is a regular ProMedica HealthConnect blogger who hopes to inspire and connect with others through the Teachable Moments series. You can follow her on social media @madvocator.