Date Nights for Parents with Special Needs Children Rarely Occur

Holding Hands

Photo by Seth Rader

“I need a break from our children.” That is what my wife greeted me with when I arrived at the house yesterday after work. My initial thought was “Yes, absolutely. You have been with them all day long.” Then, I began to live out the last few months in my mind. Actually, I am the one who has been with the children the most by a significantly large margin because of her nursing school schedule. After nicely pointing that out to her, she rephrased her statement. “WE need a break from our children.” Ah, yes, to that I completely agree. It is critical for parents to find times to be together without their children.

Now that she and I are in total agreement, we will continue our daily life and will most likely never set aside time to get away together, even though we know we need it. Is it because we don’t love each other? No. Is it because we don’t like spending time together? No, that is not it easier. Is it because our children are so horrible that no one wants to watch them? Well…I don’t think that is it but sometimes I wonder. The truth is all parents have a hard time spending time together but for parents of kids with special needs, it can sometimes seem downright impossible.

We have been blessed to find some great friends who have been willing to watch our children at times. The problem is that every time we find someone, they end up moving away, at times to another country. We have also had some terrific babysitters but the cost of having them watch 3 children can escalate quickly. After 7 years in North Caroline without any family, my wife’s sister and her family now live in the area and we sometimes alternate watching each others children. Of course, that means one family is watching 6 children while the other couple has some time away. The truth is, finding someone to watch our children is only part of the problem.

Our son Austin has autism and most of the time he is in his room playing on his computer and iPad. As long as you place food in front of him, he can stay happy for hours, if not days. We try to have people come to the house to watch our children when needed because that is the easiest way to keep Austin happy. Once he was at my sister-in-laws house while we were both at work. She had made him a sandwich for lunch but he was refusing to eat it. You see, Austin sometimes like the change the order of his meal items. He often prefers cookies, chips, then the sandwich. My sister-in-law was doing what any good parent would do, trying to get Austin to eat the sandwich first. At one point he had all he could stand of that requirement so he picked the sandwich up and threw it at her!

Our oldest son, Michael, is in high school now and we sometimes have him watch his brothers for a short period of time. He is very responsible and knows what to do for Austin. At the same time, whatever happens in other families when three brothers are left alone also happens in our family. There is often screams and crying in the background when we call home to see how things are going.

As a parent of a special needs child, days are filled with constant worry and concern. How is he going to act? Will he have a breakdown? Will he haul-off and throw his sandwich and someone’s face? When we do leave our children with someone, our time together is often short. There is always a knot in our stomach worrying about what might be happening with Austin. There is also a concern for the sitter. He is not their child and they should not have to handle any of his out-of-line behavior. So, most of the time, we just never spend time alone away from the house.

Maybe this is one of the reasons why the divorce rate is so high among married couples with special needs children. The difficulty in finding time to spend together contributes to the distance that develops in their relationship. Fortunately, my wife and I have spent a great deal of time talking through situations just as this and both are committed to each other. Despite our commitment, we feel much of the time that we are simply going through the parental motions.

As a parent of a special needs child, you and your spouse may have to work twice as hard as other couples in finding time to spend with each other. Your ability to have a “night out” may be severely limited so you will have to come up with other options. Maybe it’s after the children go to bed or at lunch when the children are at school. The point is, keeping your relationship together needs to be a top priority, not only for yourself, but for your child’s sake as well. Just as there is increased work and responsibility in raising a special needs child, there is an increase in the amount of work and responsibility in maintaining your marriage.

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