My son was in early intervention therapy from the time he was a year and a half. I was there through every session and swore I had gained most of the knowledge of our DI (developmental interventionist) by the time he aged out at age 3. As a stayathome mom, I took him to all of his therapies, I went to his IEP meetings, I read countless blogs on alternative therapies and special diets, I dealt with most of the meltdowns, and as a result, I inadvertently got into the mindset that my wonderful, loving husband, who was a great father, knew nothing at all about how to parent our special needs son. Because after all, I was the “expert”. Have you been there?
I can’t begin to explain how dangerous this mindset can be. This mentality can quickly wreak havoc in a marriage. I speak from personal experience because I’ve lived it. An innocent conversation quickly turns into a nasty argument or a casual question turns into namecalling and doorslamming.
Let’s be honest though. Is there truth in the statements I made earlier? Absolutely! If you are the primary caregiver for your child with special needs, then you are the one who is probably more skilled in handling meltdowns or correcting certain behavioral issues. And there is a good chance you’ve gained some beneficial knowledge from the hundreds of blogs you’ve read or from the 15 groups you belong to on Facebook. But, does this mean your spouse doesn’t have any valuable input? Are his recommendations and ideas less valuable because they aren’t coming from a licensed ABA therapist or some famous blogger? See, the sad part is that I probably would have answered yes to those questions at one point.
You see, I began to disregard anything my husband would say before he was even done speaking because automatically, in my mind, I knew my son better than he did. Afterall, I sat in on countless therapy sessions and I knew the “proper” way to handle each situation. Therefore there was little value to anything he had to say. I can’t even begin to explain the amount of tension this caused not only in our marriage, but in our household.
I have learned quite a bit about marriage in the 10 years we have been together, and one of those things is that when a man does not feel respected, he does not feel loved. The way I was treating my husband was an act of utter disrespect. It took me a long time to figure out why I was acting this way. It all came down to this: CONTROL. Parenting a child with special needs requires nothing short of superpowers. You get good at controlling everything...schedules, meals, therapies, school, homework, playdates, and the list goes on. This control is a necessity in order to function when your child is a baby, and then you begin to feel like the control is even more of a necessity if you want to give your growing child any chance at succeeding in life. If you’re anything like me, when someone tries to take that control away, the mama bear reflex kicks into high gear. As sick and twisted as it may sound, I viewed my husband’s parenting as a threat to my control. Disregarding his input and the way I would react made him feel disrespected and soon, it seemed like every discussion would turn into an argument. We both got really tired...tired of the fights, tired of the stress, tired of being unhappy.
You might be wondering at this point, did things ever change for the better? Yes! The way we did it was through good old fashioned communication! Yes, we talked about it!
1) My husband acknowledged that in many ways, I DID know my son better. For me, it wasn’t necessarily about being right, but more so him acknowledging me for the countless things I do for my son each day. This made me feel valued and appreciated and soon, my attitude began to change.
2) I had to learn that even though I tended to know my son better, that didn’t mean my husband’s input wasn’t valuable. I needed to remember MY WAY WASN’T THE ONLY WAY. Many times I would find that my husband’s different approach with my son would work just as good, if not better than mine. And he hadn’t read 1 single blog!! I began to give up some control and as a result, my husband began to feel respected again, and therefore, loved. The tension began to release.
3) My husband is a man and my son is a boy. Weird statement? Maybe. But think about it. My husband will understand aspects of my son’s behavior and personality that I will never get simply because I am a woman. Men and women are different and so in this area, sometimes I need to trust my husband’s judgement and instinct and let him run with it. Again, letting go of that control. It’s a bit painful, but the end results are worth it!
4) Finally, WE had to remember that we were in this together...for the long haul. We had forgotten how to work as a team and we needed to remember that we weren’t enemies. It took both of us to make our child, so it would take both of us to raise our child.
Have we mastered this? Definitely not. We have our moments, and I’ll admit that most of the time, an issue arises as a result of my “control freakism” as I like to call it. But things have definitely gotten better and we continue to work on it.
One thing is for certain. Raising a child with special needs takes special parenting from special parents. Many times it feels like we are climbing a giant mountain. We hit many bumps along the way, but I’ve learned that the bumps are what we climb on. Keep climbing!!