Marriage and Special Needs
In the book ‘Love and Respect,’ Emmerson Eggerich says that miscommunication between a husband and a wife can happen simply because men speak through a blue megaphone and women hear with pink ears. Possibly you are hearing this (reading this) with pink ears, but let’s please understand from the beginning, this is encouragement time.
Parenting CAN BE …no… IS exhausting! In fact, you’re probably reading this on a mobile device somewhere other than the relaxed place you wish you could be.
I often wonder how my Mum and Dad managed to raise myself and 3 siblings between school, sports and social activities. Still they managed to keep the house clean and meals on the table. I never heard them complain and they were always encouraging us as they remained industrious in their own responsibilities. In fact, looking back on my life at home I actually wonder if they ever slept! Mum and Dad, if you are reading this… Thank you! (And now that I am a parent I realize that they probably didn’t ever sleep).
But yet, growing up we could all make our beds and do our chores (willingly or unwillingly) without super close supervision. This is not the case in many of our homes where there is a child with a disability. Our Jack is a ‘runner’ and he’s quite good at it. We’ve had to install latches and alarms on all the doors in the house and also have ‘child-proof’ latches on the gates in the back yard. We always need to know where Jack is because we don’t ever want to lose him (again).
A lot of the time we find ourselves fulfilling our regular parenting responsibilities, chores, and then in addition, also working on feeding tubes, ferrying to therapy sessions and/or specialist visits, and the list goes on. Then to make sure that our children who are typically developing get the attention they need and deserve, we find the time to sneak out for ice cream or some other ‘quality’ time activity.
What happens to Husband and Wife time? I don’t just mean after the kids go to sleep (maybe) and you are in the same room while one is folding laundry and the other is paying bills so that you can get it done and zombie your way to bed.
There is a statistic publicly listed in multiple places that almost 80% of marriages, where there is a child with special needs, ends in divorce. Does this have to be? I believe no and I believe God says no also.
One major hurdle that my wife and I constantly work to overcome is purposefully communicating. At whatever opportunity we can squeeze it in, and even at a preplanned time, we will sit on the porch or in bed at night and just share. I’ve noticed that when I do not exercise this habit we both kick into ‘do’ mode. We just ‘do’ parenting. We just ‘do’ marriage. The survival walls creep up and it takes all that we have to stop it. This survival attitude that we default to can be tricky to identify in the beginning, but some of the thoughts that come to mind are:
- “Why isn’t she making sure…”
- “He didn’t even pick up… He is only concerned for…”
- “I feel like I’m the only one who is…”
No excuses here…husband or wife…we all do it. With this in mind, I’d like to encourage you to consider 1 Peter 5:6-7.
6-Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,
7-casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.
As we talked about in a previous blog post, we can cast our burdens on the Lord…but here is a unique prerequisite…we MUST HUMBLE ourselves before God.
My encouragement to all of us is to remember that as Husband and Wife we are a team. We CAN be a team. The Bible here is telling us that we need to get off our soap box, which we naturally go to self-righteously in times of pressure and anxiety, to remember that we are both in the trenches together, parenting a child who has a special need. There is safety and security in a marriage that is open about our struggles and insecurities. This fosters an awesome bond and trust in each other as we work together to honor the Lord as parents. In the book I mentioned earlier called “Love and Respect,” the author makes a statement throughout which is very challenging. He says, “…and whoever considers themselves the most mature is the first to make the move…”.
It really does require humility and an understanding that your spouse may not be able to share or even understand their emotions that come from being a parent with a disability, but that does not mean ill will towards the other. I love my Wife and even as I put this together she is sleeping with Jack so that he will calm down enough to sleep…not even in our bed with me. Do I like it, not really…but I would much rather everyone get sleep so that tomorrow will have at least some chance of success.
The bottom line is that as parents we are both in this together. Humility, in practice, is to not justify yourself or judge another but rather to serve another, even in a time when it may not be warranted or even when all you want to do is ‘check out’ for a few minutes from exhaustion and leave it to the other one. Humility is a commitment to serve others as Jesus served us by coming to earth to die for our choice to sin.
There is a recent song released by Casting Crowns that is lyrically fantastic when it comes to the need for humility in each other. I have linked it here so that you can enjoy it for yourself…it your anything like me you might find a tear in your eye and a resolve in your heart to be humble with your spouse to make your marriage strong.
Casting Crowns song: “Broken”