Divorce of Couples with a Special Needs Child
If you’re divorced, you know all too well about the numerous studies of how divorce impacts kids; what we rarely hear about is how children impact their parents’ marriage. Not how tired, worried and poorer kids make us (and, yes, they do all of that), but what happens when things don’t go according to plan — like when a child has a chronic illness, special needs or dies. (Vicki Larson, Huffington Post)
The Unfortunate Reality Of Divorce In Couples With A Child With Special Needs:
Every relationship is hard, and the challenges of co-parenting can increase the amount of stress on a marriage. When a child has special needs, like Cerebral Palsy, additional issues can arise out of whom primarily carries the burden and the different ways each parent handles the emotions involved. It is a sad truth that couples of children with special needs face a much higher divorce rate than the rest of the married population. While the exact rate still appears to be unclear, it’s an important topic that we felt needs to be addressed.
First, no child with special needs is responsible for a marriage dissolving. Every parent enters a marriage trying their best and doing what they can for their family and partner. The unfortunate correlation between a child with special needs and a marriage, though, is that the amount of participation from each parent can vary based upon how they are handling the issue emotionally. Tragically, there is a high rate of men who simply focus on work while leaving a mother to raise the child at home, creating a distance. This is not true for all fathers. However, far too often we receive phone calls from mothers who find themselves addressing their child’s needs on their own, either due to divorce or simple emotional distance.
There is no simple fix for this. While it is positive to hear that an oft-cited report that 80% of parents of a child with autism get divorced has been since debunked, there does exist a gap between marriage success of parents who do and do not face challenges with their child’s development. On the issue of the autism spectrum disorder, the numbers were re-examined in a different study that found a 10% increase in the chance of parents getting divorced if their child was diagnosed. While this is not the 80% more likely, it’s still a disappointment (cerebralpalsy.org.)
A child with life-threatening illness can galvanize a family, even a whole community, to pull together to help her get the best care possible. But when children have psychiatric disorders, the effect is often, sadly, different.
Children with mental illnesses can put great strain on their parents, especially when their disorders manifest in impulsivity, defiance, exhausting rituals — or all of the above. Tantrums, meltdowns, or aggression towards playmates can alienate other families, making you feel isolated. A disruptive child can seem to use up all the oxygen in the home, leaving you with little time or energy for each other. Sometimes parents disagree about the diagnosis, or the kind of treatment a child needs. Sometimes one parent is obsessed with helping the child, and the other feels left out. The result is marital discord, which all too often leads to divorce.
This is why it’s critical for parents of a child with a serious psychiatric disorder — from ADHD to autism to OCD — to get the child evidence-based treatment as soon as possible. But it’s also why as parents you must not lose sight of your marriage itself, and let it become a casualty of a child’s illness.
This not only helps kids improve their behavior; it also gives parents confidence about their parenting skills, which in turn helps them feel less stressed — and less at odds with each other. (Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, Child Mind Institute)
This is where Counseling on Demand comes in. Marital and Family Therapy is one of our specialties.
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