April 14th. The journey continues…..
Relationships. Relationships are always tricky … especially when you’re raising children. Relationships require effort, commitment and time. When you are raising a child with ASD all your effort and time as a couple tends to go into the child or children. This can either bring you closer together as a couple or it creates distance between you – sometimes a little of both.
If your ASD child has challenging behaviour, this can also place extra strain on a relationship. The type of behaviour, the frequency of the behaviour and the intensity of the behaviour all impact on the relationship. Many of the families I know have one or two parents who suffer from anxiety. It’s no small wonder really … lack of sleep, stressful and often long days, and constantly living in a relatively unpredictable and often volatile environment.
Then there’s time. At the end of each day, you have both worked hard, solved crises and dealt with difficult children. When the kids finally go to bed of an evening this is the only real ‘couples’ window in the day. By this point, most couples are entirely exhausted emotionally, physically and mentally. This is not a great environment for relationship building, romance and intimacy. Often the arguments and stress of the day create a distance between you.
In nearly all of the families I know who have children with disabilities; one parent is the full time carer or at least is working part time only. This is often necessary to ensure the happiness and functionality of the whole family. There are lots of appointments to attend – meetings with the school, medical appointments, the list goes on. This lack of income can often cause extra financial stress. Children with ASD need a lot of extra medical intervention – psychiatrists, paediatricians, occupational therapists, speech therapists and psychologists. There are lots of out of pocket expenses for these services. Couple this with medication costs and specialised equipment costs and there’s a lot of additional financial strain on the family. This in turn places extra strain on your relationship. Some also say that some parents in this more traditional setting find that the mother is often left feeling overwhelmed and overburdened, and the father often feels left out of the loop and feels less of a priority in the wives life than the children who occupy most of her time and energy.
The research seems to indicate that mothers travel better when they are in a good, positive and stable relationship where they feel they are working in equal partnership with their spouse. Men tend to travel better when the child is doing well. When the relationship is not travelling well, the father-child relationship tends to deteriorate. http://www.oneplusone.org.uk/content_topic/having-problems/bringing-up-a-child-with-a-disability/ The relationship between parents is therefore a huge priority in ensuring the happiness and functionality of the entire family unit.
People often remark, “You do an amazing job. How do you do it? I would never manage!” The truth is … when you hold your child in your arms for the first time you just know that you’d do whatever it takes to protect, love and provide for that little cherub irrespective of their needs. Most parents feel this way. You can do things you never thought imaginable in order to care for your children and meet their needs irrespective of what those needs are. Once the initial shock and grief of a diagnosis subsides, the families who will ultimately cope well are the families who can accept the child’s diagnosis, take responsibility for providing the best intervention possible and those who can celebrate and derive joy from the child’s achievements no matter how small. The families who pull together and take the challenge on as a team will last the distance.
I know many families who are closer and stronger than ever because they work as a team and work hard to ensure everyone’s needs are met within the family. It’s not easy but it’s certainly possible. I know many couples who regularly take time out to spend quality time together alone to foster that intimacy and sense of connection between them. Of course this relies on the generosity of family and friends who might be able to take care of the children for a night or an afternoon here and there. So it’s not all doom and gloom for relationships. Whilst having a successful relationship in this kind of environment is clearly a challenge, it’s certainly not an impossibility. With the right support, the right attitude and an investment of time in connection as a couple, it’s possible to maintain a healthy and loving relationship. If you want to do something special for a family affected by ASD, why not volunteer to babysit the kids for an hour or two so mum and dad can get out together, even if it’s just for a coffee? Like in many other aspects of life, it’s these little things on a daily basis that in the end make such a huge difference!!!!