(note from Marya) As a Christian, I am not pro-divorce and believe that wherever possible every possible effort should be made to heal marital difficulties. However, as a second wife myself I recognize that every family has a different story. Sometimes there are unworkable abusive or addiction situations, and sometimes the divorce has happened years in the past and everyone has moved forward with their lives. Divorced parents of children with special needs need our compassion and support to help maintain positive family relationships for everyone’s sake.
Being a single parent is often times hard enough without the added stressors of parenting a special needs child. As America’s Divorce Coach I work with men and women who are managing the issues of divorce with dignity and respect for one another and their circumstances. I would like to share Jessica’s story with you.
Jessica is what I call a ball of fire, she is the first one there when you need support or a helping hand. Jessica is one of the most devoted mothers I know. I am often awestruck by her courage, unfailing devotion to her son and seemingly ceaseless amounts of energy.
I spoke with Jessica about the stressors she faces as a single mother of a special needs son. I asked her about her son’s disability and what it was like when she discovered he had an issue. Here’s what she said:
“He was almost nine months old when his grandma who is a Registered Nurse who worked with developmentally disabled children brought to our attention that Pete was not reaching milestones that are expected from a child at his age. We were referred to a pediatric neurologist in Sacramento. It was at this visit that the doctor walked into the room while I held my precious son and in a direct, unemotional thick East Indian accent told me your son has BiLateral Perisylvan Polymicrogyria and will be mentally retarded for the rest of his life.”
What Jessica said next broke my heart… “I’ve lived an amazing life never touched by anything tragic or even remotely bad, and in one second the world just crashes around you and then……what.”
I asked Jessica how having a child with a disability affected her marriage. With courage and a bit of hindsight wisdom she told me this:
“I think its going to take many years to realize how Pete affected our marriage. I think what affected our marriage was me not being able to realize what support groups are for, that it is ok to ask for help. Me trying to take on the weight of the world while being the perfect wife, perfect employee, perfect friend, perfect everything else that matters when you care about what others think produced a mess of a wife. The other one that hurt our family was me never admitting that having a child with severe special needs is hard, sad and there is something you have lost and their is something to grieve. I always felt that if I felt any touch of sadness that I was betraying my son, that I was having thoughts that were wrong. It’s taken a lot of counseling for me to be ok grieving the life I thought I was going to have.”
In hindsight Jessica recognized that life had a different plan for her and her family.
“When you are told that your child is going to have special needs it means that your life is going to be different than what you had planned, I think if I would of been able to recognize this and acknowledge it our life would of been much different. Holding in all of these feelings, not even realizing I had these feelings created a storm of ugliness inside of me.”
Ultimately, Jessica and her husband were unable to survive the stressors of raising their son and coping with his disability. Since she has had the benefit of time and has been able to maintain a positive relationship with her ex husband, she offers this wisdom to safeguard families from needless suffering between husbands and wives.
“I never thought I would be a single parent, my parents are still married, I married my best friend whom I still love today. Every few days I am kind of taken aback that I am a single parent, and to a little boy whose needs are extraordinary. I still struggle with asking for help, I still struggle with thinking someone else can do what I do in the way that I want it done. I give lots of advice to other mothers who have asked for my advice and I tell them all the things to do to remain rested, sane and happy; however, I need to take heed of my own advice. I recommend doing what people advise. Getting respite, take time to grieve, the grief process is important. I think my ego stopped me from being the great wife I intended to be. The “I got this” attitude only made it clear that I didn’t have it at all.”
I asked Jessica if there were resources out there that are helping her cope with being a mother of a disabled child, a single mom or in other ways? She had some great resources to share:
“On Facebook I have found a great group of people PROWD, Parents Raising Offspring With Disabilities. It is always positive and has great messages and a safe place to be honest about how you are feeling. There is a book called “Strengthening Relationships for Parents of Children with Special Needs. I highly recommend this. It brought to light deep feelings that I was having, feelings so deep that I wouldn’t of thought they were bothering me. Having someone else articulate what might be bothering you is so helpful in the process of sharing your thoughts and feelings.”
Near the end of our chat, I asked Jessica what she wants people to know about raising her son despite the challenges and despite the end of her marriage. She had these inspiring thoughts to share…
“Being Pete’s mom is the most wonderful thing I could ever imagine. My son has a smile that lights up rooms. People are so drawn to him, he unconditionally loves so hard that he fills the hardest of hearts with joy. I am so proud of him and never knew I could love someone so much. I am always thanking god that I am his mommy. I am very proud of the mommy that I am to him. I feel it is ok to say that because I work hard to make sure my son knows how much he is loved every minute of our day. I work even harder to make him feel a part of the world. I work hardest to make my son know that he is a rockstar and he knows it!”
It is hard enough to be managing the unique situations associated with parenting a special needs child without struggling during a divorce. Jessica is proof positive that you can divorce without drama and be exceptional co-parents for any child.
Faydra Koenig, MA is a mental health professional, author, speaker, podcaster and certified life coach. If you’re struggling with life issues of any kind, you’ll want to visit her at DoingLifeWithFaydra