A little disclaimer before we get cracking: I’m writing this from the perspective of a mother with a child who has profound and multiple health and learning difficulties.
I’ve given up my career to care for him and my husband continues to work full time. I know not all of my tips will apply to all families, some will have a different structure or their child will have different needs.
Some of my tips may not be relevant in all situations, although I hope they might be.
1) Be strong, but not too strong During my 2 years in the special needs world I’ve seen dads who assume the protector, provider and general all round rock roll in the relationship.
This is awesome and should be admired, but try not to turn into an actual rock. If your child has had a tricky start it can be easy to be strong for your partner, especially when they have post-pregnancy hormones on top of everything. As time progresses it might help your partner and relationship if they can see your emotional side as well.
2) If you’re going to be late, text I looked at a few mainstream blogs as research for writing this and this struck me as a jolly good idea. Special needs or not.
3) Remember your partner might get isolated Some days the only person I talk to is my non-verbal 2 year old. Or a professional about my non-verbal 2 year old.
My husband is the only real life human I see and I might want to talk about something other than my son. Like what happened on Eastenders.
4) Don’t be a babysitter It must be hard to keep up when your partner is the main carer. Our son’s medications change frequently so it can be tricky when you only do his morning meds on a Saturday while your partner has a snooze.
Be proactive: if in doubt, check. Get her to write a checklist and pin it somewhere. If she manages to pop out, don’t just sit there waiting for her to return to do the evening meds, make a start.
Even better; talk to her before she goes, check what needs to be done so she can relax and enjoy her time out knowing your little one will be cared for as she would do.
5) Support weird ideas Yes, putting a quadriplegic 2 year old without head control on a horse is a strange idea. If it gets them out of the house and trying a new experience, does it really matter?
6) Ease her guilt.
But it does not stop me feeling wracked with guilt that it is somehow my fault and I made him wrong. That I am to blame for his pain and discomfort. And that I have brought this great sadness into the lives of the people I care about. Remember to reassure her and comfort your partner.
7) Go to special needs stuff if, like my husband, you’re at work full time you probably miss out on special needs groups. Don’t. Try to go along at weekends and share your partner’s world.
You may even meet other dads and make friends. It’ll be lonely for you too and special needs groups are a great way to meet people in similar situations. You could take your child on your own. This’ll give your partner some time off, and you a chance to bond with your child without her around.
8) Make time for yourself You’re an individual and have your own interests and hobbies. It’s good to be a devoted dad and have family time, but it is equally good for your mental health to carry on with something you feel passionately about. It’s a difficult balance, but an important one.
9) Buy cake/flowers/a magazine A little thing to make your partner feel loved and appreciated.
10) Learn therapies If your child has anything like the number of appointments as my son it would be impossible to attend them all and still work. Take the time to learn the physiotherapy routine from your partner, and do it when you are caring for your child. See point 4 about not being a babysitter.
11) Talk back to that rock idea again. Try not to bottle stuff up. To steal an advert tag line: it’s good to talk.
12) Dates Care for your relationship, I think of it as a plant that needs attention. It can be easy to let it slide, but if you don’t water it and care for it the plant might die.
Depending on your child’s needs going out on a date night might not be an option. So maybe cook a nice meal, or even grab one of those meal deals from the supermarket on your way home.
Remembering to text that you’ll be slightly late, of course.
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