September is a magical time in our house. The leaves are changing. The temperatures are cooling. The sweaters and warm blankets come out. Apple, cinnamon, and pumpkin scents are everywhere you go.
September is also a magical month because it is my wedding anniversary.
As I ponder our marriage this month, I am so grateful for my husband. The partnership we have grown together. The father and mentor my husband is to our son. The way he knows how and when to be our family rock and jester. We are truly blessed by him.
In this spirit, I thought I would address some of the many times I have been told parenting is a one-person job. The numerous times I have been told, “My significant other doesn’t help with the kids,” or “it is just easier for me to do it all then get my spouse involved.”
I understand this mentality. It is really easy for one parent to take on all the responsibility of school, playdates, doctor appointments, therapies, homework, extracurriculars, etc. This is especially easy if one is working and the other stays at home or both are working, but one has more work flexibility.
I remember one of our son’s medical team once sat us down (one or two years into our marriage), and said, “You know, people with special needs children divorce at 80% more than parents without.” That was a scary number! So, we became even more intentional with our marriage and parenting to avoid this.
I appreciate the difficulties of raising a child, especially one with special needs, I find this mentality of a single parent responsible for children’s development to be limiting, exhausting, and disrespectful.
You chose your partner, yes partner, because of the many good (and sometimes bad) qualities they have. When you said, “I do” it was not just for a day, a week, or a year. You chose to take that person in sickness, health, richer, poorer, good, bad, and (honestly) sometimes ugly.
Marriage is a life partnership. It is a daily choice to walk through life as a team. And, trite as it might be, there is no “I” in “team.”
There is a reason two parents are ideal for raising children. Both have different roles to play. For example, I am not going to have “The Talk” with my son if my husband can do it. My hubby isn’t going to take his little girl bra shopping – that is on me. However, although we have different roles, those roles work in tandem with each other not against.
So, how do you make raising these awesome kiddos a team sport? How do help your significant other become a player and not a spectator? Here are six rules we live by in my house.
1) Be on the same page: If you are trying to implement a new routine, discipline, or change in the home, it means nothing if the parents in the home are not consistent with each other. Dad cannot say no to something only to have Mom say yes two seconds later. If a parent implements discipline, both parents have to support it.
Don’t argue discipline in front of kids. We disagree on how to discipline like any couple. Whichever parent implemented the discipline is supported by the other. Take the discussion behind closed doors. After discussing, sometimes nothing changes. Sometimes the discipline is modified. Regardless, discipline happens and a clear discussion of why there was a change (if any) is presented. We discuss it as a unified front and implement the consequence as a team.
2) Divide and conquer: A family is multiple people with different personalities, needs, likes, and routines all operating under the same roof. The household is a mini economy and city (things break and need fixing, services need to be rendered, and relationships built). In a home with special needs, in addition to the traditional routines of school, playdates, sports, and extracurriculars, there are doctors, specialists, therapies all need to be addressed. It can be overwhelming.
Both parents need to know these routines, doctors, therapists, teachers, and be able to jump in and do it at the drop of a hat. Divide responsibility. I have a more flexible schedule working from home, so I do school, therapies, and playdates. My husband takes care of meals, all outside yard work, fixing EVERYTHING that breaks (cars, garbage disposal, washing machine, etc.). My son takes care of dishes, his room, bathroom, and feeding the animals. We all fill in the gaps. We work as a team. No one person on the team is more important than the other.
3) Fill the Void: We are a military family and my work occasionally requires me to travel. Sometimes one of our team is MIA due to work obligations for days, weeks, months at a time. When this happens, it is important to know how to fill that void. When I leave, my husband has a schedule for our son, where to go, doctor’s names, etc. When he leaves, I know he has taught me to fix somethings and where I should go if I cannot. He also has ensured I have the tools I need for all the tasks he does in tip-top form and ready for use (he made sure I know how to use them too!) While he is home, he will often take me aside to teach me something – like how to change my oil in the car. We are all responsible for filling the void when there is one.
4) Invest in the fun: My husband is great at having fun, acting like a goof, and making everyone smile and feel comfortable. I am more serious by nature. For the first few years of our marriage, it seemed like one of us had to be the serious one and the other the fun one. But that is not so. In fact, it was detrimental to our kiddo. He learned I was the one to go to for school, clothes, and chores, while he went to Dad for anything else. It caused a divide in the relationship with our son that took time to mend. Having fun is SO important. Find something fun to do with your child (even on hard days). We do LEGO, art, science kits, dance parties, karaoke, you name it. If your child finds it fun (even if you don’t), join in, plan some time for this, and enjoy it. This will be the foundation for a healthy relationship in those teen years and beyond.
5) Argue: This sounds counterintuitive, but it is so important. Remember two become one. That means two completely separate people with their own likes, dislikes, thoughts, and opinions come together to become one unit. Simply because you said, “I do,” does not mean you magically agree on everything and life is perfect, happily ever after. No. To become is a process – a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end. Arguing is part of the process. It is ok to argue in front of your children. I think this is particularly important for those kids who have a hard time processing social cues.
Arguing is life. You argue with your spouse, siblings, classmates, friends….pretty much everyone at some point. Knowing how to argue in a constructive way is essential to social success. To not show your child you disagree with each other does them a disservice both socially and, eventually, as they view marriage (more to come on arguing this month).
6) Date each other: This is a particularly hard one for any marriage with children. It is particularly difficult for marriages with special needs. Babysitters are hard to come by. It may feel like there is never going to be a date in your marriage again. I tell you from experience, that just isn’t so. If possible, find someone who will watch you kid while they sleep. Or get creative with date nights at home (movies by a fire, game night, wine or beer tastings, craft projects). If you can and qualify, look into your local Respite Care providers. Respite care is short-term relief for primary caregivers. It can be arranged for just an afternoon or for several days or weeks. Care can be provided at home, in a healthcare facility, or at an adult day center.
Marriage is not easy. But partnering in it should be. Let me know what steps you use to keep your marriage fresh, healthy, and growing daily.