Friday, January 15, 2010


Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV)

A couple of weeks ago we had our son in for hematology clinic. Because my husband works for the local blood bank, he sees some of the hematologists frequently. One of these doctors, whom my spouse frequently chats with about cross-country skiing, noticed that he was at our clinic appointment. The doctor told us that he was surprised to find out that my husband also helps with infusing and treating our son. He told us that it is usually the mothers that do the 3-times-weekly IV push on their children.

After the visit, my husband and I discussed how it's just second nature for us to share the responsibility of managing our son's hemophilia. We trade-off each time our son needs an infusion, so we each keep our venipuncture skills up. I expressed, "I need to know that you can take care of this boy if I get hit by a Mack Truck!"

As we chatted further, we came to the recognition that this is a topic of major concern to most parents of kids with special needs. The difficulties of sharing the load with a child who needs extra care has a number of different scenarios that can make one spouse feeling resentful of the other.

One common difficulty can be a disengaged father. Often times, the husband sees himself as the breadwinner and feels his wife is responsible for all things child-related. He comes home tired and can't be bothered with the information that needs to be digested in order to care for that special child. It can also be an obstacle if the father is squeamish, which makes him avoid anything biological.

Another common challenge can be a controlling mother. Fearing any further harm may come to her already fragile child, the wife can often exclude her spouse from getting involved in any way. There can be an intolerance for having things done any other way than the way she does them, which makes it impossible for her husband to please her.

Other factors that play into load-dumping between couples who have a child with a special need can include job travel making one spouse unavailable, lack of acceptance of the diagnosis by one spouse or even a broken marriage. Whatever the cause, this is not the way God intended it to be.

Marriage is an earthly model of the Trinity. Just as the Father, Son and Spirit are One, so the husband, wife and God create a successful unity. If you crack God's word open, throughout it, you will find that God created us to be social beings. In the first book of the Bible, He states "It is not good for man to be alone." (Genesis 2:18) The Lord created "a helper" for Adam.

Although it may not feel like it, you are privileged to be chosen by God to be the parents of that special child -- BOTH of you. And since God chose both of you as the parents of that precious one, it is essential that you each engage in the care of that child.

Now that involvement does not need to look exactly the same for both of you. Complementarity is also a hallmark of a good marriage. Maybe he does the bathing & you do the feeding. Maybe he deals with the doctor's bills and you address the challenges with the school. Dialogue between the two of you is essential to coming up with a plan that is satisfactory to both.

How we get to the point of that dialogue can be a challenge in and of itself as well. You might start with some of these strategies:

  • Stop holding grudges and be willing to courteously express to your partner the difficulties from your viewpoint.

  • Don't have these conversations in the middle of a heated argument or at a stressful time.

  • Set a time where all is calm where you can sit down with paper, pen and hash out the details.

  • Be willing to hear what you spouse has to say even if it's not what you want to hear.

  • Controllers, be willing to adopt the "Good enough is good enough" attitude towards the other spouse handling care of your child. (As long as it isn't gross negligence!)

  • Those who are checked out, it's time to be a responsible adult and get involved.

  • Squeamish types, plug your nose, swallow hard and help out once in awhile. We all have grotesque parts of life that we need to handle.

  • Make it a regular habit of reviewing what you're doing. You don't need to formally schedule a meeting, but touch base with your spouse to make sure they're satisfied with how things are going. If things aren't working out, speak up in a polite manner.

Above all else, pray! Spending time together in prayer will definitely build intimacy in your relationship. It's also valuable time away from the kids.

If you are finding these things impossible, save your sanity and your marriage by getting a mediator involved. There is an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of stress on a couple with a special needs child. God gave us fabulous resources to use including psychotherapists, support groups, and marriage counselors. Take hold of any of these helpful tools to make you into that strong, three-stranded cord that God intended you to be!

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