In my dealings with families with a child in special education, or a child with access to respite resources, I meet many single mums. A few single dads as well, it has to be said. And I think that the statistics are something like 50% now, for a marriage to end in divorce. But with added pressures, those statistics take a steep incline. Marriage is hard enough when everything goes smoothly, but throw a severely disabled child into the mix, and any cracks in the marriage start to make a creaking sound.
So, in real terms, what makes these cracks so dangerous? After all, a child is a child, and none of us really know what we are getting. Well, those of you with families, do you remember the early years, when you were surviving on three blocks of two hour’s of sleep per night? I feel sure that you have vivid memories of the horror of being dragged from slumber at 2 am, an insistent wailing voice your rude alarm, knowing that, whatever happened over the next few hours, you would have to be up, active and doing important stuff at in only a few short hours. And with a newborn, this can go on for anything up to six months, maybe even nine months with a poor sleeper.
So what if this broken sleep pattern persisted for 5 years, 10 years, 15 or thirty years? It has to be said, we adjust, and we can get used to all sorts. But at the same time a sleep deficit is being chalked up. Good mental health and lots of sleep are intrinsically woven together. Think how snappy you are with your hubby/wife if by chance you’ve had a disturbed night, then times this by 356, over ten years, or twenty, or thirty.
What if we disagree over what’s right for our child? This happens in regular families all of the time, and the stakes aren’t usually that high – one parent might think its ok for Toby to quit cubs if he doesn’t really like it – the other might think he should persist – these little disagreements can cause subtle rifts in our relationships, but what if the implications are much larger – one parent might think that special education should be confined to history, that society should be an eclectic mix of all its constituents, the other might desperately need for their little one to have the kindest, most sheltered environment possible to enable them to reach their potential. What if medical needs become a focus, and there is conflict. What if one parent is fighting for treatment that they truly believe to be life enhancing (or life postponing) and the other disagrees entirely.
To be happy, functioning family members we also need downtime. ‘Wellbeing’ as it is fashionably labelled nowadays is huge on many major employer’s ticklist. How are we to achieve downtime amid chaos, noise, broken nights and the uncertainty of behavioural moodswings. Impossible, unless we are prepared to work together to allow one another complete breaks, but this, again, fragments the family status.
On the upside…coming through adversity, learning to cope as a couple through testing times adds great strength to a relationship. Needless to say, I wouldn’t like to think of coping alone, without my fabulous hubby. Having a partner who can tell at one glance that you absolutely need an hour with a glass of wine and a good book, someone who will not make a big deal about sacrificing their football training night, or ‘beer with the lads’ night in order to give you a bit of downtime, this will strengthen a marriage and reinforce the worn down mechanisms that have suffered the wear and tear of circumstance.
This is my way of saying, ‘thanks for being excellent, Kingy’ xxx