Divorce can be a time of stress, crisis and conflict. It is important for all parents to keep the best interests of their children at the forefront during this process.
One day I had a friend hand me a piece of paper. She said she knew there was a 50/50 chance that the content in the paper could change our relationship; she struggled with adding more on my plate but felt it was a risk she had to take. This is the day I learned my daughter had autism.
I unfolded the paper; it appeared to be a checklist. The checklist consisted of numerous behaviors that people with autism displayed; my daughter had every single behavioral issue on the list. I immediately called my ex-husband, and we scheduled a doctor’s visit. The visit confirmed what we already knew to be true. In 2003, my daughter was diagnosed with autism.
Her father and I were in the middle of a divorce. Divorce is hard enough with an “A” Typical child, but add autism into the equation and you are left to deal with 100 different emotions. I was not sure how life would be as a divorced parent, and even more unsure what life would be like as a divorced parent with an autistic child. I had heard many horror stories from single parents over the years, and the worst ones were the ones with special needs children.
My ex-husband could see in my face that I was lost with the diagnosis. Through his pain and grief, he placed his hand on my shoulder and said he promised he would always be there.
7 Promises of A Divorced Father With a Disabled Child:
1. He Showed Up Every Weekend and Every Wednesday Night
I can’t tell you how many stories I had heard from my single girlfriends that their ex-husbands would not visit their children. I am lucky and blessed to say that my ex-showed up every Wednesday night and weekend he was scheduled to have our daughter, and if he could… even on the ones he was not scheduled.
2. He Showed Up for Parent Teacher Meetings
If there was a meeting to discuss my daughters education, it was scheduled around my ex-husbands schedule. He lived a whole state away but would make it a priority to be a part of her education plan. He lived almost two hours away from where we lived but never complained about making that drive.
3. He Called Her Every Night
There was never a night that my ex-husband missed calling our daughter. He even bought her a cell phone to make sure they could keep in touch, and if she felt like she needed to talk to him throughout the day she could call. When she called he never ignored it; he would stop whatever he was doing to answer. He let everyone know she came first.
4. He Took Her On Trips To Disney
I was not able to afford vacations after our divorce. I was a cancer patient on disability taking care of an autistic child. Knowing this, my ex-husband made sure to take or daughter to Disney almost every year of her youth. I loved hearing the stories they would come back and share. One time, when they flew to Orlando, my daughter had the whole first class freaked out by screaming …”We are going down”. Her father just laughed.
5. He Was Never Late With Child Support
We have all heard the stories of deadbeat parents who never paid child support and left the other parent to fend for themselves. I never experienced that. I never received a late child support payment. In fact, when our daughter turned 18, he was the first parent in our county who petitioned the court to extend child support payments. He said he wanted to make sure she was always provided for. This act of taking responsibility made it possible for me to purchase my first home as a divorced woman.
6. He Became A Co-Guardian
Sometimes autistic children take a little longer in life to leave the nest and make it own their own. Together, my ex and I petitioned the court for guardianship of my daughter. He knew the older she got, the more likely she would need someone to help make choices for her.
7. He Came Home
After 11 years of caring for our daughter… he said he knew I was tired, and worn down. Two years ago, when my daughter began to act out and became physical, he quit his job and moved back home. He said that is what you do when you make a promise.
“Eighty-five percent of parents of kids with special needs get divorced.”
Divorce can be a time of stress, crisis and conflict. It is important for all parents to keep the best interests of their children at the forefront during this process. It is even more critical for parents of special needs children to emerge from their divorce with the ability to communicate, in a healthy and cooperative manner, so as to prepare them for a potentially lifelong co-parenting relationship.
Not every child gets to experience their dream of their parents getting back together, but everyone child should experience the feeling of their parents keeping their promises!
Photo: Flickr/ Idamon