Can a Single Parent of a Special Needs Child Find Love, too?
Romantic love and wedded bliss are everywhere! From books and magazines, to television and movies, you can’t escape the sights and sounds of couples in love. You can hear them dedicating sappy love songs to one another on the radio (do people REALLY do that?), you see them on romantic dates in restaurants, they are holding hands at amusement parks, they are strangers, they are your friends, your relatives, your work buddies. But you, a single parent to a special needs child, are somehow on the sidelines watching and wondering if you and your child will ever have a true and permanent love in your lives, too.
As I was researching the mystery of love and relationships, of what drives couples apart, and what holds them together, etc., I found myself talking with relationship and family counselors, therapists, married couples with special needs children, divorced couples with special needs kids, a pastor, a rabbi, families I didn’t know but who I encountered at various events I attended, etc. I will share the highlights of what I learned from these experts about making a relationship work—whether you have typical or non-typical children—and maybe, just maybe, you will find yourself inspired to hop on your own path toward true and permanent love. Here’s what they say:
It’s Just a Matter of Time. You HAVE to spend time together. Even though we are all so busy with work, with running our kids to various therapies, with maintaining a home, helping with school work, etc., both parties in a romantic relationship MUST find the time to BE in the relationship. And that includes time for the two of you AND time together with the children as well. If either of you work to the extreme or keep so busy that you are neglecting the other person, or that you can’t even find 15 minutes to talk every day, you just may have some past personal issues you need to take care of first. Make sure you do that. If you let this lack of time for each other linger on, you are on your way to losing each other forever. (Do you really want to grow old alone and never have genuine love in your life?) In my research, I saw first-hand many couples with unbelievable issues with their blended children and who also worked, ran their kids to various therapies and doctors, yet THEIR relationship was important enough to FIND ways to be together. Happily. And they made it work!
Communicate, don’t try to escape! You vowed in the beginning of a relationship to always be open and honest with one another. WHAT HAPPENED? If something within the relationship or something about the other person or the child is an issue, you don’t just disappear or refrain from talking about it. You discuss it in a RESPECTFUL and loving way and, in a REAL relationship, you both contribute and COMPROMISE and agree how the two of you will work through the issue. Also, don’t communicate only if there are issues. You can tell the other person in the relationship EVERY day that you are glad they are in your life, what is great about the relationship, how you value their love and friendship, etc.
Respect. At all times, you MUST treat the other person with respect. Even if you don’t agree with something, you do not yell, you don’t leave and not return, you don’t stop calling for weeks or stop making contact. You LISTEN. And you let the other person know that you will listen and they can talk with you about anything without fear and with an open mind and an open heart.
Sense of Humor. You have to find ways to kick back and LAUGH with each other. Have fun! Relax! The smallest, most simple gestures truly are so important. Stay positive and upbeat!
It’s a Team Thing. You are in this relationship together. Isn’t it cool to have someone you care about and who cares about you in return and with whom you can discuss what went great in your day or what wasn’t so great? And, that you can bounce ideas off one another or seek each other’s opinion? Isn’t it also cool that the person is there for you, on YOUR side, on YOUR team? Don’t go it alone or be so afraid to accept someone’s love/help (hmmm, are you sure you’ve taken care of any past issues you may have) …learn to be part of the team.
Chemistry. Keep up the chemistry you discovered early on in your relationship. If you’ve lost the chemistry because you weren’t putting in the time or you were not communicating, or you let life and distance come between you, etc., FIX IT! Have fun re-discovering each other!
Don’t Sweat the Little Stuff! If you gripe about the way toilet paper is put on the roll, if the seat is left up, if someone forgets to turn a light off, or if you have an issue with the type of sponge they use to clean the bathroom, etc., (hmmm, I’m still detecting some unresolved past issues, here), GET OVER IT! Life is too short to be bothered by such insignificance. Find the humor in it! Or seek counseling if you need to. But lose the rigidity and the inflexibility and you will be amazed at the relief you’ll feel from having to no longer carry around the baggage that prevented you from giving and receiving genuine love and trust.
Work it, Baby! Every relationship takes work. If one of you is extra busy or needs help, the other is willing to jump in and do what they can, and when the situation is reversed, you do the same in return. You do simple and thoughtful gestures of appreciation for each other. You BOTH have to contribute. Something I heard over and over as I was researching couples and what made them succeed is this, and I find this to be the most important of anything else they shared with me: No relationship ever failed because someone tried too hard to make it work. But relationships fail because someone didn’t try hard enough.
So now that we know the top suggestions from those couples, therapists, counselors, spiritual advisors, etc., on the do’s and don’ts of how to make a relationship succeed, I’d suggest doing what works for your situation. For example, even though the general recommendation from the experts (#1 above) is to find time alone EVERY day, maybe you decide that you are both okay with keeping busy and you might find that alone time every day is not needed. Just don’t go too long without making some time for the relationship! The others I do agree are extremely important for the success of all relationships: communication, respect, sense of humor, working as a team, chemistry, talking thru the little things that bother you instead of making them a “huge” thing (and finding laughter in them), and working and valuing the relationship.
But what does all of this mean for single parents of special needs kids and single parents in general? First, we all know by now that no one can ever make us happy or complete…we are totally responsible for our own happiness and we have to make our own way in this world. And life can be extra challenging as a single parent with a non-typical child. But, maybe you are thinking it would be great to have that special someone who can share in your adventures in life and who can add to your already fun and amazing life with your special child:
- Make sure you and your child are truly open and ready for a relationship.
- Volunteer at any event, therapy, or activity in which your child is involved.
- Let friends (or anyone) know you are ready to meet someone.
- Go about your already fun and full life and see who you meet naturally.
- Keep a positive attitude.
- Fall in love with life and you will be pleasantly surprised at how your excitement and enthusiasm draws those with like personalities toward you!
- Genuine love is not easy to find, when you have it, don’t screw it up!
- Once you do find that permanent love to share in all the adventures and the challenges in your life, a little counseling could be beneficial for you as a couple (and include the children in the counseling with you) so that the entire family unit begins strong and is dedicated to being the best team they can be!
And for anyone out there who is reading this article and who happens to find him/herself in a relationship one day with someone with a non-typical child, consider yourself unbelievably blessed. Parents of special needs children seem to have an extra abundance of humor, dedication, passion, commitment, trust, creativity, and unconditional love. They are great relationship partners. And the special needs children…well, if you are willing to really open your heart, you will find that they will teach you far more about what is really important in life than you could ever teach them.
About Author: Kelly Jackson is a single mom who lives in Tampa with her daughter, Holly. She strives daily to be the best person and the best mother she can be. Kelly wants to thank the many professionals, spiritual advisors, couples, etc., who shared their expertise and insight with her for this article.
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