Raising children is rarely easy, and parenting them alone after divorce is even trickier. But what might take the cake for the trifecta of tough situations is taking care of a child with special needs after your divorce.
While more challenging, it’s not impossible.
With thoughtful planning and open communication, you and your co-parent can successfully handle your unique and challenging situation together.
1) Prioritize our child’s well-being. Your number one goal is to raise a happy, healthy child. To do that, you need to support their physical, emotional, and mental needs.
Kids want happy and healthy parents who make them feel loved and cared for. Care for your health so that, in turn, you can give your child your very best. Eat nutritious food. Sleep six to eight hours a night. Smile and tell them you love them often.
Avoid arguing with your co-parent or bad-mouthing them in front of your child. Increased stress from parental feuds can hurt your child emotionally and mentally. It can also strain your relationship and bond with your child if they feel you are overly harsh or argumentative.
Disagreements between you and your ex are expected, but avoid bickering and fighting over them for your child’s sake.
2) Put it in the parenting plan. The more specific you are about each parent’s responsibilities and roles, the better the outcome can be. Here are some situations unique to families of children with special needs to consider clarifying in your parenting plan:
a) Living Arrangements–Consideration needs to be made when choosing a primary custodial parent, especially concerning their time and resources. For instance, is one parent closer to medically-necessary professionals? Does one parent have a certain home layout that the child needs?
b) Medically-Necessary Equipment–Is one home preferable over another because of medical equipment? Would transferring special equipment from house to house be impossible or an undue hardship for the parent or the child?
c) Routines–Many children with special needs thrive on predictable routines. Would changing houses or custody be too disruptive for the child? Would longer stays with the non-custodial parent over the summer months work better? On the contrary, should a visit last only a few hours and include supervision by the custodial parent?
d) Life-Long Care–Some kids with special needs will need care for their entire lives. A parent will either need to pay for full-time or part-time care and may also need to take time off of work or even stay at home full-time. How will that parent receive the financial support they need to care for themselves and the child?
e) Emergency Preparedness–Who should make the decisions in a medical emergency, and how should those decisions be made?
f) Flexibility–You’ll likely want your parenting plan to be flexible and easily amended to reflect changes in your child’s newest medical developments and treatments.
3) Communicate. Communicate. Communicate. We can’t stress this tip enough. You and your ex will need to collaborate to ensure that both of you can provide the support and assistance your child needs. You will likely experience bumps and hiccups in the road as you learn to navigate the challenges that come with parenting across two households. You’ll have smoother sailing in the future if you remember to communicate early and often now.
Frequent appointments, therapy sessions, and new medications are a way of life in your family. It’s crucial that you share these schedules and changes with your co-parent.
To share regularly and easily, download a shared parenting app so that you won’t forget to pass along essential information and updates. A co-parenting expense tracker app, like DComply, can help you and your ex keep track of joint expenses from doctor visits to prescription refills.
4) Be consistent with custody. Sure, scheduling visitations around your child’s therapy schedules and amidst their peaceful routines is more challenging, but (barring abusive situations) it’s important that a child bonds with both parents. Involved parenting plays a pivotal role in a special-needs child’s social integration.
The pandemic of 2020 taught us that time together is not guaranteed. Have a plan to connect with your child as much as possible should health concerns prevent face-to-face contact. Mail, email, phone calls, and video calls are all good substitutes for when you absolutely cannot meet in person but should not replace all physical meetups.
5) Your co-parent and bonus parents are allies. View your co-parent and any future bonus parents as your allies–there to help you when the going gets tough, and vice versa. They can give your child even more love, support, and attention. You are a better team when you work together for the benefit of your child.
When it comes to co-parenting a child with special needs, cooperation, communication, consistency, and compromise are the keys to success. Use a co-parenting app to help you manage those keys.