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To Struggling Parents of Special-Needs Kids, You’re Not Alone

My only true goal in life was to become someone’s mother.

God granted that opportunity three times with earthly children and three times with heavenly children who lived inside me for only a short time.

Adoption and infertility treatments made my dreams come true and my heart overflow with love.

Beyond those cuddly babies, however, motherhood brought both traditional challenges and challenges far beyond my expectation.

Of the three incredible beings that call me “mom,” one battles a cocktail of mental health fragility and another has autism.

Alongside the motherhood chaos, there is my marriage to my children’s father, who loves these three gifts as much as I do.

Recently, someone who has read my prior articles, asked me how my marriage has held up during the often demanding parenting my husband and I weather.

Should I start that conversation with the bad or the ugly? You see, I cannot start from where, by nothing less than the grace of God, we are today.

To start from today – the place where my husband and I now acknowledge that neither of us caused our children’s disabilities and the place where we realize that we need each other as much as our children need the both of us – would be unfair.

It would be unfair to the couple that just had an argument over why their depressed teenager is self-harming. It would be unfair to the parents crying because they don’t know if their child will ever speak.

It would be unfair to the family who will stay awake this very night praying because they do not know where their child is spending the night. It would be unfair to all parents – married, single or co-parenting – for me to pretend that my husband and I are some fairy-tale prince and princess gliding through intensive parenting unscathed.

The truth is, our marriage has often taken an emotional beating. And it is in that truth that I share our story, for it is my prayer that someone who reads it might feel less alone.

Many times, when our children were young, my mind and body nearly collapsing, I would find energy in angry outbursts to my husband.

I would accuse him of not helping to shoulder the burden of the kids’ needs and threaten divorce.

In return, he would use that as an opportunity to disengage further, claiming he need not try any harder as nothing he did was enough.

We criticized one another’s parenting styles, maturity level and attitude. We said hurtful things that I wish we hadn’t. We became quite skilled at the silent treatment and complete experts at the blame game.

That heart-wrenching dance between us was each of us simply looking for a place to dump our pain. All the while, our children demanded all that we had to give. Those days were nothing short of a living hell.

Gone were the days of our early marriage “on the go” lifestyle. There were no more symphony concerts or socializing with friends. Dinner dates were gone too, and sex was not even considered.

Instead, there were endless hours of trying to make ends meet as we paid a hefty health insurance premium only to be told it didn’t cover the thousands of dollars we were spending on therapies for autism.

There were school meetings, doctors’ appointments and counseling sessions. For years, we ran as fast as we could on the hamster wheel of life, endlessly trying to improve our children’s lives.

Then came the worst of the worst: Our daughter, 18 but still so much a child, had a breakdown – an ugly, nasty, horrific breakdown.

We would spend a year with her running away from our home into the most dangerous situations we could imagine. Each time we were able to get her back home, it wasn’t long before she was gone again.

It was in those days that my husband and I would lay in our bed at night, each of us awake in the darkness, and hold one another’s hands.

It was in those moments, moments where we didn’t know if we would see our daughter alive again, that something began to heal.

Our life looks much different these days. Our daughter is home and making great strides. Our son is thriving. And our youngest son keeps us on our toes with his fear-nothing attitude.

But even now, as the sun shines brighter, I will not pretend that marriage while parenting kids with special needs is easy.

Nor will I pretend that my husband and I have done anything right or good or intentional to preserve and nurture our marriage.

We have simply held on with weak muscles to the rope that we have knotted together. God has done the rest.

For all of those who find themselves and their marriage crumbling underneath the weight of parenting a child who needs everything you have to give, I pray.

I pray that you will know there are others who understand. I pray that you will hold on no matter how loose your grip is. And I pray you will let God do the rest.

Kim Divelbiss

Kim Divelbiss is minister to children and families and day school director at NorthHaven Church in Norman, Oklahoma.