Winning Ways to Share the Love With All Your Children
As special needs parents, we understand the importance of date nights with our spouses. They help us reconnect as a couple, reduce stress, and nurture the love between two people whose children drain their physical, emotional, and mental resources daily. Let’s face it, special needs parenting involves being caretakers on levels parents of neurotypical children will never be able to fully grasp.
But what about the siblings of kids on the autism spectrum? You know, the ones who either get dragged to every therapy and doctor’s appointment for their sibling or, because they are old enough now, stay at home alone while you do the honors. Additionally, we inadvertently place demands on them that, while not always necessarily fair, are unavoidable and crucial to our sanity. We ask them to forego friends’ birthday parties because of scheduling conflicts. They act as pack mules for all of the travel paraphernalia associated with going places with their special needs sibling. They endure embarrassing meltdowns in the mini mart in front of “gossip girl” from school.
As they get older, we rely on them more for helping with chores like laundry and cooking so that the rest of the family is not running around naked and hungry while you are tending to the ongoing demands on your autistic kiddo. Add to that the fact that your special needs child by default gets the majority of your actual attention, whether or not you mean for them to and no matter how hard you try to spread the love. It just happens. And it’s not their fault, not your fault, not anyone’s fault. It’s a full-time job to parent. It’s working a full-time job and moonlighting overnight part-time to parent kids on the autism spectrum.
In some cases, special needs children are only children, but that’s not the majority. There are siblings–your other children–who desire and deserve just as much attention from you. But you’re just one person, even if you have a husband you tag team with! It’s exhausting and impossible to think of spreading yourself any thinner, right? And then the guilt of that reality settles in (because more guilt is what we special needs parents don’t have enough of–yeah, right).
Monday nights are date nights at our house. Every Monday night, my husband or I take one of our other three kids out on a date. We go wherever they want to go. My daughter likes to go to the mall for a snack and to walk around. My son Ben likes to go to the movies. Our oldest son appreciates just sitting and watching a local baseball game or grabbing a bite to eat. When they were younger, we would usually take them for ice cream and bring a board game or deck of cards to play with them while we enjoyed our frozen treat…just them, one-on-one.
There are no interruptions on date nights. We don’t answer non-emergency cell phone calls, check texts, or play Words with Friends. We don’t run errands while we’re out, either before or after their dates. We don’t talk about their siblings when we’re on dates with one of them. It’s all about them. We talk about how they are, how school is, what’s up with friends, future goals, plans, dreams, crushes, whatever.
My kids each look forward to their date night and so do we. It’s precious, precious fellowship time with our babies who will be grown and out living their own lives before we know it. Time may be free, but spent with the ones you love most, it’s priceless. And chances are, your special needs children will be at home and remain a prominent part of your daily life long after their siblings have grown and moved out.
And that’s why date nights are so very important. Be intentional. Set the day and time. Let only true emergencies warrant having to reschedule them. Look them in the eyes when you are speaking with them and let them know that they are just as important to you as their special needs siblings are. Don’t take for granted that they already know this. Actions speak louder than words.
This article was featured in Issue 58 – The Greatest Love of All: Family