“Love on an Island”
I feel like it’s time to talk about the elephant in the living room: keeping a marriage alive while parenting special needs children. While the much touted theory that autism families have a high divorce rate has been debunked, thank goodness, sugarcoating the realities isn’t all that helpful either.
It’s not surprising that autism can place a lot of stress on a marriage. Any pre-existing cracks in the foundation are sure to be widened by the intense demands. We waved goodbye to spontaneity a long time ago. Hosting parties at home can be an uphill battle. There is little time to relax, as the routine is minutely structured, so school holidays are a lot of work, honestly. Extended family reunions usually pass us by. And at least for us, it’s been many years since we traveled together anywhere but nearby beaches, since we happen to have a kid whose needs are high. And let’s be clear–he doesn’t Iike beach sand.
So really, if we didn’t laugh at ourselves occasionally, we would be living on our remote island and forgetting to make time to have fun. Special needs parenting isn’t usually a topic of comedy, yet there is so much comedic gold in it.
I’d like to let my tea-soaked husband know a few things:
1. Your love language cannot be “Dune.”
2. That bitter swill you call tea is going to eat your innards.
3. Thank you for fixing all my tech bloopers. And yes, I do remember how you mocked me for writing my graduate thesis on an electronic typewriter.
4. Stop telling me that all diamonds turn to carbon eventually. I won’t listen anymore.
5. “The Blues Brothers” is great, but it’s not much of a love language either. Sorry/not sorry.
6. I love how you firmly believe there are no girls who can’t do math, only teachers who don’t know how to teach them. You and G geeking out together is so boring and perfect.
7. Thank you for being the Output Chief. Toilet training special needs kids is not for wimps.
8. Date nights always begin with laughing over kid pictures. I’m so glad that’s a given.
9. It’s only fitting that “Goodnight Moon” was the first book you read to G, and the first book you had to rescue from A’s efforts to eat it. Bookworms come in many forms.
We didn’t choose this autism life, but it’s grown on us. And we don’t know any other parental experience anyway, so what difference does it make. Which leads me to
10. Your view of A is just perfect: “He’s hard to be with and socially maladjusted and all, but there’s nothing wrong with him.” That blunt view still makes me laugh. The chaos and the pride, all rolled into one. That’s our version of marriage and autism parenting.
I have no extra intelligent insights to offer about how to do this and stay married. Sometimes, divorce is the better choice, I’m well aware of that. It’s best if none of us try to sound like experts. We live in the trenches and we put in the sweat equity, and we try not to forget that we’re supposed to be Team Unified Adult Entity.
Autism is a stern housemate with one too many rules of housemate etiquette. You know what you do with the housemate with all the rules? You label their food and you make sure you don’t eat it, and you color between the lines. Every day. Every single day. You step up and you play by the rules of autism that were laid out the day you became a parent. We can all admit it. We were following the rules without realizing it even before the symptoms became obvious. We will be walking this tightrope for the rest of our lives, and there has to be something that makes home life not always about deferred gratification and running in place and hypervigilance and the endless rivers of sweat, besides the crazy love we feel for our children, and all the sweet, funny ways in which they tug at our heartstrings, that is.
That something is marriage. Or it should be. It can be. If we fall into it, and if we let our spouses land gently too.