Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Step-parenting and special needs

It's tough to be a parent of a special needs child. It's even tougher to come in as a step-parent to a special needs child. I'm going to sing some praises today and I hope this also serves as useful information to you who read this.

The step-parent is the one who is coming in, late in the story of your child and has to take a major crash course in your child's needs. They weren't there from the beginning like you. They didn't have to deal with diagnosis or all the research you've taken years to do. They are, for lack of a better term, taking "baptism by fire". Statistics aren't kind to these relationships either.

If your child is lucky enough to have a step-parent like my son does, you'd know they deserve a great deal of praise. My Lisa deserves just that.

Not only has she tolerated a great deal with him, she's stepped up to bat, rolled up her sleeves, spit on her palms and gotten to work on the matter. She's been a great partner. She catches things I miss and taken her position as a step-parent very seriously.

She was the one who insisted that our boy needs a dog. Even with his fear of dogs, she found one that now plays and sleeps with him. She helps him with his homework more often than I do (even though he tests her by giving up easily or throwing fits). She pays him a small allowance for a clean room once a week. She easily pays for half of his rewards for good days, weeks or months. For that matter she printed him a brochure reward menu with his picture on it. Then she has a hard time sleeping from time to time with worry that she's doing okay with him.

We need to remember what our step-parents put up with. The best step-parents are the ones who are able to be "parents" in spite of the challenges. This is especially true in special needs families.

When it comes to being a SP of a special needs child, you have to be prepared to get your hands dirty. It's hard and there's a lot to tolerate. For many it's too much. And it can be tough on in-laws too, no doubt (just to mention).

So what do we do, that makes a success of our story?

Rules: We are on the same page with the rules and back each other up on them. If she sends him to his room for something he did, I back it up. If we don't agree on a discipline, we discuss it. We don't let him play us against each other.

Activities: We are all involved on this. She's constantly on the look out for activities he might enjoy as rewards or just in general.

Family Discussions: We talk about important issues together and he is included.

Respite: Uh oh. I have to admit, this is where our current difficulty lies. You must have respite and a break from time to time. You need to go out on dates with your partner and let someone else help with the kids. I'm sure, though, many of you can sound off here and show that you have a hard time with this too. The realities of child care will likely be my next blog. It's hard for several reasons. Yet, it is oh so needed and important. I can tell you that because we don't have it right now. We feel the pain and know what it's like.

Step-parents, should also start things out slowly. Get to know the child and spend time with them. Don't move into disciplinarian right away. That comes with time if at all. Parents should also never allow disrespect of a step-parent. Learn the needs of the child and take up a teamwork approach in fulfilling those needs. With us, my word is the final one on what is done with my son. However, I have great respect for her input and we've done a lot to help him through various difficulties.

United you stand, divided you fall. It's hard work, but also very rewarding. Our kids have their best chances (even when it looks bleak) by what we do with them now. I see it in my home, and hopefully many of you do in yours.

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