Two-Parent Family Issues

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The Challenge

Any couple who has a child with a disability like FASD will experience many challenges, including such as repeated physical and emotional crises, interactive family issues, ruined schedules, and additional expenses which can create financial burdens for a family. It may be during these times of physical and emotional stress that parents will take out their frustrations on each other, the other children, or even the child with the disability.

For the relationship to survive, the couple parenting a child with FASD needs to have a coping mechanism. By taking care of each other and your relationship you are not only working toward the future you really want, you are giving your children the benefit of a stable, loving home to grow up in.

Knowing how you should react to challenging situations at home is one thing, but being able to do it when your buttons are all being pushed is another. This is where both parents can and should help each other.

In many homes, when the "FASD" buttons are being pushed, one button pushes one parent more than the other. When that happens, if the (temporarily) calmer parent can respond, things go much better. When the stressed-out parent interacts with the ramped-up child, it rarely goes well.

Responding to the Challenge

Below are some effective strategies for coping with the everyday stresses that can strain even the strongest relationship when a child with the challenges of FASD draws so much time and energy from each day.

Take Care of Your Individual Selves

When your child has a FASD, your own needs as individuals and as a couple can get lost. But it never helps to lose focus on your relationship. As hard as it may sound at first, start to think about taking care of yourself and adding some fun and enjoyment into your life even though you might feel guilty about doing it.

Reach Out to Your Partner

When possible, share the responsibilities at home by working together on chores, childcare, and education. It’s helpful when both partners work to learn about FASD and any other conditions your child may have, when you both prepare for and attend care meetings, and so on. Both partners should get involved in the special needs community if possible – there’s so much to manage every day that reaching out to your partner, relatives or friends can help lessen the burden.


When a person is in pain he or she may withdraw, or become frustrated and angry – after all, it can be hard to talk about something we have no power to change or fix. At times the reactions of each partner in a couple can become polarized or opposite; for example, one of you may notice problems in the child and tend to worry and feel negative, while the other holds hope and optimism that in time everything will be fine.

Try to consider all of your feelings toward your child - both positive and negative – and discuss issues in ways that will help both of you feel understood and find solutions to problems. In general, the way forward requires working through the painful feelings with your partner and arriving at some form of joint acceptance and effective co-parenting strategies.

Seek Outside Help

Professionals---social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor or family therapist-- can help you understand the needs of your children, yourself and your marriage. Some people are reluctant to take this step, but when it becomes hard to function from day to day, this kind of help may be in order.

Just as you’d consult more than one specialist for your child if necessary, do the same for yourself. If your partner isn’t interested, then start by yourself. Sometimes a change in one partner changes the chemistry of the situation for the better.

Find a Community of Kindred Parents

Getting together with other parents who have "been there" can be a lifesaver to helping couples get through the stressful life events that inevitably happen in a family rearing a child with FASD. Other parents who have children with special needs understand what you are going through in a way no one else can. The support is also mutual, so you don’t feel like you are just taking – we all help each other to cope.

Get Away

One thing many couples find essential is time away – both the briefer date night and once in a while a complete get away that involves having a respite care person or resource for the child with FASD. If you and your partner have not got that kind of thing set up yet, I urge you to get busy doing so. If you don’t have funding – look into family and friends, maybe it can be reciprocal. But in any case – do it. There is nothing so rejuvenating for a loving relationship as getting away from the stresses of daily life and stresses of parenting, to really invest some time and resources into the marriage.

Focus on the Partnership for the Long Haul

It is imperative that the two of you fully realize that you are on the same team. Though the child or children are not the enemy here – neither is your partner. You will disappoint each other and ourselves at times, but if we can keep the long view – that this person is here to help me, and I am here to help them, you both will be ahead of the game. If we can be forgiving and have a sense of humor, the whole family will benefit.

Useful Links

Finding a Balance Between the Joy and the Sorrow: Parenting Children with Special Needs
Love, marriage and special needs
Tips for Sustaining a Healthy Marriage in Families with Children with Special Needs