Gleeful tweets and DMs starting rolling onto my computer screen shortly after Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey announced their separation via Twitter. People wanted to know how I felt about the implosion of the Generation Rescue-fronting Hollywood couple's five-year relationship. Didn't I hate them? Wasn't I happy?
To which I respond: No, I am not pleased -- why would I be? I may not agree with Jenny McCarthy's autism opinions and efforts, but that's political, not personal -- I do not wish heartbreak upon anyone. Besides, I worry about her son Evan, whom his mother describes as "recovered" from autism but who likely still thrives on routine and stability. Jenny's breakup with Jim, Evan's de facto stepfather, means Evan is experiencing big home life changes, and will be needing more support than usual to navigate his new reality. Who can gloat when a child touched by autism has their world disrupted?
Theories about the Carrey-McCarthy breakup are still percolating - even Hugh Hefner has an opinion. Did Jenny and Jim break up because Carrey had gone off his meds and was being beastly? Was Carrey cheating? Or was Carrey not up to the challenge of parenting a child with autism?
Now, I have no idea if any of the guesses being floated around the Internet are true, but I do want to talk about that last one -- that stereotype of a child's autism or special needs being the catalyst when parents part ways. It's true that parenting a child with special needs can be stressful -- McCarthy has publicly stated that Evan's father's inability to cope with his son's autism led to their divorce. But should we believe her oft-quoted 80 percent divorce rate for parents of kids with autism? Especially when other surveys indicate that the divorce rates for our families are actually lower than those for parents of neurotypical kids?
What do you think? Does having a child with special needs make our partnerships and marriages weaker, or stronger? And how does it affect kids with special needs when their parents' relationship ends? I'd love to hear your opinions. In the meantime, I asked bloggers who parent children with multiple special needs to talk about the state of their own marriages.
Jennifer Byde Myers from Jennyalice says:
While I feel that children change the direction of any marriage, having a special needs child changes the direction of everything in your life, and often.
I feel lucky because I got to figure out really early on that I married the right man, and that I want this marriage to last my lifetime. We have learned how to be a team, how to give each other space, how to argue while still taking care of some pretty big or stinky jobs.
I do think marriage is harder when you have a special needs kid. Just finding a babysitter to go to therapy can feel insurmountable, and where is the money for date night supposed to come from when all of your dollars seem to be going towards therapy or special shoes, or another stroller that's even bigger because your kid still can't walk? Everything is just a little bit harder, fixing dinner, bath time, childcare, hours you keep at the office versus home; having a special needs kid impacts the choices you make in every category of your life, it's not like "marriage" could really stand outside of that.
Beth (Niksmom) from Maternal Instincts says:
There is no doubt that Nik's special needs are a huge part of our marriage. We struggled to get pregnant, his delivery was premature and scary, and the medical staff weren't sure if our son would make it through the first night. We knew ours would not be any easy parenting/family road, though I don't think either of us had any idea just how difficult it would get.
I didn't get to see Nik until several hours after he was born. Christian and I held hands and cried tears of joy, grief, confusion. The first thing I said to Christian was, "This can either make or break us. I don't want this to break us." He assured me it wouldn't. That's not to say there haven't been times we've both worried that we'd bend under the weight of all that life has dealt us.
But I think that holds true when there is an absolute commitment to the marriage, to being true partners. We both come from a long line of long marriages (not that it's always a good thing) that have weathered infidelity, substance abuse, loss of a child, loss of dreams.
From Anonymous, who agreed to have her response included in this blog post:
I can't separate my childrens' special needs from the state of my marriage, because those special needs are such a tangible part of my everyday reality. But yes, I think that if things were easier with the kids, I would have more time and energy for my marriage, and more desire to work on it. As it is, I pour everything into the kids knowing that if I don't, no one will. I guess the same could be said for our marriage - if I don't put the energy into it, no one will. I also resent my husband for how little he contributes to the kids' needs - he seems to have no clue what they need when or how. It's extremely frustrating and is the source of many arguments.
Update 5/20/10: 80 Percent Autism Divorce Rate Debunked in First-Of-Its Kind Scientific Study: Kennedy Krieger researchers find autism does not affect family structure.
Shannon Des Roches Rosa is not an overly demonstrative person, but she occasionally writes about how much she adores her handsome husband on her personal blog, www.squidalicious.com. She is BlogHer's contributing editor for parenting children with special needs.
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