* Editor’s Note * We appreciate all the parents who have made this project possible. Each has shared of themselves generously and demonstrate the strength and beauty of today’s families.
We are especially grateful to Carl for his contribution.
Carl is a dedicated at-home father to five extraordinary kids and theirs is an extraordinary family. Not only did Carl add his own question to our original ten, (“Are any of your children adopted?”), he brings attention to a particularly difficult job we parents have — the caring for our children’s emotional and mental well being, in addition to their physical health.
Most people don’t think of a child’s mental health when they say “special needs”, but these problems can be some of the toughest to recognize and treat.
Thanks to Carl (and some other, equally awesome parents) we have been inspired to organize, with the help of dedicated mental health experts and advocates, a special “Mental Health Week” on the Parent du Jour this fall.
HOMETOWN Garrison, ND
ON THE WEB Why Not Fathers.com
NUMBER OF CHILDREN Five (2 girls, 3 boys)
DAY JOB Hint: We consider staying-at-home to be a job. Stay-at-home dad
RELATIONSHIP STATUS Married
FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK My kids don’t hold favorite books. They like them all. My favorite as a child waffles between Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, and Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
HOW DO YOU COMBINE WORK AND FAMILY?
I am a disabled stay at home dad. Everything that I do revolves around my kids. I ensure that they get to medical appointments when necessary, I make sure that they do their chores as necessary, and I make sure that they are keeping up with their school work.
HOW HAS PARENTING CHANGED YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL?
I think that parenting has made me more aware of human nature. Only a child can tell you the truth and lie at the same time.
Prior to becoming a parent, I wasn’t into dangerous activities. But I also worked three jobs. That is dangerous. After a car accident, while I was working, I realized that I couldn’t be a father if I was dead. Years later, when I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus, I was told to say “good-bye” to my children before they shipped me off to a hospital in another state.
That was a very difficult time for me. I spent four hours of a flight strapped to a backboard with a sliver of window to look out of. During that flight, I talked a lot to God. I am still here and able to see my oldest child graduate from high school.
HOW HAS PARENTING AFFECTED YOUR RELATIONSHIP?
My wife and I have a lot of silent conversations. We never argue about the kids in front of the kids. Often times, our arguments are over chores. On the other hand, it has brought us closer together as well. As for sex; it has been a long time.
Because of our youngest child’s mental health issues, I sleep in his bedroom. My wife and I rarely get the opportunity to sleep in the same bed. There are other ways to be intimate with your wife without having sex. A caress. A hug. A smile over a child’s head. The little things. Even the 12:30 phone call from her while she is at work.
WHAT ARE YOUR STRENGTHS AS A PARENT AND WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?
I think that my main weakness is patience. I am not nearly patient enough with my youngest son. My strength would have to be compassion. Being a parent to three kids with special needs has made me more compassionate to others. It has also given me the chance to advocate for my kids. When I was working and going to college full-time, I didn’t work as hard as I do now that I am a stay-at-home dad.
WHAT ARE YOUR SPOUSE’S STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?
My wife works in Special Education. Prior to that she was the stay-at-home parent. Having the experience of raising three kids with special needs has made her a more compassionate educator. She understands firsthand the trials that parents go through for their kids. Weaknesses? I would say that sometimes she is overly quick to judge that someone isn’t doing their chores. Then she thinks that it is up to her to get on someone to get their chores done. Like she doesn’t trust me to take care of it, or something.
DO ANY OF YOUR CHILDREN HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS? AND IF SO, HOW DOES THIS AFFECT YOUR PARENTING?
Our oldest son was born with a cleft palette. Thus, he has speech and language delays and other health impairments. He also has some sensory issues.
Our middle boy has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is on the Autism Spectrum. He also has sensory issues.
Our youngest son was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury because of his birth mother’s prenatal drug use. He has ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Facets of Autism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Reactive Attachment Disorder, and he sleeps about four hours a day.
Our two girls are both teenagers. Which some would consider special needs. The eldest is graduating and going off to college in the fall.
Having a child with special needs has made me a better parent. People say that it takes a special person to parent a special needs child, and I agree. It is not for the faint of heart. One only has to watch the news to hear about the large number of parents killing their own children to understand that it isn’t for the faint of heart.
WHO ELSE PROVIDES CHILDCARE FOR YOUR CHILDREN?
We have respite care once a week, and our youngest goes with a mentor once a week. If I need a break or have a personal medical appointment, family will watch him while I am busy. Because we homeschool our youngest, it is difficult to find people who we feel are qualified to do the job of caring for him while we are gone. Plus, there is that whole trust issue.
Trust that he won’t be harmed, and that he won’t harm someone else.
ARE ANY OF YOUR CHILDREN ADOPTED? HOW HAS ADOPTION AFFECTED YOU AS A PARENT?
Our youngest is adopted. He came to live with us when he was 18 months old. However, we did daycare for his foster family and have known him since he came out of the hospital. We knew from the beginning that he was a special needs adoption. I was adopted, so we wanted to continue the tradition.
To adopt the child of another, you have to open a special place in your heart. Not only that, but as in our case, you have to ask that of each of the children in the family. Adoption, especially a special needs adoption, forces you to examine yourself in ways that you never imagined. Sure part of that is the adoption study that each person goes through, but it is so much more than that.
Words cannot describe the joy we felt when we realized that the little boy we loved so much from our day care was going to be our son. Even now years later when we struggle with his needs, I think back and remember why we adopted him. The judge asked me why we wanted him. The answer seemed so simple then. Yet so complex now. Because, “we love him”. We have had people tell us that we should give him back because of his needs. Our answer has always been… “give him back to who? Which one of your kids would you give back?”
WHAT IS YOUR WORST PARENTING MOMENT?
Those times when I have had to check my son/daughter into the psychiatric unit of the hospital for any reason. Having to admit that I don’t know my daughter as well as I thought that I did, and coming to the realization that she is suicidal because of bullies in her school. At that point, finally coming to the realization that I can’t fix everything.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PARENTING MOMENT?
Coming to the realization that I can’t fix everything.
Seriously, as a father, I always saw myself as the fix-it man. The kids would come to me with a problem and I would fix it, or tell them that it isn’t a problem that they need to worry about. But, the day the school counselor called and told me that my daughter was suicidal and needed immediate help, was one of the worst days of my life.
However, in the end, I consider it a shining moment, because I was able to get her the help that she desperately needed.