When I lived in the Philippines I dated a man with a child with multiple disabilities. My now ex-boyfriend lost his wife just over a year ago when we met and was left behind with an 8-year-old girl. A special-need child.
His daughter was blind and slow in learning, although 8 she was at the level of a 4-year-old. And most likely she will never live on her own. I knew this from day one, although it took a while for me to meet her.
I would lie to you if I would say I’m excited with joy over the idea of raising a severely handicapped child. At my age, I was 55 back then, I had finished my parental part in life, I raised two wonderful human beings and I am free to go do the things I dream of.
So falling in love with this man includes a new challenge. And maybe more sacrifices besides giving up travel.
I realize the moment we move in together there will be no turning back and his girl will be in my care. If he is off to work, I’m the one to take care of his child.
She is in and out of the hospital, she has yet to be potty trained and has to learn to find her way around the (new) house.
And during the last hospital week, the question popped up: Is this something I want for myself?
My friends keep telling me I should not only look at the care-taking part but the package in total: the man, his love for me and his girl, as a total. But I cannot deny that it frightens me.
Not only is she disabled, and learned nothing in life so far, but she is also not my own, I see so little of him in her and it is difficult for me to look at the complete picture. I do tend to zoom in on all the details of guiding a blind child to adulthood.
So I searched the internet for experiences other people have, I study websites of blind institutes to help me understand. I ask for a meeting with her teacher at school and I want to know what I’m in for. I do not want to appear in the life of this little girl, only to find out I’m not up to the task. Then she will lose someone again. That would be horrible. I need to know upfront. And I know I cannot solve all upfront, but at least it gives me time to search my heart and my abilities to see if I think I’m able.
You hit this website in your search on information about dating a man with a special needs child, let me share what I learned back then researching:
Although he loves me very much, he sometimes is torn between his love for me and his dedication to and love for his daughter, she will always come first
Does that mean, that I settle for a second-best love?
No, by all means, he loves me deeply, profound and is dedicated to this relationship for 100%. But he has to juggle his time.
I learned that I have to forget all my previous dating experience when it comes to time spent together.
Although relationships always ask for adjustment from both sides, this time I might be the one that has to adjust a little more than he does.
Am I, nomad by choice, willing to settle down with a man that cannot travel, that puts his child in my care fulltime for the rest of my life?
Do I get enough out of this relationship to make it work and worth the while for me?
My dilemma is multi-dimensional. But I will certainly not back out easily, although the relationship, still young (we’ve been dating over 3 months now) is tested from day one when it comes to quality time spent together. And with tested I mean this:
there seems to be an interruption most of the time, either a text from the sitter or an emergency call for his return home
he is tired to the bone and falls asleep a lot when he visits me during the evening
he is preoccupied a lot over her future and her well being
he realizes that it is a lot to ask from me and very realistic about my struggle on the subject, and at the same time he is afraid of losing me
we argue about how to raise her based on cultural differences more than other couples with children would do
In the Philippines, special-need-kids are raised differently from what I’m used to
It is not only the cultural differences around the upbringing of a child, but it is also the total care-package, or should I say: Lack of care-package, that is available.
In my country, special-need children get a package of personal adjusted care, created to suit the kid perfectly and provides all the possibilities to live a self-supportive life (or close to one). The ‘treatment’ is based on empowerment and there are way too many opportunities to ask for (financial) help or get training.
The children are trained from a very young age, they get tested to measure progress and are under regular medical supervision.
In the Philippines, this is not. There are a few schools for the blind, but only in cities and in the rural areas the best a child gets is a special child-teacher program at school if any. The department of education provides a list of government schools with a special child classroom. But the learn next to nothing and classes are crowded.
Dating a man with a special need child takes a lot of adjustment from you
When you find yourself dating a man with a special need child (In the Philippines) you find yourself in the position of an urgent redefinition of your ideas about dating, but also about future life you had pictured for yourself.
A few first-hand experiences:
You do not get to spend as much quality time together as you might wish
Romance will be far off, because the child will be always there, either physically or as a preoccupied mind of the father
It will be difficult for you to set and keep boundaries as to where it concerns involvement in a too early stage of the relationship.
I, for example, had to deal with a very worried father and hospitalized kid when we were just dating 2 months. It took a heavy toll on our relationship and on getting to know each other because all of a sudden that seems to be happening either in the hospital or in between rushing back and forth, with him being all preoccupied.
I do not think you should avoid dating a man with a special needs child, but you should consider yourself up to the task of being involved in the child’s upbringing, especially when the child is 24/7 in his care. If there is a co-parenting-agreement than you should also consider the ex-partner to be a huge part of your future life. Since the well being of the child is the main concern here and both parents will have to communicate a lot.
When dating a man with a special needs child in a cross-cultural relationship you face many more items to go over in your mind, for the cultural differences are already taking their toll on the relationship, but the cultural differences involving raising a special need child are enormous. And they can put a huge strain on you two seeing eye to eye on many subjects.
How do we handle things? A few tips from everyday life experience:
we took time without the girl to get to know each other first, for as long as possible and/or needed
Step 2 was that we agreed on him bringing her over to my place near the beach for her Sunday swim, she loves to swim, we could eat outside and get to know each other
we also decided that him falling asleep in my quiet and cozy cottage was not an option all the time, so we would go out on dates occasionally, to prevent this from happening
he and I would spend at least one meal together during the week, like a home-cooked dinner or lunch
we would have one afternoon or morning to go out together while a sitter took care of his daughter.
After my bonus-daughter-to-be got hospitalized I had to set boundaries to protect myself from becoming overly involved and us playing mum and dad even before I made up my mind about this adorable but strong-headed child. After all, the first months of a new relationship should be about fun, joy, happiness and getting to know each other. Ours seem to be about sickness, worries and changing shitty diapers in a dirty hospital.
Lucky for all of us after one and a half weeks she was released and she is doing great.
How do I deal with all of this? To be honest, some days I don’t!
We are not there yet. I still hesitate to take on the enormous task that comes with raising a special need bonus daughter. And for now, we have decided not to move in together at any time soon and keep separate households.
Is it weird or unfair that I take my time to consider this and think this through?
Some people will say yes, that it is selfish and egocentric of me not to jump in at the deep end
Some friends tell me I’ve totally lost my mind to even consider dating a guy with a child, let alone a handicapped child.
I think for every person it is different.
Lucky for us, the partners to be, and the mum’s and dad’s out there with a special need child, we are not all the same.
There will be men and women that love to take on a challenge like this without hesitation. There are also men and women out there that have misjudged it and they had to bail out after the kid got attached.
I just do not want to be one of them.
If possible I want to be as prepared as possible, knowing what it takes and discovers (maybe new) abilities within myself to guide yet another beautiful girl on her way to adulthood.
And for that I need time.
And that is my advice for you out there, searching the internet about the meaning of your feelings.
Take your time, without stringing him/her along. Get to get to know your partner and the child involved, slowly and thoroughly. Get familiar with the schedules, the rules, the medical history and complications and the amount of care
Work on possibilities to leave the child every now and then in someone else’s care, it is not up to you, but you can suggest it. You both will benefit from it
Do not judge yourself too harshly. It is not weird to feel some hesitation. You never imagined raising a special-need child.
Do keep in mind that the person whom you are dating didn’t either. No couple ever got pregnant with the thought: Let’s get us a special need child and raise it!
Do not be drawn into something if you are not willing to, how minor it seems, like f.e. babysitting or feeding
Do not think: if they can do it, so can I. That will be a little over the top.
Here are a few quotes on special children that may help you in the process of thinking it all through:
Until you have a kid with special needs you have no idea of the depth of your strength, tenacity and resourcefulness – Unknown
Motherhood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that he is exactly the person he is supposed to be and that, if you’re lucky, he just might be the teacher who turns you into the person you are supposed to be
– Joan Ryan
We have no special needs children. Just children with special needs
– Uwe Maurer
The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart
– Helen Keller
UPDATE: November 2019, while reorganizing my website I stumbled upon this post from the past. I adjusted the introduction a little and feel like writing an update. He and I are no longer together, in the end, the girl never came to live with me. I did not have to make a decision, it was taken for me. The grandmother wanted to take care of the child, demanding payment from me to do so. She would not allow the child to be with her father and me. She saw a money grab. Meanwhile, he and I were struggling in other areas as well, and I decided to leave the island and move on with my life. The weird part was, I told him about my decision, at first he wanted to come with me and leave the child behind. I was flabbergasted. For why would he make such a big issue of keeping the child in our house if now he was willing to leave her behind. I foresaw more problems in the future and refused. They all seem to be doing “very well Filipino style”, without me there on that small island. And that is good.
Jeanette, a Dutch female nomad, started to travel the world at the age of 17. Walker of beaches, shell searcher and iPhone photographer. Writer and owner of two websites
Currently, she lives in Mexico.
She is an emigration coach and works online.