Updated: Apr 18, 2020
Ok you already knew that didn’t you? I’m sure you did but it does sometimes slip our mind to remember that Men and Women, Dads and Mums are different, particularly in a stressful environment like dealing with disability in a family. My Wife and I have always been best friends as well as spouses but a diagnosis of disability for your child can put a colossal amount of strain on even the best relationship. After much discussion, many mistakes and learning curves we’ve found that frictions can be cleared up with a bit of understanding and discussion (which we’ve had to learn to do more).
First, I’m going to write about what will help Mum’s to know about Dads, Step Dads, Male guardian – whoever is in that role, loving a child with a disability – from my perspective.
We love you and we love our child(ren) but we’re not too bright, not when it comes to this. Men know how we’re supposed to care for our families, provide and protect etc.
Now the way we need to do that has changed, and we’ve got to learn how to care, all the while trying to seem like we know exactly what we’re doing. We are designed to be the calm one who doesn’t freak out, we’re supposed to be as solid as a rock. My wife and I were present one time when our little girl had a cardiac arrest in the hospital, I knew someone had to be there with her, I also knew that my wife would not cope with watching her being resuscitated so I asked a nurse to take her out of the room. I couldn’t cope either, but I had to, for her and for her Mum who I know wouldn’t have left unless I was there with her. I had to be in there, calm and focussed – like I knew what I was doing.
We can’t break-down, we have to love, protect and provide. We have to look like we know what were doing when we really don’t.
We do what we know
This is how we love you, by doing what we know. As well as learning all the new stuff slowly and painfully we still want to care for you in the way we know.
Maybe he doesn’t say mushy things or seem very sentimental, maybe he doesn’t say much of anything – even less than he used to.
However, he is keeping the car cleaner and fixing things around the house without 6 months of you asking. Maybe he’s become super cautious about germs and the things that can take you all back into hospital. These are ways in which he’s telling the family that he loves them. Some of the things I’ve mentioned are the things I have been doing – A lot of it I’ve done sub-consciously, my wife noticed, and we thought and talked about it and this care is what triggered it.
He sees the effect it has on you and the kids when we go back to hospital as well as the illness itself, or how sad you are that you’re overwhelmed that the car isn’t clean, or the house isn’t together and yet at the same time you feel you need more time for the kids. Don’t think we’ve become distant and uncaring – we’re fixers we’re trying to fix it the way we know how. At other times we may just have to disappear into a hobby or something to straighten our heads – again were not being distant, we just need to do things we’re good at to fight the feeling of being useless that often comes.
We’re angry and protective
One important difference I’ve seen is that a woman seems to grieve the life and child they expected and although we Dads are struggling with our situation, we don’t need that time to accept that our child isn’t what we expected. Rather we are frustrated that we can’t do anything about the disability itself. When I spoke to my wife about the grief she was in over our child I was angry with her and protective of our child. I think we men go into fight mode, I was ready to fight the whole world for my little girl, but the problem was I didn’t understand the battle and I didn’t know how to fight it. I didn’t get why my wife was grieving and she didn’t understand why I was angry – now we understand each other’s perspectives it’s much easier to discuss and progress.
We’re blown away by you – but include us too
I’ve seen a few articles from Mums praising Dads (Step/guardian etc) because its mainly Mums writing these sorts of things but not many written to you. Quite simply it is astonishing what you do, my wife can roar like a lioness to protect our cubs and still be as gentle as a dove as she nurtures them. Being a Mum is a colossal task at the best of times so becoming a super Mum should not be underestimated. The unwavering dedication you have to our children now and looking to the future and the next steps, studying medical science, dietary requirements and every help that we couldn’t think of is amazing – from them and us Dads, thank you.
*additional note – keep us involved. We may be in work or elsewhere and miss a few meetings and you’ve become used to getting on with things yourself, but we want to be experts in our kids too. I would hate a stranger to know things about my child that I don’t and Mums, you’re going to want/need help eventually, keep us in the loop – It gives you a great chance to talk to each other about the task we have in common.
The most loving thing you can do for your child is to love/care for their Father