MAKING IT WORK : Caring for Child Shouldn't Put Marriage in Jeopardy

Raising a handicapped child can put enormous stress on a marriage. The biggest stress results from the constancy of the problem--you never get time off from it. The child always has to struggle to overcome his handicap, so the parent is always on call. But there are ways to meet the child's needs without risking your marriage in the process. Jeanne Preble, a licensed marriage, family and child therapist who practices in Fullerton and Irvine, suggests:

* Caring for a handicapped child should be a part of your life--not your whole identity. A common problem is that one partner becomes completely involved in taking care of the child and the other gets mad because his or her spouse is no longer available. The marriage is lost in the process of caring for the child. Or one partner has trouble facing the responsibility and runs. Don't let the handicap run the relationship.

* Your child may be handicapped, but that doesn't mean he or she is helpless. Handicapped children need to grow and change and move away from their parents just like everyone else. They need to be allowed to go through normal developmental stages. Letting go at the right time is important to your child and your marriage.

* Take advantage of all the community resources available to help you and your child spend satisfying time away from each other. It's important for both parents and children to have their own circle of friends and their own activities. Then your handicapped child won't become too dependent on you--and will have more opportunities to grow.

* Caring for a handicapped child can be so tiring that you end up feeling resentful toward the child and have no energy left for the rest of your family. Get as much support as you can from family and friends, or join a support group, so you don't feel pressure 100% of the time.

* Remember to put your marriage first. You need each other.

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