Healing Your Exceptional Family After Divorce
Updated: Jan 4
By Meshell Baylor, MHS
“Moving on isn’t about not loving someone anymore and forgetting them. It’s about having the strength to say, I love you, but it is best that I let go.” — Unknown
Relationships undergo many obstacles, but the power to withstand all the trials and curves that life throws at you makes the foundation strong. There is such a profound meaning of love in those marital vows when you are standing across from your significant other, promising to be together for better or worse. Those vows carry such meaning, but what happens when your foundation has been rocked, and you feel it is time to call it quits? How do you know when to let go and file for divorce? How do you know divorce is the right step when children are involved—especially kids with exceptional needs?
This decision cannot be easy for either party—sometimes, you pray and seek counsel to find a way to make things work. Overall, if you have concluded that the best possible answer is to depart, please do not beat yourself up. It is best to separate than stay in something where one or both parties feel they cannot accommodate each other. There is no complete answer for making such a huge decision, such as divorce, for me personally. I spent time in silence and prayed for the right solution for myself and my children. This transition is emotionally hard not only for you but also for your exceptional needs children. I cried because I knew that this decision not only impacted my life but my entire family. I comprehended this process would change the dynamics within the home, so I began to seek insight and consultation from experts specializing in helping a family heal after a divorce.
Here are the tips I learned to help support my exceptional needs family:
Family discussion: Even though we are in the process of separation and divorce, we are still a family. We must make sure we come together to explain the changes and provide as much support to our children, ensuring them that this is no one’s fault and at the end of the day, they are loved unconditionally by both parents. If you have children with special needs who cannot comprehend things, it is okay to speak in repetition if they ask. Create a positive journal or story letting them know that both parents love them and will always work together to support everything they want to do in life. Always convey the message of assurance, support, and love
Group therapy: The transition will take some time for the whole family. Change is not easy. You may experience some behaviors from the children or feelings of resentment or confusion. Locating a great family therapist for group intervention serves as a positive way of channeling these feelings and tackling them to help bridge any feelings of strife, discomfort, or any unresolved issues.
Therapy for exceptional children: We tend to forget that our actions and decisions carry great volume with our children. Separation, divorce, or even altering the schedule of how both parties co-parent can cause damage to atypical and exceptional needs children who don’t understand divorce. Seeking a therapist who works with special needs children with a family therapy background can help children process and manage the changes they are experiencing within the home, emotionally and mentally. A therapist can help children learn to find expressive ways to talk about their feelings and assist them when struggling with behavioral transitions. The goal is to ensure that both parties work together to maintain a healthy, stable, and loving environment.
Self-care: As you try to sort out all your feelings and figure out mentally how to process everything. Take time for self-care; seek individual therapy if you need to. Mentally you may feel a sense of loneliness, sadness, and unease. Speaking to a professional about what you are feeling is a form of self-care. There is no need to feel judged. Individual therapy provides a comfort zone for you to let your hair down and express what hurts, how to heal from it and how to get through it. If you are not ready to go to individual therapy, find a place to take time out for yourself. Make time to journal, meditate, and even cry. You are allowed to breathe, scream, and let your feelings out in a place of security and comfort. No one will judge you for practicing self-care!
Seek divorce support groups: Yes, there are support groups for individuals experiencing divorce who may want to seek a safe place to express with their peers about family dynamics, adapting to transitional changes, and advice on family coping skills.
We are FAMILY! Although it’s a time of change, let us not forget we are still a family. If both parties can put their differences aside for the sake of the children, work together by attending Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings, doctor appointments, and extracurricular activities such as football and soccer games, ballet recitals, and musicals. If possible, find the time to plan family gatherings if you and the other party are in a place of understanding. You want to show the children that, yes, times may seem tough right now, and we may be going through some changes, but we are still family at the end of the day!
Divorce isn’t easy for anyone, and it is normal to have so many thoughts and feelings about making such a decision. This does not mean that you care less for the other person; this does not mean that you or the other party failed in your marriage. This decision means that it is in the best and healthiest interest that we part ways to respect and love each other and our children. Healing will take time, so do not rush anything and do not allow anyone to push you into moving on. Take each day one step at a time, practice those self-care techniques, and remember you are learning to heal, so be kind to yourself.
Meshell Baylor, MHS, is a mother of four children—two of whom are on the spectrum. She serves her community as a social worker and community advocate within the Los Angeles area. She has a bachelor’s degree in Human Services from Springfield College and a Master of Science in Human and Social Services. Meshell continues to volunteer and give within her community while serving the special needs community.