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Benji Rosenzweig
BY Benji Rosenzweig

5 Places Special Needs Dads Need to Stop and Ask for Directions

There’s a common stereotype of the male who doesn’t like to ask for directions. Stereotypes are often there for a reason and have a seed of truth. Dudes don’t like to stop and ask for directions; that’s not a seed of truth, it’s a sweepingly accurate accusation.

When it comes to raising kids, we can’t afford to keep driving without asking for directions. The ego needs to be folded up and put in the back pocket because not asking for directions when you’re raising children (especially ones with special needs) and getting lost for long periods of time is not acceptable.

It’s important for dads to stop and say, “I have no idea what I’m doing here,” and follow it up with “Can someone point me in the right direction?”

1. Children

There are so many times to stop and ask: Am I doing this right? Am I promoting and supporting a healthy lifestyle?

While my wife is often the navigator holding the map (remember those large folder paper things from before GPS?) and compass in the family dynamic, both of us need to be on point with the plan. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a continent to raise a child with special needs.

2. Personal, Mental, and Emotional Health and Well-being

Most men (like me) will turn into cavemen and start using grunts and shoulder shrugs to communicate how they are feeling. Raising healthy children for most people is a priority, and in order to raise healthy children, we need to be healthy ourselves. We need to process our feelings and have a wider emotional range outside of happy, sad, tired and hungry.

This is probably my weakest point on this list: sometimes I think that the hair on my knuckles means I shouldn’t have to have or deal with feelings, but they are important so we don’t have mental breakdowns.

Let’s face it– this whole ‘being a dad’ thing can be a lot of pressure.

3. Siblings

I am constantly baffled by the emotional range my eldest (six year old) daughter Na’amah has. Sometimes I assume she will be anxious or jealous, but when I stop and speak to her on her level about how she is doing, she often shares her emotions with me in a better way than I expected.

Since children (both typical and ones with special needs) are sensitive, tiny humans, it’s important to ask for directions from them, from other parents, and sometimes from professionals. I’ve seen some amazing siblings of kids with special needs; they tend to be kind, caring, protective and loving most of the time. I’ve also met siblings who are angry and frustrated. Most siblings of kids with special needs experience both sides of that spectrum, and rather than judge, we should be there for them.

So, once again, stop and ask for directions.

4. Financial/Business

When you have a child with special needs, there is an elevated level of importance on working out your personal finances. A special needs trust, life insurance and investments in addition to social security, IEPs and choosing the right school districts, only half of which most “normal” families have to deal with, are exponentially more complicated in a family with special needs.

A connected team of an accountant, attorney and financial advisor is absolutely necessary for this scenario to ensure that there’s a financial security for ourselves and our children. It sounds crazy that a lower or middle-class family needs a special needs trust and attorney and accountant, but we’ve paid a lot of money to know that whatever happens, our kids will be taken care of.

The intricacies of how SSI is affected by distribution from my investments and life insurance is something that I can tell you about today, but I don’t want to keep tabs annually on laws changing.

Don’t get cheap at the wrong time: spend the money to hire the proper professionals to make sure these plans are done right.

5. Marriage

You pick a partner and have a dream that you will have this amazing life of morning beach walks and feeding each other pineapples and margaritas. Then kids show up, and your entire life changes.

A giant stress-ball wife and a caveman husband are now supposed to raise a child who is smearing poop on the walls and embarrassing us in public instead of bringing in the newspaper and washing the dishes like we imagined child rearing would be, and that’s before you even bring in the changes that special needs add.

The idea of navigating a marriage with a reasonable level of stress and adversity is a big deal and not always easy. Reaching out to other husbands that have managed to keep it together or professionals dealing with relationships is crucial. A special focus needs to be on fixing problems and maintaining what works and understanding what doesn’t in a marriage.

When (not if) you have tough times and you love the other person, you roll up your sleeves and you fix it. For us, divorce is never an option and we both have to do our part to diffuse the situation. We both have to work on changing the conversation from accusations to problem-solving.

In the end, I often turn to some of the men in my life whom I look up to. Those are men who take guidance from the experts they know, and if they don’t know an expert, they seek them out. Why wouldn’t I ask for directions? Whether your child is typical, has a condition which has a lot of support, or a rare disorder like our daughter Ella (5 years old) with Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum, seeking direction and help is crucial.

It’s the only way to make sure everyone arrives safe, loved and whole.

Benji Rosenzweig

Written on February 9, 2016 by:

Benji Rosenzweig is a Commercial Real Estate Broker in the Metro Detroit area. He blogs at Benji Unspun. Benji is married to Sarah, his partner in raising Ellah, and her older sister Na'amah .