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October 30, 2014 / 6 Heshvan, 5775
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For Better Or Worse – Or Bailing Out


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Dear Dr. Yael:

A few years ago, our family went through a very traumatic period of time when my wife was diagnosed with a brain aneurism. She has suffered through so much pain and rehabilitation, and things have not returned to normal.

My wife is unable to take care of our two children. While her mind is clear, Baruch Hashem, her physical disabilities make it difficult for her to manage on her own. For that reason we have moved in with my parents. My wife’s parents live out of town and have been helping us financially. However, it has been very hard my wife to rely on an aide and know that cannot function as a mother.

While her medical condition is improving, she is so depressed that she actually begs me to leave her, give her a get, and marry a healthy woman who can raise our children. I am not interested in doing that. I still love my wife and I believe that marriage is for better or worse. I also know that these are her insecurities talking, and that she really wants us to stay together.

My wife still has some lingering physical and cognitive impairments, such as short-term memory problems, but she can be a loving and caring mother and deserves the chance to have a relationship with her children. Although my parents help us, they think I should give her a get and unlimited visitation rights. It upsets me greatly that people, even my parents, think this way and feel I should find a way to just move on.

Dr. Yael, how can I best help my wife? I want to stay with her and raise our children together. How can I get her and my family to accept that? I understand that she cannot take care of our children on her own and I am willing to help her in any and every way – but she needs to change her mental attitude for us to have a chance to succeed.

I feel so alone. I hope that by sending this letter I can help people understand that a disability does not prevent someone from being a good parent. No one should have to endure the emotional suffering that my wife has been forced to experience, especially after all of the gains and progress that she has made.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to stand up for my wife. I hope that you can help me find a way to reach her and my parents.

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous:

It is heartbreaking to hear of the pain and suffering your family has been experiencing.

It seems as if your wife needs some professional help to understand that she can most surely be a good parent. She also needs to gain the emotional strength to rise to the occasion.

You can begin by telling her that research has shown that parents with a physical disability can raise children who, by witnessing the challenges the adults in their life endure, are more caring and have a deeper understanding of life and its difficulties than children with non-disabled parents. In many situations these children develop skills and qualities lacking in other children. Perhaps it’s the awareness of the hardship that helps them learn the art of giving, while appreciating the need to help with family chores – as well as valuing and understanding the importance of acting responsibly.

Similarly, anyone with a disabled child can attest that in most cases their families have been changed for the better. The siblings and parents of a disabled child become more caring and sensitive toward others and often develop important traits that they otherwise may never have learned. Of course, being a disabled parent comes with its own challenges and hardships, but please know that with some physical assistance, your wife can likely instill a lot of positive qualities into your children.

The fact that your wife is not a single parent means that most of the disadvantages of her disability will not apply to her child-rearing abilities. Your children will not have to fend for themselves while with her because of your stated willingness to assist her or hire someone to help her with all child-rearing tasks. The problem may be that you are living with your parents, and although they seem to be very helpful physically, they may be hurting your wife emotionally. If your wife’s parents are supportive financially, it may be a good idea to get the best (preferably frum) nanny available for your children when you are at work. This can go a long way in helping to ease your wife’s depression.

As for your children, it is important for them to have a relationship with both sets of grandparents. But you need to set boundaries. Thus, moving to your own home, while having your parents over for Shabbasos or dinners, may be the best solution. If you are able to find good help for your wife at home, you or your children’s nanny can be there to assist your wife physically and emotionally.

If your parents are worried that your children will have to take on too much responsibility, they should research this issue. My research has indicated that children of disabled parents do not suffer by helping to care for their parents. Indeed, it has been suggested that learning about responsibility and caring for others helps to develop good self-esteem because children experience a sense of worth from their role.

I hope that you are able to get through to your parents and show them that your wife can only be an asset to your children. However, you must get your wife psychological help to assist her in dealing with her feelings of inadequacy. If she continuously feels depressed, it may have a negative impact on the children’s emotional wellbeing. Find someone who will build your wife’s self-confidence and self-worth. She needs to learn how to believe in herself again and trust that she can be a good wife and mother.

You sound like an amazing person and a special husband. Hatzlachah in your attempt to find the right help for your wife and family, and may you be zocheh to derive much nachas from your children!

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