Dear Dr. Yael,
I have a wife who went through a very traumatic experience. My wife suffered a brain aneurysm and stroke a few years ago. She has been through a lot of pain and rehabilitation, but the nightmare is still not over. Although I try to be a good husband, and my family is amazing, my wife is unable to take care of our two children. Baruch Hashem her mind is clear, but she is not back to herself physically or emotionally. We now live with my parents and my wife is very depressed that she needs an aide and cannot function independently as a mother. Her parents live out of town and are helping us generously financially. We have been through so much medically with my wife, that it is hard to help her cope with her depression. My wife’s medical condition is improving, but she is begging me to leave her, give her a gett, and marry a normal wife to raise our children. I still love her and believe that marriage is for better and for worse.
We know that my wife has some lingering physical and cognitive impairments, such as short-term memory problems and perseveration, but she can still be a loving and caring mother and deserves the chance to have a relationship with her children. Although my parents help us physically, they actually think I should give her a gett and unlimited visitation. I am angry about their attitude, which makes my situation even more difficult.
Dr. Yael, what can I do to help my wife in this situation? The decision is up to me and people are so cruel and they think that I should move on with my life. We had a great marriage. I want to stay with her and raise our children. Is there any literature or research to back up my decision? If any of your readers know anyone else in a similar predicament, please let them contact you to give me some support. I feel so alone and wish my wife’s mental attitude would be better. People with disabilities are still people and they deserve to have a relationship with their children. I understand that my wife 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 attitude.
My heart is breaking as I write this letter and I hope that you can let the world know that people with disabilities can be good parents and should be allowed to do so. No one should have to suffer as much as my wife does and no one should continue to have to suffer in this way emotionally after all of the gains and progress that she has made!
Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to stand up for my wife. Please help me find the way to reach her and my parents who help me with this physically and emotionally challenging situation.
Our hearts break as we read how much pain and suffering you and your wife have experienced. As always, it is difficult to respond to a question with limited information; however, from the information that you shared, your wife seems like she can be a good parent and she must get the help to rise to the occasion. It sounds like your wife is depressed. She has been through a lot and even though she survived and is doing better physically, she is not able to do what she wants to do and is not back to the person she was. This is a huge blow to her ego and she needs psychological help to help her learn to feel worthwhile again. Please get your wife a great therapist who can help her learn to love herself again and help her find ways to feel good about herself and be productive.
Research has shown that parents with a physical disability can raise children who are more caring and who have a deeper understanding of life than many children their age. In most situations, children of these parents can develop skills and qualities that are lacking in other children. Perhaps because children of parents with a disability may have to develop an awareness of difficulties and hardship, learn to give and appreciate helping with family chores, as well as value and understand responsibility.
Similarly, anyone who has had a child with a disability can tell you that in most cases, their families have been changed for the better. The siblings and parents of this child usually become more caring and sensitive individuals and often learn important traits that they may never have learned otherwise. Of course being a parent with a disability comes with its own challenges and hardships, but with some physical assistance, your wife can likely instill a lot of positive qualities into your children.
Additionally, being that your wife will not be a full-time parent, 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 you mentioned that you are willing to assist her with all child-rearing tasks.
Additionally, it sounds like your parents living with you is not helping your wife feel better about herself. Although your parents help physically, they seem to be destroying your wife emotionally. Of course they want the best for their son, but leaving your wife is not necessarily the best thing for you or your children. If your wife’s parents are supportive financially, please get the best nanny for your children (if you can find someone frum, at least when the older kids are home from school, that’s even better) and move back to living with just your nuclear family. You will see that this in itself will help her depression. Perhaps your wife feels displaced by your parents, who are also trying to “get rid of her.”
It is good for your children to have a relationship with both sets of grandparents, but you need boundaries. If your parents are worried that your children will have to take on too much responsibility and become parentified, then they should try to conduct some research on this issue as research has indicated that children of disabled parents are not deprived by helping to care for their parents. Indeed, it has been proposed that learning about responsibility and caring for others facilitates with the development of good self-esteem because children experience a sense of worth from their role. Of course your children should still be allowed to be children, but having outside help will allow them to do so.
We hope that you are able to get through to your parents and show them that your wife can only be an asset in your children’s life. You sound like an amazing person and a special husband. Hatzlacha in this challenging situation!