5 Tips for Co-Parenting a Child With a Disability

Kayla Gibson
Three young sisters are sitting near a birthday cake.
Three young sisters are sitting near a birthday cake.

Parenting is tough business — add a disability and a divorce into the mix and you’re really in for some fun. I don’t think people go into a marriage or parenting and plan on getting a divorce. However, life happens: you’re 26, you have a child with a disability and you’re trying to figure out how to co-parent. I won’t pretend like we did it flawlessly or that we’ve got it completely figured out now. We have learned and are doing our best.

Celia’s dad and I have been divorced for four years and at first it was a very bumpy road. Before our divorce, we were planning on moving for better therapy and opportunities for Celia. After divorcing, Celia and I made the move alone. We decided it was best for her and that she’d go to his house on weekends he had off. It wasn’t easy at all, and mistakes were made on both of our parts. At some points for me, it was a living hell. I don’t wish divorce on anyone especially when you have a child with a disability. Thankfully, we are past the tough stuff and working together.

Related:Download The Mighty app to connect in real time with people who can relate to what you're going through.

As I said, we’re not perfect, but I wanted to share what makes this work in hopes it can help you if you’re in a similar situation.

1. Put your child’s needs first in everything.

It is not about you! Your child didn’t choose for their family to break up and they shouldn’t have to deal with the fallout from it. Do everything you can to make their new life the best it can be. The parents should be making the sacrifices, not the child. Set your shit aside, work together and give your child your best.

2. Share your schedule with each other so everyone is on the same page.

Most of our kids with disabilities have many appointments, often. Not to mention surgeries and extra activities they are involved in outside of therapy and school. A good idea is to share the schedule at the beginning of the month. Since our kids usually take medications or have certain things that need to be done during the day, notify the other parent of any changes. I make a new schedule and medication list to send to her dad when something changes.

Related:Why I Believe More Books About Disabilities Need to Be Published

3. Consistency is everything!

Make sure your child sees the other parent consistently. It’s important for them to have a relationship with both parents. Schedules change and quarantines apparently happen so there will be times when consistency looks different. Right now her dad is still working, and we don’t feel comfortable having Celia travel three hours and be around him because he is not self-isolating. That is a decision we came to together and explained it to Celia. We Facetime daily and came up with activities to keep them engaged. Some are reading, playing games and a virtual Easter egg hunt.

4. You’re not with your ex for a reason and likely that will not change.

Keep a healthy relationship with your ex so your child doesn’t feel pulled one way or the other. If you have a disagreement, have that conversation when your child isn’t around. Don’t talk negatively about the other parent with your child; that accomplishes nothing.

Related:How Being a Film Writer Helps Me Cope With Having Cerebral Palsy

5. It’s important to embrace the positives, too.

I 100% get being nervous about someone new coming into your child’s life. There is so much to consider and you hope the other person will love your child as their own. This is especially true when you have a child with health needs. There are some shitty step parents out there, but thankfully that’s not the case with Celia’s bonus mom. I know that if something happens to me, she’ll be there for Celia and do what is needed to care for her. It’s comforting knowing I can text or call her about Celia and ask her for help when needed. She has also mailed us several care packages since this quarantine because I’m not able to get out with Celia. I want her to be my ally not my enemy and I truly believe that is what’s best for Celia. Celia has two siblings now and I find comfort in knowing more people love her and have her back.

Co-parenting isn’t ideal for anyone, but we need to do our best to make it work for the children. It is already hard enough growing up in separate homes. I come from a blended family so I take from my own experiences.

Three young sisters are sitting near a birthday cake at a party.
Three young sisters are sitting near a birthday cake at a party.

Do you co-parent a child with a disability? If so, what works for you? Tell us in the comments.

Read more stories like this on The Mighty:

Why My First Apartment Means So Much to Me as a Young Adult With a Disability

How Using Social Media Helps Me Cope With My Disability

How I Found a Great Job After Experiencing Discrimination Based on My Disability

Why I Contemplate the 'Now' and 'Then' as the Parent of a Child With a Disability