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Special considerations: Grief during divorce when you have a special needs child

Author: Dena B Tranen, LCSW


Parents of special needs or medically complex children move through their life with a certain amount grief always present.  Grief is the name of the process we are hard-wired to experience when we face loss or transition.  Parents are deeply connected to the hopes and dreams they have for their children often years before they have them.  Some say it is important for parents of special needs children to grieve the child they didn’t have, the child associated with their hopes and dreams.  I advise parents to also grieve for the parent they didn’t get to be.

Similar to the way parents have hopes and dreams for their children, married couples have hopes and dreams for their partnership.  When a marriage ends and the couple has a special needs or medically complex child the grief is compounded and can feel overwhelming. 

There are a number of practical business matters that need to be addressed in a divorce, grief can complicate and delay this process if it is not acknowledged and dealt with.    Below are 5 ways to manage complex grief during a divorce.

  • 1.     Talk about it! Shutting down your grief by working more, drinking more, spending more time on your phone etc. will not actually make the grief go away. 
  • 2.     Reach out and Get out.  It is important not to be isolated during a divorce.  Many parents of special needs or medically complex children are already isolated from their community or family and are at risk of feeling even more alone when they go through a divorce. 
  • 3.     Increase respite care.  Increase the time you already have or if someone wants to know what they can do to help, ask them to babysit.  You may have to train someone new on how to take care of your child’s special needs but it will be worth it - you will need time to find and prepare documents, attend meetings and process the loss and transition ahead.
  • 4.     Increase self-care.  Unapologetically, without guilt or shame, do things that nurture and re-charge you.
  • 5.     Find a therapist.  Complex and compounded grief may be too much for someone to handle on their own.  Be brave and find a therapist to help you through the process.

Dena Tranen, LCSW is a trained collaborative law professional and licensed clinical social worker.  She works as a mental health coach, therapist and co-parenting specialist. 


Phone: 617-640-6883

Website: http://middlewaystl.com


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