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Posts from the ‘parenting’ Category

Parenting Special Needs Children


Parenting is a tough job. But parenting children with special needs is exponentially more challenging. Fifty-three percent of marriages with a special needs child that end up in divorce point to the child’s disability as having “some” or “major” influence on the eventual dissolution of the marriage (Shapiro, 2003).

Children with special needs can affect the entire family:

  1. Jealousy or embarrassment from siblings. Children with special needs require more attention with everyday life. Because of this, siblings may feel left out. They may also feel embarrassed of their special needs sibling in social situations or in public.
  1. Communication struggles. Children with special needs often have difficulties articulating, understanding, or processing verbal communication. This can cause parents and siblings to feel frustrated. It can also be extremely difficult for the special needs child.
  1. Disenfranchisement from other family members. Because the special needs child frequently has some kind of physical limitation, families are often restricted in the activities they can do as a family. This may cause feelings of resentment toward the special needs child.

What can parents do?

I am the father of a special needs child—a daughter with Cerebral Palsy. My wife and I have done some things right and made plenty of mistakes with her. Following are some things we have learned that any parent can do to help foster well-being:

  1. Get to know your child. Spend time with her. Do things with her that she likes to do. Give her individual attention. This takes time, but know that if you do not invest time with her now that you will regret it later. Your child is special, and she is worth your time!
  2. Play with your child. What if your child is physically unable to go on hikes or be away from home care for long periods of time? Find things you can do together. Our daughter has an incredible memory. We have discovered that she is very good at games that require a good memory. And bowling is easy—just put up the bumpers!
  3. Get help. Do not be too proud to seek help. None of us have all the answers. We can go to counseling and support groups. There are lots of organizations for special needs children that can provide things like physical therapy and specialized equipment, such as Shriners.
  4. Develop their individuality. The natural inclination of many parents is to do everything for their special needs child. Your child is likely more capable of doing more than you give him credit for. We can guide him toward developing his own individuality by teaching him problem-solving tools and basic life skills such as cooking and balancing a checkbook. If there is a problem at school, we can offer a listening ear and together brainstorm possible solutions.
  5. Experiment with different learning styles/discipline. None of us have all the answers. We need to recognize that each child is different and requires a tailored parenting approach. There is no such thing as “one size fits all” when it comes to parenting. At times, behaviors of a special needs child may be interpreted as disobedience, but your child simply may not understand. Be careful that you do not discipline prematurely.
  6. Educate yourself. We knew nothing about CP before our daughter was born, so we looked for ways to understand this disability. Books can be very helpful. One book I would recommend was written by Lynn McDaniel, who has CP, called, I Can Too!.
  7. Take care of yourself. Parenting a special needs child can be so consuming that it is easy to neglect ourselves. We all need time to recharge and regroup. Find what works for you and plan it into your schedule.
  8. Be patient! There is nothing easy about parenting a special needs child. Never give up. Be patient, and know that your efforts will make a difference in the long haul.


McDaniel, Lynn (2003). Yes, I Can! Publishing Designs, Inc.

Singer, Jonathan L. (2012). The Special Needs Parent Handbook: Critical Strategies and Practical Advice to Help You Survive and Thrive.

Shapiro, A. (2003) ‘No Time for Us’: Relationships between Parents who have a Disabled Child. A survey of over 2000 parents in the UK. UK: Contact a Family



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Parenting Children With Special Needs [podcast]
Blended Families Podcast

Parenting Step-Children

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When marriages that involve children end in divorce, the children often become unintended victims. They struggle emotionally, their routines are disrupted, and they potentially face inconsistencies in parenting styles.

When the mother or father remarries, the issues for children can become compounded. However, there are also benefits for children that have been through a divorce. After living with a single mother or father, children are given the opportunity to experience two parents again. If other children are brought into the blended family, they may have the opportunity of having a brother or sister for the first time. And, they will have the prospect of learning and growing with a greater diversity of people.

Parenting in a blended family is a tough job, but it can also provide opportunities for healing and maturity.  Below are five tips to keep in mind.

1. Assure children of your stable relationship. Children that have been through a divorce often have not seen adults work through problems successfully and fear that divorce will happen again. Parents need to model what it means to be in a committed marriage. This begins with children seeing parents communicating effectively. One way parents can demonstrate this is by having “couch time.” Couch time is an intentional time of adult conversation that happens in full view of the children for 10-20 minutes. It happens when parents see each other for the first time at the end of the day and need to catch each other up on the day’s news. They choose a central location in the house such as a living room couch, and tell the children, “We’re going to have couch time. Imagine that there is an invisible bubble around the couch. You are not allowed to enter this bubble or talk to us for 10 minutes.” For little children, couch time can begin with five minutes. Research shows that children reared in a home where parents display good communication and problem-solving skills help children develop a sense belonging and self-worth.

2. Never let the children come between you. Psychologically, children may view the new parent figure as a threat or intruder. Can we blame them? No. Their lives are disrupted again and they are forced to accept the new adult into their family. As a result, children often try, perhaps subconsciously, to drive a wedge between their parents. It is not uncommon for children to think that the new parent is against them or does not have the children’s best interests at stake. Children also tend to pit one parent against another (This is even common in nuclear families). Parents need to work together to establish a spirit of cooperation. When a child gets into trouble and a consequence needs to be administered, it is good for the parents to communicate to the child that they will mutually decide the consequence. Then they should discuss the consequence—out of earshot and eyesight of the child. They can even say, “We’re going in our room to talk about you.” After a consequence is agreed upon, the parents then announce it to the child as a united front. That way, the child is less likely to think one parent is getting his or her own way and comes to appreciate the value of parental teamwork.

3. Take time to get to know the children. One job of the new step-parent is to take time to build relationships with their step-children. For me, it was the first time I was put in a position of parenting girls. I had only experienced boys. When our daughter Adrienne was 11, I took her to the doctor. They weighed her, and the nurse announced that she was 101 pounds. I was ecstatic. “Adrienne, you did it! You broke the 100 barrier!” I was so excited that it was the first thing I announced when we got home. After all, with boys, for every 10 pound weight gain we went out and celebrated with pizza and shakes. A few minutes later, my wife came downstairs and told me that Adrienne was crying. In my ignorance of girls I had no clue why. “She thinks that you think she’s fat.” I could not believe it. Immediately I went upstairs to her room and apologized profusely.

Another blessing was being put in a position to parent a child with special needs. My wife’s oldest daughter has cerebral palsy and I knew nothing about it. So, before we got married, I found some books on CP and educated myself. I have since learned a lot about parenting children with special needs.

4. Let the bio parent be the main disciplinarian. This is especially important in the beginning of the blended family relationship. Why is it important? As previously discussed, it is common for children to view the step-parent as the enemy. A simple request for a child to wash his or her hands before dinner may elicit a response of, “You’re not my dad (or mom).” It takes time for step-parents to earn the right to discipline. In fact, studies have indicated that it takes, on average, about seven years for a blended family to get past the mincing, chopping, and shredding phase to achieve the “smoothie” status of successful blending. One thing step-parents can do immediately is support the bio-parent in his or her discipline.

5. Develop Traditions. Traditions in families are a wonderful thing. They encourage bonding and help solidify relationships. Both old and new traditions are good. My wife had a tradition every year at Christmas time of taking her children to a street in Portland known for its Christmas displays. Before we got married I went with them. Now it is our shared tradition. Together, we have also established new traditions as a family. For example, we all enjoy going to the Oregon Coast. It doesn’t even cost a lot. Since we only live about an hour from the coast we can go for the day and browse the shops, play in the water, and fly kites. It is an enjoyable respite from our busy lives.


I present a lengthier version of blended families at our family workshops held throughout Northern Oregon and Southern Washington. For more information, please go to the Northwest Marriage Institute website.


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From Shaken to Stirred: Blending Families With Style, Part 1
Blended Families Podcast

The Gift of Children

As we parent our children, there will be trying times that test our patience and there will be easier times that give us joy and pride. He has given us an awesome responsibility to parent them to be responsible, mature adults. In the midst of difficulties, may we never forget that our children are a gift from God!

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4).


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What is That? The Value of a Father’s Love (video)

The Value of Dads

Parenting Children With Special Needs (free podcast)


Parenting children is tough, but parenting children with special needs is quite another ballgame. In fact, some studies reveal that marriages involving a special needs child have a 80-90% divorce rate.*

As a parent of a child with special needs, I was interviewed by Chuck Hagele, executive director of Project Patch. Project Patch is an organization dedicated to serving families and troubled youth.

The podcast is below.


Please see Project Patch’s podcast page for tips and resources for parenting children with special needs.

I also train and coach families at the Northwest Marriage Institute. We offer free seminars around the Vancouver, Washington area. Please see our website for upcoming dates.


*Griffin, K.L. (2000, February 28). Parental break time. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, p. 1G.

Painter, K., & Copeland, L. (1998, December 22). Eight babies fight for
Developmental Disabilities Bulletin, 2004, Vol. 32, No. 1 life and reignite ethics debate, USA Today, p. 01A.


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Blended Families Podcast
The Importance of Dads

The Changing Role of Fathers

The role of fathers is changing in America—mostly for good. According to research conducted by the Pew Research Center, fathers are taking a more active parenting role and they are spending more time with their children.

In a 2012 study, 46 percent of fathers said they spent more time with their children than their own fathers did with them.

Tweet: “46 percent of fathers said they spent more time with their children than their own fathers did with them.” @docshawn


Additionally, fathers in 2011 took more active roles in doing housework and taking care of their children than they did in 1965.


The role of fathers cannot be overstated. As I have written in the past, children that are raised in fatherless homes are much more at risk to drop out of school, be incarcerated, become pregnant, as well as a slew of other behaviors.

Unfortunately, fatherless homes are also on the rise. In 2010, the Pew Research Center revealed that 27 percent of all children live in a fatherless home. That is up from 11 percent in 1960.


We instinctively know the positive influence of fathers on children, yet fathers are increasingly absent from homes. Why is this?

1. Fear of Failure. Some fathers give up and leave the home because their standards are too high. Often, when men lose their jobs or make a fathering mistake (as even the best fathers do), they lose confidence in their ability to be a good dad, and they would rather leave than have their children or wives think less of them. These men need to “suck it up” and keep trying. There is no such thing as a perfect dad!

2. Lack of Encouragement. Sadly, the role of men is often cast in a negative light. The media frequently portrays fathers and husbands as bumbling, dumb or childish (eg: Home Improvement, Married With Children, The Simpson’s). This can increase feelings of inadequacy in men. At the very least, it is difficult to find positive role models in the media to emulate. Men cannot let outside pressures minimize their value. They need to meet with other men that care about their families for mutual encouragement and inspiration. And they need to be willing to take their roles more seriously.

Tweet: “Men cannot let outside pressures minimize their value.” @docshawn

3. Lack of Marriage Training. Through my involvement with the Northwest Marriage Institute, I have come to realize that most fathers desire to be better husbands and fathers. The problem is that many men lack the skills and experience to be an effective father or husband. The Northwest Marriage Institute provides men with tangible training and tools to better enable them to be an effective dad and husband. I am proud to be part of this team. And our services are free! I would encourage all men to look for seminars or workshops that teach marriage and parenting skills. Anyone can become a better husband or father!


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Helping Fatherless Families
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