Recent Custody Change: Autistic Stepson
Forgive me if this is long-winded… I seem to be short on counselors and really need to vent and find a way out of / through this…
My husband and I met in high school, circa 1990. He was super nice so of course I friend-zoned him as quickly as possible once I realized he would actually treat me well. Maybe you’re familiar with this ‘healthy’ coping mechanism. So we remained friends through two failed marriages each and ended up marrying in October of 2014. At the time, he had his son every other weekend and random times during vacations. His son lived with his mother who seemed to be doing everything she could to make my husband’s life a living hell – to include withholding his son’s diagnosis of Autism until after we were married.
Little background – his son had one hell of a time in kindergarten (2012) so dad volunteered in the classroom as often as he could to assist the teacher in dealing with him. At the time, it was recognized that he had a learning disability but nobody hinted of anything related to Autism. His attention-seeking behavior left much to be desired but honestly I thought he was an odd little boy that was spoiled between two parents who couldn’t stand each other.
This boy has been to 6 different schools in as many years and due to his poor behavior (throwing desks/chairs/writing equipment at fellow students/teaching staff, poor self-regulation skills, poor anger management, etc.) his academics are very far behind. At 11 years old, he currently tops the charts at six feet tall. So now to current day: We received a call last fall from the boy’s mother that she wondered if maybe our house would be a better place for him. After the summer we recently spent with the boy (the yelling, fighting, dad needing to hold him in restraint, etc.), my heart sank. He is larger than me and my three kids, violent, and very difficult to understand. My husband has gone back to college mid-life and was just about to begin his first year (junior level) at a university. Initially, I told my husband no way. We were not set up to house him, pay for treatment he needs, etc. Since my hub is in college, I am supporting our family on just my income and a few bucks of his student loans and a part time job. It became clear that I didn’t really have a say because my hub kept saying “what am I supposed to do? He’s not making it out there, etc.” (Out there = a different state from where we currently live. We moved 2 years ago to live more frugally so he could return to college and get a degree – ironically, he chose a degree in teaching so his schedule will align with his son’s since childcare is so expensive for those on the spectrum) Mom pulled the plug at that time, brought it up again, dropped it again – it’s been back and forth for 9 months. Due to the complexities of what this kid needs, I let my husband know that we really needed up to a year if possible to plan for such custody change. It’s not as simple as buying a new bed and signing him up for soccer and school. There are doctors and therapists and appointments and IEP’s and, and, and…..
My husband and I have had the most wonderful 3.5 years. Since my children are neurotypical and also much older, we have been afforded lots of freedom to build and nurture our relationship. We did everything together from sipping coffee in the morning to perusing thrift/antique stores to sipping wine in the evening and my daughters have told us on more than one occasion that they hope to someday find a relationship just like ours. We had so much fun just being together after having been in marriages that were full of drama.
Mom finally dropped the ball with an attorney and custody change papers were signed two weeks before his already planned summer vacation with us. Two. Weeks. The reason she finally made it happen? I guess the boy hit her. So I scrambled to find a way to make this all work and reorganize our summer and fall – this meant that because of the boy’s behavior, my husband could not return to his very part time job in August as originally planned and we weren’t expecting that – Even a couple hundred dollars a month is helpful. The meat of the story…
I am having the hardest time adjusting to this and as it stands right this minute, I can’t see a future in which I do accept it. Autism carries with it the need for constant care, redirection, boundaries, scheduling, office visits, etc. He is very immature and the prognosis for Autistic adults doesn’t look good in terms of independent living. I recognize the boy’s need – 100%. I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around the fact that I feel like I am losing my marriage in the process. He has been with us just over a month now. I won’t list off the amount of things already broken/damaged due to immature behavior or downright intention. Within the first week, we lost our flat screen TV. I’ll leave it at that.
I didn’t sign up for this. Yes – as many of us know, we “knew they had kids when we married them” – but I didn’t know he had an Autistic child. I feel like if I’d known that, I would not have married him. I know what my limits are and this level of financial and emotional stress exceeds my limits tremendously, especially since I am now the only one working and have children of my own to help. I feel like it’s unfair to my 14 year old daughter that my financial resources need to be spent on a boy that will need them forever. Yes, eventually my husband will graduate and ideally get a teaching job, but we have to make it to that point first. Recently we fight all the time, there are constant misunderstandings and misread texts/emails which is leading to splintered trust. I tried to say no – we couldn’t afford it, for one. All the services he was receiving with his mother were compliments of the state. We make too much to qualify for state aid, but not enough to pay for all this, if that makes sense. On top of that, I walk around on eggshells wondering when the next fit will be and questioning what is getting broken this time… I tried to suggest he at least wait until he graduates so child care won’t be an issue.
I feel like my husband did not take my concerns into account and that I was steamrolled into this. I didn’t have a say or a choice about my own home and I feel resentful and bitter about it. At only a month in, I am growing more concerned by the day if we’ll even make it to the “see – we made it!” part of this. I feel like I am grieving our marriage – his son is by his side all waking hours of the day. It’s like I have 2 husbands now due to his inability to self-entertain or relax. I view this as totally separate issues – your Autistic son needs help AND it has the capability of ruining our marriage.
Thank you for letting me vent. I just don’t know if this is something I can live with. I really so badly wish we’d known this prior to taking vows.