I published my first blog post about 15 months ago now, and since that day things have changed quite considerably for me and my family.
I share a lot of personal stuff on my blog, the highs and the lows of being a father to 2 boys with autism. Yet, there’s been something I haven’t felt ready to talk about until now.
The last few years have been difficult times for our family, even more so than before. Alongside the daily challenges of autism, my marriage also began to have problems. After much hard work by both of us to try and keep it together, we finally separated a year ago.
Whilst a few close friends and family knew what was going on, we kept it very quiet. We tried to get through Christmas time as best we could as a family. For an outsider, nobody would have suspected anything had changed.
Once Christmas was over and the new year followed we had some pretty seismic events to deal with.
Usually when couples separate one of you moves out, but it couldn’t be that straightforward for us. Both Jude and Tommy need one on one care, so we had to find a way to make it work. Initially, I split my time between the family home and staying at my parent’s house with Tommy.
Our home was then put up for sale. Once this went through we both had to find new places to live. This finally all happened in June/July, so we had 6 months of living like this.
I’d like to think it didn’t have much of an effect on the boys, that they were oblivious to what was going on. With their communication so limited, I can’t be sure.
What I do know, is that Tommy and Jude have always been the first thing we think about, and nothing has changed. Every decision we made during that time we have tried to put personal emotions and feelings aside, and do what is best to make sure they are happy.
So, these days I’m a single parent and we are, what I’ve discovered people like to call, co-parenting. Which is kind of what we were already doing anyway.
Because Jude has had such a hard time being in the same room as his brother, we’ve been co-parenting for the last 4 years. One of us would be with Jude, and one of us would be with Tommy. We would usually take one of them out of the house whilst the other would stay at home, meaning we were usually apart.
If we were all at home at the same time, you’d find one of us upstairs with Jude, one of us downstairs with Tommy, or vice-versa.
When it came to the night time we rarely spent any time together either. Jude would be up very late every night, so typically one of us would be with him. The other got to have some free time, go to work, or occasionally see friends.
Jude would often be up throughout the night. This meant one of us would be on shift with Jude, whilst the other would get up at 6:30 when Tommy woke up.
So, in effect, we were already co-parenting before we separated. We very rarely did anything as a 4 and were lucky to grab an hour or two a week where we were all together.
Now that we are separated, life hasn’t changed much in that sense. We have made sure that our relationship is very amicable, and that Jude and Tommy come first. I am extremely grateful for that. It’s our responsibility to make sure that continues, and that we remain friends for our children’s and for our own sakes.
When you have two children who are pre-verbal it is essential that us parents are able to communicate together, without any underlying feelings involved. I can’t just say to Jude or Tommy “How was your day? What did you do with mummy earlier? Did you have fun?”
I want to know what they’ve been up to, I want to know how they’ve’ been feeling.
Have they had a good or a bad day?
The only way I can know that is if I can communicate well with their mum. So, we message each other numerous times throughout the day, just to keep each other updated on what’s going on. With Jude not liking either of us talking on the phone, this is pretty much how we used to communicate anyway.
The only real difference to our life as parents before is that we, and the boys, now have two homes. Two homes that are a street apart. This might seem strange to some people. When your marriage breaks down there’s probably not too many people who live a street apart! But, that’s what was available at the time, and it actually makes things much easier logistically.
We’re never going to be able to be one of those couples who are able to share their children 50-50. One parent would have both children 50% of the time, and the other parent the remaining 50% of the time. Jude and Tommy’s challenges right now mean that is not an option.
So, right now, I have one of the boys every night when I get home from work, and we have one each throughout the weekend, trying to split our time evenly with both.
And, it seems to be working.
There’s obviously been a lot of stress this year for both of us, just like there is for any married couple when they separate. Throw in 2 new homes, and 2 kids with autism, then yes, it’s not been the best of years. It’s been tough, very tough.
But overall, I think we’ve done the best we can. I am so proud of how Jude and Tommy have adapted to our new set up and homes.
Why am I telling you all of this?
Well, this blog is about my life as a dad to two boys with autism, and in it, I tell stories from my point of view. These events have been a big part of that, which I’ve not felt comfortable enough to talk about it until now.
Initially, I didn’t know whether our separation was final. I wanted to wait until the dust had settled. There was still a lot of raw emotions for both of us. As it became clear it was final, there were still many people close to us who didn’t actually know.
As many of you can probably appreciate, when you have two kids with autism you often lose touch with friends and family. You don’t get to see or talk to them as often as you used to. Your opportunities to tell people the news becomes more limited.
What is common protocol when a married couple separates?
Work your way through your phone book and make sure everyone knows? Sit back and wait for the gossip to get around?
For me, the way to survive this time was just to bury my head and get on with life. I’ve probably lost contact with even more people over the last year as my life became just work and the boys. I didn’t even want to talk about it with the close friends I have seen, let alone lots of different people.
I also didn’t want to write about it and have people who know us find out that way. (although I’m sure there’s probably people even now who will find out that way. If you have I’m sorry)
When I did finally try to get round to writing this I didn’t really know how. It’s taken me a few months to even type these words out, I’ve hit the delete button so many times.
Yet, I feel it’s important that I do talk about this.
People read my blog and they make assumptions.
I regularly get told what a great mum I am, although luckily not when there’s a picture of me in the post! I receive comments every day about what a great family we are and what a great job mum and dad are doing, which I am so grateful for.
And those comments still apply. We are doing the best job we can.
We love Jude and Tommy with every ounce of our heart, we were just unable to make our marriage work. We’re trying to make sure that just because we can’t be together it doesn’t impact on our son’s lives. As I said earlier, at the moment it’s actually making things easier for them.
If you read back through everything I’ve written on my blog I’ve never really talked much about my wife. That’s because I’m describing what I’m thinking, my experiences, and my interpretation of Jude and Tommy’s lives.
We are a team, and I hope we always will be when it comes to Jude and Tommy. I use the term ‘we’ when describing decisions because they have always been joint decisions. Despite no longer being together, when it comes to anything important with Jude and Tommy it is always something we have to agree on.
Though I don’t talk about her, she has always supported me and encouraged me to write and share our stories. She reads every blog post before it goes live, including this one. I want to know she is comfortable with what I am sharing about our sons. Her opinion and privacy is very important to me.
The last few years have been a real test for our whole family, which we are all hopefully coming out the other side of now. We are adjusting, and adapting to our new circumstances, and some days are easier than others.
Luckily Jude and Tommy seem to be in a good spell at the moment, and that is the most important thing in the world for both of us.