What it’s really like to be the single mom of a special needs child

single mom disabled child dating love lonely
While the numbers are not confirmed, experts agree that divorce rates among parents with special needs children is far higher than the general population. And since single moms of special needs kids have challenges and joys that other moms  — single or otherwise  — do not.Kim Thompson, a single mom of two boys, ages 7 and 13, ages who lives in New York City, has struggled with her son's autism (and other diagnoses) first as a married mother, and now as a single, divorced mom. Because of her younger son's special needs, she has put her career on hold and cares for him full-time at home.

Challenges and wonders of parenting a special needs kid as a single mom:

  • The #1 challenge single moms of special needs children face.
  • What dating is like as a mother of a disabled child. “I want to feel like the amazing woman I am again!” Kim told me.
  • How to be a supportive friend of a mom struggling with a special needs kid.
  • What it feels like when friends fade away because of your family.
  • Why ‘Just hire childcare' is the wrong thing to say.
  • The thing that makes a single mom of special needs kid feel most cared for.
  • The financial realities of the situation — including insurance.
  • How her son's disability contributed to her divorce.
  • YOU think you don't get a break?!
  • Kim's top advice for single moms with special needs children.
  • How much Kim loves and DELIGHTS in her special needs kid.

Can a mom of a disabled child find good men to date?

Hey single moms, don't google ‘date a single mom.' Trust me, don't.

Also: Don't trust google. Because there is so much negative messaging out there when it comes to unmarried moms and romance: Only losers and pedophiles want to date you. You are a selfish whore if you take a moment away from your children to have a romantic life. You must get married ASAP to be a good role model for your children.

To all of which I say, HOGWASH!

I'm here to tell you: There are so many wonderful, loving, successful and attractive men who are open to if not actively interested in women who are moms. Honoring your romantic, sexual and emotional needs is a gift to your children, as you are modeling a healthy, full life, and relieving them of the burden of fulfilling your emotional needs. Sure, get married or otherwise partnered. But only if you really want to! Lord knows the nuclear family model didn't work out so great for most people.

All the negative messaging around single mom dating is amplified, it seems, for single moms of special needs children. Here, I tread carefully because I am fortunate that my children are not special needs. After all, I get very much that there are real challenges of dating as a single mom, and those challenges are amplified, often, when your kids demand so much more of you than healthy kids. It is just a fact.

So when a mom posted this comment, I paused. Here is our conversation:

Mom: I admit I went for sole custody when I divorced, mostly because my son has non-verbal autism and can’t be shifted around from house to house constantly. My son is difficult at times. The ex chooses not to use visitation at all. It miffs me because I’d like a break now and then. I’ve made peace with never having a romantic relationship again. That’s impossible when you have a child with special needs. No one wants broken, old, fat, ugly, and damaged goods, but I’d like to be able to go out and see a movie once in a while. Such is life. One day it will be over and I’ll finally be rid of this misery.

Me: I appreciate your situation, though there is a wonderful guy (or 20!) out there for you – get out there!

Mom: That is not how life works. I appreciate you have a brand to uphold and an image that goes along with it, but you are doing a disservice by making proclamations like that. I do not know anyone in my situation who has ever found love again. Have a child with special needs makes you unmarketable to all but the worst sorts of leeches, abusers, and scum. I will not expose my child to that.  Do not give people false hope. It’s morally wrong.

Best dating sites for single moms

Isolation and loneliness of single moms of disabled children

I published this a few months ago, and it got some harsh feedback:

There is absolutely nothing inspiring about this post. In fact, for mothers with really severe situations, this is borderline shaming. Stick to writing about subjects you know something about – or at the very least, properly research your topics. This is truly horrible. You have made a very vulnerable subset of single mothers feel even worse. You should remove this horribly inaccurate and insensitive post. For a certain subset of us, our kids are so severe, there is no sitter available. There are months on child psych wards. There are astronomical expenses. This post may reflect possibilities for the less severe special needs situations, but it's actually offensive to minimize the situations you clearly know nothing about. Beyond offensive.

I took that to heart. After all, I don't have a special needs child, and my knowledge of the subject is from the periphery. I asked this poster for more information about her situation, and why romance, sex and love is out of the question. Here is a summary of our exchange:

Me: Can you elaborate in a way that would want me to engage? I am all ears – really. I clearly have no personal experience with this. That is why I reached out to this community. I say the following with zero shaming, but simply sharing what I wonder: Objectively, we put a man on the moon. Smallpox was irradiated. Other, incredible human feats. People of all kinds of disabilities, challenges have found beautiful love and romance. Why are you prohibited from this? Here is where I'm having trouble understanding: Could you find, say, three hours per week, or every two weeks, to go on a date? Could one of those dates lead to love, companionship, a lover with a man whose life fits yours in a way that satisfies you both? Does romance have to mean full-time, traditional marriage- or something that works for both parties?

Mom: I have a 15 year old son, who is severely disabled. He will always be severely disabled. I adore him. He amazes me. No one in my life has ever loved or respected me the way he does. I didn't know who I really was until he was in my life. He made me the best version of me. I am truly lucky and privileged to have him as my son.

That being said, because of his disabilities, my life is unique. I will do my best to adequately describe our life. In order to do so I will need to share some graphic details. I made a commitment to him years ago that I would ALWAYS insist he is treated with dignity. No exceptions. I take this commitment very seriously.

My son has severe, nonverbal autism, debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar mania, two inoperable brain tumors, severe epilepsy and possibly schizophrenia. He will never be able to speak, but he understands everything that is said. His receptive language is normal. When regulated, he can communicate with an iPad, yet he always makes his wants known, even without the iPad.

After 12 years of educational court battles, surgeries, child psych hospital stays (many), thousands of hours of therapies, consultations and treatments with physicians across the nation, I could no longer keep him at home. I had to place him in a residential facility two states away. The facility costs $354,000 per year and is paid for by the federal government.

Therefore, I travel to his city every third weekend and spend four days with my son. At Christmas and spring break I'm there for a week, Thanksgiving four days and he comes home for two weeks each June. Emotionally, he's similar to a 4-year-old, so this distance is difficult. He adores his family, and depends greatly on my protection and care.

The difficult behaviors that accompany his various diagnoses are overwhelming. He has come so far, yet there's only so much progress an individual can make with these chemical and neurological challenges. For instance, last year he began lashing out at individuals for no apparent reason. 2 staff members were treated for severe bites, 1 staff member for broken bones and I received stitches twice, lost the windshield of my car, and was covered in bruises over the course of one weekend. He and I ended up in a psych ward (he can't stay without me per the hospitals) for a week. During this week we discovered he had a brutal case of hemorrhoids. They never bled, and he had no way of telling us, so we didn't know. He ended up having surgery, and he immediately returned to his normal soon thereafter.

We had his seizures under control, then puberty started. Now we are adjusting seizure medications a few times a year, as his chemistry changes so frequently due to puberty. These changes typically require a week in the hospital.How to break single-mom stereotypes

Once he became so angry with himself at school he slammed his face against a nearby cabinet and knocked out 6 teeth and broke his jaw. That required 3 additional trips for me. Situations such as these occur at least annually.

Early on in this game, I reached out to every family I heard of in my position. I quickly realized I could choose one of two paths; the path of purpose, or the path of a victim. I chose purpose. Don't get me wrong, I hate my son's suffering, but as long as I stay on the path of purpose, his life will have quality and at least some joy.

Most people don't understand this type of life, and I get that. I could have never imagined this prior to living it. This isn't Down's Syndrome – and I'm in no way minimizing those struggles – simply comparing the day to day volatility. Admittedly, I have gone to pity city a few times. But I never stayed there.

I worked for 20 years prior to having children. I had the career. I was on that path. I loved that path, and I would have never quit working, if possible. Since I quit working, I am not respected. People view me as a typical stay at home mom. While I don't see anything wrong with a stay at home mom, apparently most do. Being type A, these opinions bothered me for quite awhile. I worked hard, emotionally, to stop caring about these opinions. Yet every once in awhile, a comment can still nail me. The majority of the time, I'm proud of my path, but it's lonely being the only person who truly gets it.

I am blessed to have a few great girlfriends who “take me” when I'm available. They are incredible. They and my family help me a tremendous amount with my neurotypical daughter, so her life has consistency and value. My daughter is a strong, caring kid with a good life.

Would I like a relationship? Fuck yes!

Men my age want to start traveling – most of their kids are college age. I'm so limited here. I'm the only parent, and I have the contingent of my son's impromptu care out-of-state.

No one wants my situation. No one.

I'm lucky. I have a few bucks, so I don't have to work, although I'd love — for both the extra income and the companionship. I'm not giving up on work – but it will have to also be unique to fit into my life. Most people don't respect my purpose, including prospective dates.

While I have a few bucks, I'm incredibly cautious with it. Especially with our current administration. They are threatening every dime given to disabled individuals. Most people don't realize that at age 22, the cost of a disabled person is 100% funded through Medicaid. For most, Medicaid means healthcare. For the disabled it's healthcare, housing, etc. if the current administration is successful with their Medicaid plans, my son's entire adult life will be on my dime. The current estimate of my son's adult life is approximately a few million dollars. While I'm not looking for anyone else to supply this, it greatly affects what I'm willing to spend, share and it will most certainly affect my retirement age lifestyle. Want to see a man run really fast? Explain this to him!

I will never truly be done raising kids. Jimmy will always need me. Always.

I could go on dates. What I can't do is find a lasting relationship. And honestly, I don't blame anyone for avoiding my life. I am not a victim, and I am not miserable. However, I wouldn't choose this path. I'm simply making my life the best it can possibly be, in spite of my circumstances. Just going on dates with no hope of a lasting relationship is not fun.

I suppose this blog post hit a nerve because it felt like more judgment. More unfair assumptions. I'm lonely. I'm so damn lonely I ache. I realize I probably wouldn't choose someone in my position either, but that doesn't make me feel better. My circumstances are no one's fault – they simply are. It takes constant work to stay happy in the midst of this much loneliness, so for someone to imply I could somewhat easily have a relationship but choose not to – that smarts. It also felt like I once again found a group I enjoy, but because of my unique life, I don't fit in. More loneliness. It's not easy going through life alone – but I'm doing it and hopefully I'll find a way to stay happy while doing it. I'm aware of my limitations, and I need to stay away from people who judge me. I simply don't have the capacity for that anymore.

Me: Thank you so much for sharing your story. What you write is so beautiful. It is honest, heartbreaking, lovely, humble, shocking and universal. Yours is a story worth writing about, and I am honored you shared it with me. Thank you.

I stand by what I wrote. There is romantic love out there if you are open to it. Romantic love is not an elusive, precious commodity reserved only for the young and physically ‘perfect,' with uncomplicated lives. Love is messy, complex, unpredictable. Now that your son lives in a facility, you have free time (a giant challenge for many moms in dating). You say you have sufficient money (again, critical challenge for, pretty much 99% of people in the world). You suggest that your age is a hinderance in romance – oldest self-limiting belief in the history of (wo)mankind. You have emotional demands that most people do not- though this subjective, as, perhaps, your bandwidth for emotional superheroism may (and sounds like!) be far higher than many people are able to deal with in an ‘normal' everyday life.

Insanely, seemingly impossible things happen every single day. That there medical marvels mean your son is alive, and cared for, and that outrageously expensive care is paid for, that you are not bankrupt because of that care is goddamned fucking MIRACLE. That you are so insightful and gorgeous in your dealing with your family is no short of other-worldly. The notion that a kind, smart, sexy, lovely man would want to spend several evenings a week loving you is far, far less to ask of the world than the miracles than you live every single day.

Ultimately, what you believe becomes reality. You believed you could provide a good life for your very challenging son. You did. You believe when culture tells you that no good man will want you. And, so it is.

Advice for single moms of special-needs and disabled children

Here is some advice from members of our Millionaire Single Moms Facebook group, many of whom are moms to special needs children. Here is what they said:

Tiffany: “Broken, old, fat, ugly, and damaged goods.” She's stuck in a victim place and until she can find some self love, yeah… it probably IS impossible. But not impossible because of her child, that's just an outward challenge that's easier to focus on. And she just isn't feeling the normal rejection like many divorced women feel, that is multiplied as she is feeling it for her AND her son… and maybe some resentment toward her son, which compounds the guilt and pain, but if you say it out loud or even admit it to yourself, you'd confirm (falsely) what an awful mom/person you are. None of it is based in facts, but it feels so very real in the moment that it is so hard to step back. This mama needs some counseling and some support! I was raised with a special needs sister and my parents had to fight for so many of her services that allowed her to be more independent. It took both of them, so I can't imagine how impossible it does feel to her! Sending love and encouragement that the right people will come into her life to help HER so she can find a way out of this darkness!

Amanda: I have a foster son with autism….I does make dating bit of a challenge.. My free time is bit harder to get. My ex does not take him. I get respite for him two times a month. I have had many guys not be interested when I tell about him.( Which i know is his loss) I find guys tend to think I need someone to save me or get freaked out by my responsibility. But I do disagree with the women that you won't find love again. It will take more work to have someone else be a part of our lives, but not impossible.

Susan: I have a son with high functioning autism. I'm lucky enough to have an ex around who is kind and flexible and shows little desire to have a social life of his own. I also have a dream sitter. So I am more able than most to make time for this kind of thing. For a long time I felt like this mama–unworthy of love. It took me a long time but I changed. I hope she can get the help she needs to see she is worthy too. She sounds really beaten down. Everyone should have someone to make them feel wanted and sexy. To help them out.

Jane: A friend of mine has a 13yo autistic child. She has been together with her man for almost 10 years. He's amazing and treats the child as his own. The bio-father has nothing to do with the child.

Lana: I have four special needs kids and a boyfriend with zero kids ;)

Katherine: Yes love can be found. I've done it and seen it for others with special needs children. There are some wonderful men out there who are understanding and supportive. Having a special needs child doesn't mean you live your life alone.

Ellie: I have a child with autism –  he's high functioning but can be extremely difficult and doesn't exactly sleep well. If anything I'm that much slower in bringing ANYONE around – even female friends – because it is taxing on all relationships. But, I would say find a way to get out or she's going to burn out. She needs time apart from the constant care of any child, more with a special needs one. And if a man is a good man, he will want to be there for her and the child and will try to learn about his needs.

Jess: I don't have a child with special needs, but I am dating a man who has full custody of a special needs child. I adore him, and my kids adore him too. We make it work. When you are in a relationship with someone, you accept all the things that come with them.

My recommendation would be to put yourself out there in the dating world. Start at the beginning, date without bringing your child into the equation beyond, “yes, I have a child.” Find an excellent care provider so you can date. And then get out there.

Ruby: We all have those days of hopelessness, right? I catered a wedding of a beautiful couple; the bride's son was on the spectrum. And I could see how much the groom cherished not only her, but her son as well. It's totally possible to find love. Totally. It was good for me to see, for sure!!!

Related: 

Join Millionaire Single Moms on Facebook – no income requirement, only positive, motivated single moms allowed (and we talk about dating, sex, money, career, parenting, divorce and other stuff you're thinking about and no one else will get).

Full transcript of Like A Mother podcast with guest Kim Thompson

Emma Johnson: This is Like a Mother with Emma Johnson for moms who think. Today, we're going to talk about an issue that affects millions and millions of families and, I admit, something that I have the luxury of knowing very little about. This is parenting a child when you are a single mom. Now, 1 in 20 school-aged kids in the United States, according to census, very reliable numbers, 1 in 20 kids have a disability. The numbers are all over the place, but as many as 80% of marriages that have a special-needs child at home, and those numbers are disputed, but some sources say 80% of those marriages end. I don't need to tell you the majority of caring for those kids is going to fall on the mom. It just is. In fact, according … also government statistics, 24% of parents of special-needs kids say that they have to stay home at least part time if not full time to care for those children.

Emma Johnson: So we have huge numbers of families, huge numbers of unmarried moms caring for special-needs kids. I want to know more about this. I have the luxury of not knowing much myself personally because I have two very healthy children, like completely healthy kids. Today, I'm here with my friend Kim Thompson. She is a fellow single mom and a fellow New Yorker. Her story really embodies, I think, what millions of unmarried parents face every single day. Kim, thank you so much for being here.

Kim Thompson: Thank you so much for having me, Emma.

Emma Johnson: Tell me just a little bit about your family. Describe your home.

What it's like to be a single, fulltime stay-at-home mom for a child with special needs

Kim Thompson: I have two boys. One just turned into a teenager today, in fact. We're going to have a big party later on. The other one is seven and a half, and he has autism and a bunch of other medical and sensory issues.

Emma Johnson: Okay. You are staying home full time.

Kim Thompson: Right now, I need to stay home full time.

Emma Johnson: Why?

Kim Thompson: Because his medical issues overtook his whole life. He wasn't in the appropriate educational setting. That impacted him greatly. We had a big upheaval, and we're in the process of coming out of that, thankfully.

Emma Johnson: Okay, so he was in school. You were working, but the-

Kim Thompson: I wasn't able to even work because I was barely able to get him to school. Yeah.

Emma Johnson: Okay. Your whole life is really caring for your family, it sounds like, mainly focused on your disabled child.

Kim Thompson: Yes, but the other thing about this is that your other kid needs a lot too. As much as you're giving to the one kid, you really also have to give to the other kid and kind of extra-give to them because they're really in the shade.

Emma Johnson: Yeah, right. You're a divorced mom.

Kim Thompson: I am an almost-divorced mom, three years separated. We're almost there, but one thing that's been in the way of this is this upheaval that happened with my little guy. It really overtook my life.

Emma Johnson: Why is that upheaval standing in the way of the divorce?

Kim Thompson: Oh, just because the minute that my ex would take the kids, I was completely laid out flat, exhausted from trying to work through what had happened in the week. It was complete burnout.

Emma Johnson: Oh, so you just couldn't logistically see the divorce through?

Why “just get a babysitter” doesn't always work for special needs kids

Kim Thompson: I couldn't stand up to put the numbers in. I could never go and see my lawyer. I couldn't get out of the house. We were housebound. It was the only time I spent a year without a babysitter. It was the only time I could go shopping. I would just put on my stuff and just go. There was nothing … I was alone. Things that people take for granting, going to the corner for paper towels, going to get soda, leaving your house for whatever, I didn't have. That was a luxury. That was a privilege.

Emma Johnson: Because your child … Okay. Talk to me, somebody that has two healthy kids that are perfectly fine staying with most any babysitter I leave them with. Why can't you just hire a babysitter and go work, go on a date, go run to the corner store for paper towels? Why is that an impossibility?

Kim Thompson: My younger son has complicated communication issues. He doesn't communicate directly. There's no way for a person to know what he would want, and there's no way for him to express that. The attempts to try and help him were the things that were harmful to him, so we had to reel back from that. Now we're moving forward with it again.

Emma Johnson: Okay, so he just needs somebody that really, really knows him in order for it to even be safe for him to be alone with this person.

Kim Thompson: Yes. Yes. That's improving because his communication is improving. His connectedness is improving, but there was a time where that was not possible.

Emma Johnson: Let's reel the story back just a little bit. Was he showing these signs from the beginning when he was born? When did his symptoms start to display themselves?

Kim Thompson: It was around a year, year and a half. My doctor at the time … It's very common, the story, to say like, “I think we're showing signs,” and the doctor says, “Oh, he's fine. Oh, we don't need it. Oh.” Pediatricians can be very dismissive. Not trying to start a fight here, but whatevs. That's a different podcast, a different forum, et cetera.

Kim Thompson: When he lost some words … He had like six words. My other kid had a hundred words by the time he was one. This kid had 12 words by the time he was 18 months. That was me sort of milking some of the sounds as maybe words. He was like, “Yeah, let's get him evaluated.” So we did. [crosstalk 00:08:23].

Emma Johnson: You were married at the time.

Kim Thompson: Yes, I was.

Emma Johnson: What role do you feel that your son's disabilities played in the end of your marriage?

What role her son's disabilities, lack of social support played in the end of her marriage

Kim Thompson: I think that because there are not great social supports, there are not great educational supports, there aren't great … Let's say not great. Let's say not varied enough because every family is different and every situation is different. They say, “If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.”

Kim Thompson: The way that this system is set up, it's set up to be one way of intervention. You don't really have a choice. If that doesn't work for you, then you have to go the private route, which is enormously expensive. On the way, there starts to be self-blame. Why isn't this working? It's not working. I can't get my kid out of the house. He's reacting badly.

Kim Thompson: Then all the self-doubt, questioning, depression, kind of being outside of society, but not really understanding that you are outside of society, really impacted me. It impacted me very intensely. My husband at the time was working a lot. He was away for a year, for the first year of my second son's life. He would come home on weekends, so I was literally all alone. He was tired. I was tired. Everybody was very tired, and so I think it all comes down on you.

Kim Thompson: Had I worked, maybe I would have had a different kind of social structure and different place to go, different people, but I didn't. I had been a stay-at-home mom, and that just compounded my sense of isolation. I can only speak for myself. It doesn't wear well on a relationship if one person is really bummed out, and the other person's really tired. You're trying to get help, but it's not really helping.

Emma Johnson: Well, such a stressful situation. What I'm hearing you say is … That really resonates with me. “When you meet one person with autism, you've met one person.” There was no clear route. It's not like other illnesses, let's say, where there's a course of action, right?

Kim Thompson: That is absolutely correct.

What it's like to be the primary caregiver of an autistic child as a single mother

Emma Johnson: You felt, which it sounds like is extremely common as the primary caregiver, which, oh, P.S., is of course the mom in the most cases … It's really up to you to keep fighting and fighting and fighting and fighting and find out what your kid's course is because there is no … Just by the nature of the nature of the diagnosis, it's complicated. Then the establishment is lacking. This is your job. Your job is to make this kid better, and you can't figure it out. You're failing. By definition, you are failing as your part of this marriage.

Kim Thompson: Absolutely. You become consumed. There's that saying, “You're only as happy as your most miserable child.” Your kid's not well. You bring up a good point, a great point. I had a friend whose child had cancer. He had a support group, a wing. People came. They had clowns. They pushed candy. I went on marches for him.

Kim Thompson: Nobody came to my house. People just faded away. If they don't understand it, they go away. There's no place for something that's outside of the beaten path. Even in my support group, if it's not the path that people understand, it's not something that they can get with. It is a very individual path right now.

Emma Johnson: Let's talk about that social isolation because a lot of stay-at-home moms feel socially isolated, but then baby Jesus created the play date, right? It's all about that play date, and that's the social outlet. Talk to me about the play date for you.

Kim Thompson: Right. My kid at school was in the wrong placement, we'll say, and because of that, they misunderstood his needs. Whenever a kid would cry, they would force his hands down. He has very sensitive hearing. Now he's terrified of other children.

Emma Johnson: Right. But let's talk about it from you because you talked about people fading out of your life.

The social isolation that accompanies families with special needs

Kim Thompson: Right, but I can't be on play dates. Nobody can come to my house, and I can't go to anybody's house. He's stuck in the house. My friends won't come to me. I've had friends … I would send them the articles, “What you can do for a special-needs mom.” Bring her a fucking cup of coffee. Do her laundry. Bring her a salad. I had like one friend who would come and bring me a salad like once a month. I was like, “You're the baby … ” Exactly. I'd be like, “You're the best.” People didn't understand.

Kim Thompson: The other thing is there's an enormous amount of judgment that comes with it, so if it's not working, she's crazy. That's the other part of the social isolation, that people really need to distance themselves. Just taking my kid out and seeing the way people look at him, if he's talking to himself or whatever, I just feel like, “Really? Really?”

Kim Thompson: There's being outside of a social norm, and then there's the way we blame mothers. You know that saying, my mom used to say, “If it's not one thing, it's your mother.” It's that. There's mother blame. There's social isolation. There's being outside of the norm. Then there are friends who are just like, “Let me know what I can do to help,” which is like saying … the same exact thing.

Emma Johnson: All right. What do you want? If you're listening to this, and you have a friend or your sister or whatever who has a special-needs kid, and you sense this mom is losing her shit, give me three things that you can do to be supportive or a good friend or a good cousin or whatever to that mom, three actual things you can do.

How to be a supportive friend to moms with special needs kids

Kim Thompson: Okay. That is a great question. I love that. The first thing is find out how she likes her coffee or her tea or her chai or her vodka, whatever she likes, and bring it over. Bring her two. Then go sit with her and listen to her. Don't judge her, but listen to her. Be present with her grief, whatever. Then the third thing. It's a tough one. Learn her kid. Learn one thing about her kid. Learn her kid so that you can make a bridge with the kid.

Emma Johnson: What does that mean? I can hear in your voice, you're getting upset by that. Why is that so upsetting to you?

Kim Thompson: I think I mentioned on your thing, my mom just died. I'm just really emotional. Talking about the isolation, it's not broken yet. It's not done yet. I'm working on it. I haven't mastered it. I'm moving in that direction, but to have to ask somebody to accept your child when people just accept other people every day, the fact that I have to ask for that for my kid makes me sad, like how I've had to fight just for people to treat him like a human being. I'm switching my perspective on this, but it's just something that just gets to me. Do I have really beg you to come to my house to treat me like a human being, to treat my son like a human being?

Kim Thompson: He's the greatest kid. I used to think, “I'm never going to get married again. Nobody's ever going to love me.” My kid is so adorable and funny and loving and has such a great sense of humor and creative and surprising. It's not him. I'm not worried about him anymore. I love him, and I want other people to get to know him because he's isolated, and he wants to know how to be in the world. He can't do that if people are ignoring him. Why do I have to fucking say that? Sorry.

Emma Johnson: Well, you know what's interesting. I have found in motherhood, and I think especially in motherhood … It sounds like this is amplified even more for you as a mother of a special-needs kid … there's something about somebody who loves my kids. I don't care who it is. I think that being an unmarried mom because now you and I, we're outside of the traditional, normal, healthy family. We're already worried about social isolation. We're already worried our kids … They are. My kids have one less adult in the house.

Emma Johnson: There are compromises to make that are real. I'm not about being a Pollyanna about single motherhood. For example, I just spent some time with some extended family. It's like, we don't always get along or like each other, but we love each other's children. I love my nieces, and my brother loves my kids. There is a giant love that's going on, even though the adults are bitching and sniping at each other. I feel love because they love my kids. I think that goes back, right? You are feeling rejected because your child is being rejected because he's weird.

When special needs kids are rejected, so are their mothers

Kim Thompson: To them. To me, he's totally normal for him. I know that he wants to connect, and he's not going to be able to connect if you're treating him like he's weird, you know? You can't say that other lives matter, but only those other lives, if you don't take the full spectrum. You accept some people. Everybody has prejudices, right. You can say, “I'm not prejudiced against those people,” but you're prejudiced against those people. Disabled people have been really marginalized so much because they look weird. It's weird to us.

Emma Johnson: They act weird to us. That's when you're saying, “Know my child,” because ultimately somebody that's prejudiced against black people that's a white person, they could sit down. They're speaking literally the same language. If they get down to it, they look 98% the same physically, and they have all the same human experiences. So it's very easy to find that common ground, but if you have a nonverbal child, where's … How-

Kim Thompson: Complicated.

Emma Johnson: Yeah.

Kim Thompson: It's a complicated communication.

Emma Johnson: Right. There's no guidebook. It's not like, “Oh, I'm just going to go and learn sign language. Then I can communicate with a hearing-impaired person.” Every child, every socially disabled person is going to have their own language, so it takes so much more effort to overcome that prejudice that disconnects us in your case.

Kim Thompson: Exactly. Exactly.

Emma Johnson: As a single mom though, right, your need for that love and that connectedness on behalf of your children is so much greater because it is lonely. I think that's one of if not the biggest challenges of single parenthood.

It's lonely being the mother of a child with disabilities

Kim Thompson: Yeah. I guess that's why I'm crying because my mother just died and she loved them so much with a love that was big enough for everything else, but now … I have a good relationship with their dad, and he loves them. Thank goodness. He's a very loving father. We're very amicable. I text him a thousand times a day because of the progress that my younger son is having. I do that so he A, sees it, and B, so he can do carryover. We have that, but just in my daily … I don't really care about where your kid's getting into school. You know what I mean? The competition and all that stuff, that all left me behind. Just be with me and my kid.

Emma Johnson: Right. Right. You're in Manhattan. We're in New York City where that is so amplified. We think that's everywhere in the country, but it's like … Yeah. People, they have a different set of priorities as parents. They just do. Maybe it's like that … I have a hard time relating to that even with healthy kids, but I have had to let go too and just be like, “Well, that's their jam. They're on that path.” I don't get it. I don't relate to a lot, married moms and stay-at-home married moms, the things they talk about filling their day with. I'm like, “All right. Peace out. No comprende.” Right?

Kim Thompson: No, it's really like that with special needs when you hear about what people complain about. A friend of mine said, “Can you believe that … ” I can't be specific about it, but whatever it is, like, “They can't even wear shorts in the school.” Really? You should really get on that. You should get on that. I'm going to try and get some more services for my kid or someone to just pilot my child. All right.

Emma Johnson: Yeah, exactly. I remember having breakfast with a friend, and she spent literally 20 minutes of this very precious social time talking about the challenges that she had in her life because her seltzer bottle recycling program changed.

Kim Thompson: Yes.

The financial challenge of being a single mom of special needs kids

Emma Johnson: So the social isolation, financially … If I'm hearing that you are not getting out of the house for a year because you can't find the appropriate … Money has got to be a huge challenge.

Kim Thompson: Money is a huge challenge, especially because … I hate to go there, but if it's not in your insurance … Money is a huge challenge. That is a whole other story about treatment and therapists and who's on insurance and who is available and who is not available and what you have to pay for out-of-pocket and these doctors who are great and these doctors who are … I'm not going to use the word “quacks” because we do everything, but people who take advantage. They're just [inaudible 00:23:44] run the gamut.

Kim Thompson: It's not about fixing or curing. That's also a very complicated concept in the autism community, but if your kid can't sleep in the middle of the night because he is up all night because of his gastrointestinal distress, you're going to look for answers. So yes, finances … There are constant doctors and specialists, et cetera, et cetera. There's a lack of working. Financial stuff is like a 10-part series, Emma. I'm sorry.

Emma Johnson: Money is always a problem after a divorce. You're not able to work because your kid needs you at home because the education system wasn't working. Then just getting out of the house, that's a challenge. Okay. Dating. Have you been on a … All right.

Dating as a mother of special needs kids

Kim Thompson: I went on three dates. I went on dates with three guys. One I really liked so much, but he did not like me. It didn't work out. I liked him so much because he was so smart. He was not my physical type, but I didn't care.

Emma Johnson: Does not matter. Honestly, I actually just started dating somebody who I really, really like. Incidentally, he's super good-looking, and I don't even really care. It makes me like him better because he could have any untold amount of pussy he wants, and he's the most decent, great guy. But it's like, “Yeah, he's nice to look at.” Anyways, yeah. We could talk about men in the abstract, but I want to keep things focused on the single mom, disabled child thing. I use OkCupid all the time. It sounds like you do too.

Kim Thompson: I try to, and then I log off because again, I have a unique look. I don't want to say … I have a young-looking face, but I wear my hair gray. I do it to be …

Emma Johnson: You're really cute. We're Skyping right now.

Emma Johnson: We've hung out before. You've come over to my house.

Kim Thompson: Yeah.

Emma Johnson: First of all, let's just take looks out of the equation because I feel like women are often use looks … not without merit. They would say, “Oh, I'm not pretty enough,” or, “I'm not thin enough,” or whatever as an excuse. I understand why because everywhere you look in society, we're supposed to look like a model before we even get the attention. That's whatever.

Kim Thompson: I'm just saying as far as I photograph-

Emma Johnson: You are pretty. You are very … Whatever. It doesn't matter.

Kim Thompson: No, no. I'm saying on OkCupid, they're like, “What is happening?” Am I speaking? Is speaking about like … Am I speaking? Do I need an interpreter? Like, what the … Why would you even contact me?

Emma Johnson: Oh, you can't pay attention to that. No. The duds, you just don't put energy into them.

Kim Thompson: No, I don't, but no good ones approach me is what I'm saying. When I approach the good ones, they don't write back. I don't know, Emma. You know I'm a huge fan. I download all of your courses. I feel bad. I go, “Fuck it. I'm just going to be like Emma anyway. I'm going to go out and not and just be in the present, be in the moment, love myself, et cetera, blow my hair out and just go.” I don't know what it is.

Emma Johnson: Okay. I don't know either. Maybe we can talk afterwards, and I can help you with your profile.

Kim Thompson:  Yeah.

Emma Johnson: Okay. Couple questions. Do you mention in your profile that you have a disabled child?

Should you mention your disabled child in your online dating profile?

Kim Thompson: No.

Emma Johnson: Do you feel like you should mention it on a first date? Where does it play in your head in your dating?

Kim Thompson: I haven't gotten that far yet, but I feel like I would feel it out. It's really for me something that I feel like I'm right with in myself. First of all, I have a baby daddy. He takes care of his kids. I don't need anybody taking care of my kids. I can take care of my kids, and my baby daddy can take care of our kids. We are committed in that way, and I'm very, very fortunate that way. I'm grateful for him, and we have a very amicable ending and blah, blah, blah. I don't need anybody taking care of my kids.

Kim Thompson: Second of all, my kids are great. My 13-year-old is funnier than almost anybody I know. I've got great kids. Do I say I have a disabled kid? I don't know. I have to get to know the person first, I would think. Also, I think you have to be square with it in your heart. Not to be a fan girl or anything, that is something that I've really gotten from reading your stuff and listening to stuff, is you got to be right with you first. Then this is who I am, and whatevs. That's how I feel like I would approach it.

Emma Johnson: It really does. It's like a magical thing. I've seen that in all parts of my life. The story I always tell, which is slightly unrelated, but when I first became a full-time freelance writer, and this was like 12 years ago, nothing says broke loser like freelancer writer, even though I was doing really well. Right from the beginning, I made good money. I had a lot of success, but a lot of times I would meet new people, just socially meet whoever, and I'd tell them what I would do. They're like, “Oh, that's got to be so hard.” I'd get really pissy and defensive about it, but I figured it out within myself.

Emma Johnson: I guess maybe I had enough success where I just owned it. I don't know ostensibly I was doing anything different when I talked about myself, but people just magically stopped saying those condescending things because my natural confidence got in check. Maybe you just haven't gotten there. Here's a little tip for anybody dating in the world. Just walk in there like your shit does not stink, and you're sussing out the other person, whether they're good enough for you to see again. You're checking them out. You're not worried about if they're going to like you because that's a given.

Kim Thompson: Right, right, right. I love that. Yeah.

Emma Johnson: It takes a while to go there. It helps being in New York where there's lots of people, but I think you can apply that to anything in life.

Kim Thompson: I totally agree with you, and that's why I love your work because you're bringing that to a situation that was formerly infused with so much shame, sort of the situation that I'm talking about right now. My mom was a single mom. It was not pretty, and I think that modeling esteemable, forward-moving, goal-oriented, self-loving actions and lifestyle behind that is really key for so many things. That's why I'm always trying to fit your message into how can I bring that to my life, which is not … I wouldn't order it in a catalog, the financial setup, but neither did all the great thinkers who say, “It doesn't matter where you are. It's your responsibility how you feel about it.” Right?

Removing the stigma of being a single mom

Emma Johnson: Right? I hear also that you're very grateful for your situation. It sounds like your ex-husband makes enough where you guys can make this whole thing work, at least for the time being.

Kim Thompson: For the time being, we can. Yeah.

Emma Johnson: But you were saying earlier … Share about … because you are technically a stay-at-home mom, and when you're dating, and guys hear that, talk about a little bit.

Kim Thompson: Like I was telling you, I've done … I did go to acting school. I did do a little writing. I was a makeup artist, so I can … I have done a little bit of writing. I have done a little bit of makeup here and there. I have enough of a former life that [inaudible 00:31:05]. I still kind of write. I still try to do as much as I can, so I say I'm a stay-at-home mom, and I'm working on my novel/screenplay both and mean to go back to standup, all those things.

Emma Johnson: But you were telling me that when you're dating or connecting with men, they often say, “Oh, you're a stay-at-home mom.” They assume what?

Biases and stereotypes of single moms, stay-at-home moms and moms of special-needs children

Kim Thompson: They assume that you are looking for a sugar daddy. I'm in touch with my high school ex-whatever. He was never technically my boyfriend, but we … I don't know. He'll say, “I'm not looking to care of anybody. I don't need an older woman with … ” There's just a bias against it. I love this guy. I'll do anything for him. He probably doesn't even know it came out of his … you know what I mean? It's just a bias.

Emma Johnson: That's out there because it's real. Biases and stereotypes become such for a reason, and there are a lot of women out there that don't see themselves as capable of having their own financial success. They think the only way that women can get by is to marry a man or hook a guy with money. That is a real thing happening in the world.

Emma Johnson: Men are screwed by it, and then they get scared when they sense, realistically or not, that that might be going on in a relationship with a woman. I think it's very much upon all of us to straighten that out whenever we see it. Your case, I don't know. Do guys know right from the beginning? Like you said, my kids are taken care of. I'm taken care of, but here's the thing. What are you looking for? What do you want?

Kim Thompson: What do I want? I think I really want to develop my writing and my-

Emma Johnson: No, but what do you want romantically? What do you want romantically?

Kim Thompson: Oh, what do I want romantically? Oh, good. We get to-

Emma Johnson: You can have anything you want. Just put it out in the universe. What is it?

Kim Thompson: Yeah, I love it. What I really love is an intellectual match or peer. I'd like a taller guy, but at least my height. Funny, smart, kind, somebody that I can do the things that I want to do, like go to the movies, go to shows, go to museums, do all that stuff with, have a super hot love life, and somebody who's very kind and chill but also likes to be in the world, somebody who's really a part of the world, not somebody who's withdrawn from the world. I'd like somebody to really be engaged.

Emma Johnson: Do you see this as being a lover, a new husband, boyfriend, in the house, out of the house? What do you envision?

Dating and sex as a mother of an autistic child

Kim Thompson: Ultimately, I think I'd like a partner. I don't know if I'll ever get married again because I haven't even dated yet, right? I would like a boyfriend. I would like a boyfriend outside the house right now. I can't move anybody in this place, but I would like [inaudible 00:34:07].

Emma Johnson: I don't need anybody living in my place. This is my apartment.

Kim Thompson: Yeah. A, there's no room here, and B, if you're coming in, you're staying in. I'm sorry. If you're going to move in, you've got to stay. But I'm not doing the books and the albums again. We don't have CDs, but I'm not separating out the clothing items. I would like a long-term boyfriend for now. Yeah. I would say.

Emma Johnson: Have you had sex?

Kim Thompson: What? No. No.

Emma Johnson: Are you open to just scratching that itch?

Kim Thompson: Yes, absolutely, but it has to be … you know.

Emma Johnson: You want to have some kind of other connection too.

Kim Thompson: I have to.

Emma Johnson: I'm the same way.

Kim Thompson: I can't just be like … or else I would have called a service a long time ago.

Emma Johnson: Yeah, there's plenty of services. You could order anything on your phone in New York.

Kim Thompson: Yes, exactly.

Emma Johnson: You can get your dry cleaning delivered. You can get weed legally. Yeah. Anything you want.

Kim Thompson: Get a fella. You could get a fella. I don't want-

Emma Johnson: Fella.

Kim Thompson: I don't want to buy a fella. I would like somebody who's interested in me, who values me, whom I value, who we have a connection. That's what I would like.

Emma Johnson: Yes, and you deserve it.

Kim Thompson: Thank you.

Emma Johnson: I don't think that is an unreasonable ask at all.

Filling your life and kids' lives with good male role models

Kim Thompson: Thank you. You know what I really would like to do, Emma, also is populate my life with good male role models as well. I've been thinking about that, so let's manifest that in 2017, shall we?

Emma Johnson: I want you to say it without the silly Kermit the Frog voice because you're diminishing it.

Kim Thompson: Okay, Mrs. Seeing Everything For What It Is, see what I care. I'd like to manifest more positive male role models in my life in 2017, deeper friendships with women and men, and have a boyfriend/lover.

Emma Johnson: That's great. I love it. You know what I have appreciated in this phase of my life since my divorce, is that I have had a number of really true, platonic, straight, male friends, which I don't think I really had in my 20s or before. It was either there was weird sexual tension, or we just weren't that close, or whatever. It's like there just, for no reason … Well, for our own reasons, right. We aren't romantically involved, but they are my true friends, and I very much appreciate that. I feel it's brought a very much richer perspective to my life.

Kim Thompson: Yeah. I've decided that's what I want as well.

Emma Johnson: So you're in it. You are in it figuring this out, but you have been on this journey for seven years. If you were to speak to other single moms of disabled kids … They are feeling burnt out, isolated, broke, lonely, horny, overwhelmed. Give me three things that you have learned, three things that have worked for you that you figured out on this journey.

Kim Thompson: Okay. The first thing is trust your gut as moms and definitely as special-needs moms. We are told that we are doing it wrong, and the experts are right. If you think that was true with all your baby books, you should see what it's like for special-needs parents. You are right. Once you get right with yourself, like we were just saying, then you seek out things to support that more instead of trying to figure out where you're wrong.

Finding community as a single mom with special needs kids

Kim Thompson: The second thing is, if you can't find community, there is community online. Even if you're trolling the community and not participating in it yet, you can find lots of groups on Facebook that can help you with your point of view to get support and at least back up what you're feeling. There are special-needs, single special-needs moms groups. They don't work for me because I can't get out of the house, right? There are people for everybody. Maria Bamford, one of my favorite comedians says, “If you've done it, you can find the people online who also have done it.” You're not alone. Somehow, you're not alone.

Kim Thompson: I think the third thing would be to figure out how to incorporate some kind of shifting of your mind, recentering, getting centered in some way, whether it's a spiritual practice, or whether it's getting in the tub. Some kind of self care is essential. You can't go 24 hours a day. When you get the perspective shift, then you can open yourself up to more possibilities.

Emma Johnson: I love that. The takeaway is trust your gut. You're right. Don't defer. Well, you're in a tough spot. All you want is an expert that you trust to tell you what to do.

Kim Thompson: But again, it's uncharted territory.

Emma Johnson: It is. Yeah.

Kim Thompson: They do know, and often you really do know.

Emma Johnson: Yeah, so trust yourself. Trust yourself, and not just when it comes to the care of your kids. That's a universal. Trust yourself, ladies.

Emma Johnson: Second is, find community, whatever that means. You know what I think is interesting? I've found in my life … Your community, in this case, yes, maybe it is a special-needs parent community, or maybe it's a single mom community. But maybe your community is just labeled something else, but something in that group or that community connects. Maybe it's just like some really sweet old ladies that live in your apartment building that are your community, right? Open your mind to what, who that community might be. I think that's … because I hear you. You kind of are hitting up against some walls. You found your support group didn't get you. I don't know. I find community can come from surprising places.

Kim Thompson: Yes, exactly.

Self care for single moms with special needs kids

Emma Johnson: Yeah. Your third tip is self love, ladies. I hear you saying it's a go-to thing, so it's like when you're about to lose it, go take a hot bath. When you are in the spiral of your craziness, go do to 20 minutes of yoga or whatever your go-to retreat.

Kim Thompson: Just take a deep breath and have the sayings up on your wall. Write them in magic marker or Post-it notes. There's this one thing that I have that says … I'm just going to read it to you. One thing I have up here is, “Everything is awful, and I'm not okay. Questions to ask before giving up.” I saw it on a website, and I printed it out. I just look at it when I'm feeling really terrified.

Emma Johnson: Thank you. Kim Thompson, awesome, gorgeous single mom, special-needs child, and she's killing it. She's going to get laid, and she might even find love in 2017.

Kim Thompson: Because of you, Emma. You're my … Thank you so much.

Emma Johnson: I know. You're responsible for your own pussy. I can't help you with your … I can help you with some stuff, but you're responsible.

Kim Thompson: No thank you. No thank you on that, but just with the mentor. Thank you so much, Emma. Thanks.

Emma Johnson: All right. You're welcome.

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is an award-winning business journalist, noted blogger, and bestselling author. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.  Find out Emma's top Single Mom Resources here.

8 Comments

  1. Mark on September 6, 2019 at 8:51 pm

    I’m not sure how this applies to men but I read this and can totally relate. Only my wife passed away suddenly and I’ve been a stay at home Dad on disability ever since my 2 surviving triplets were born. She was a wonderful person and doing this by myself has stretched me to limits (good and bad). My kids were born at 22 weeks 5 days and spent months in the NICU before coming home. The both have a severe developmental delay and my daughter has cerebral palsy, as do I. I have nursing for them but the stresses of that plus a limited income and little to no privacy or time to myself make dating almost impossible. I’ve put myself in a scenario where I think all women are out of my league or see what I’m dealing with, make a judgment call, and say this guy isn’t worth pursuing. This breaks me because I and my 2 8 year olds are happy and very loving. No one gives us a chance.

  2. Cat on August 18, 2019 at 8:44 am

    I think the author is awesome and trying to build confidence in a frank way: where men , namely, take advantage. Financially it’s hard. My marriage broke up because he wanted healthy children it was HIS problem.

  3. Lisa Brancato-Crowe on December 14, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    Wow! I really needed this today! Your raw honesty about all the stresses, heartaches and loneliness really spoke to me and encouraged me because I live that very same life. I love the passion you have about helping your son.
    Sometimes just knowing you aren’t alone…you aren’t the only one on this crazy journey who faces constant demands, gives up most of herself and her life, all in an effort to help her child, and then gets hit with criticism and rejection.
    This was a breath of fresh air! Thank you!

  4. […] post “I’m a single mom of a special needs child” appeared first on Emma […]

  5. Candice on May 29, 2018 at 1:19 pm

    I am a single mom of a 6 year old with a rare chromosome disorder. My ex was a psychopath, abusive person, I lost my house, my business, my cars, my health. Had to file bankruptcy because my ex didn’t follow court orders. I lost everything except my SN kid. I can’t work because of her needs and now I am not well myself from all the stress. Have to live with family. I understand where you’re coming from. All of it.

    • barbara on September 24, 2018 at 2:58 pm

      wow im in the same boat!!!! i only have my sons ssi to barely cover our expenses. im trying to look for work at home jobs but figuring it all out is stressing.

      • Rhonda Maza on February 10, 2019 at 10:45 pm

        Contact me and I will guide you to make a business. For moms with kids like mine I give you free. Rhonda Maza

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