Dilemma: A family member and her spouse have asked my husband and me to raise their child who has special needs in the event of their death. Our children are much older and we are not sure we want to commit the rest of our lives to raising another kid. We have no idea how to communicate this without causing family discord. Help!
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“I have a special needs son who will need life-long care. I would 100% want someone to be honest with me. I need to know whoever watches my son after is in it for the long haul. I need to know he will be taken care of like I do. I have four people set up for him just in case. That way they can all lean on each other too. If someone told me they were not up for the job, I would respect that.” – Tabitha W.
“I know people who do not want to care for other’s kids and they are not even special needs. It is a tough decision and anyone who is a parent has to understand if your “go-to” person of choice declines the privilege to raise your kids in the event of death.” – Sam V.
“Wow, this makes me so sad. … It would hurt me to hear that the couple (or person) we would select didn’t want that responsibility.” – Katie O.
“I would suggest that these folks first put themselves in their place and also think too what they could do to assist if needed if something did transpire. As the parents of a son with a disability, there is probably not a day that goes by when we think about what will happen when we are gone. In supporting families, especially now since COVID-19, I suggest this conversation take place and sit down at a table with the family’s natural circle of support or via Zoom and discuss this. It’s essential as is setting up a Special Needs Trust and so many other things.” – Carolyn G.
“Take a long hard look in the mirror and make sure that’s the choice you would make if it came down to it. Could you face yourself if you declined to step in when you’re needed the most? I couldn’t.” – Jenny B.
“Maybe you could offer respite care for whomever would take custody of their child. This way the person that can accept the responsibility knows they have a network of people to help give them some child care.” – Theresa D.
“Just be honest. Say it is an honor and you’re humble but not able to accept the offer and make the commitment. They’ll get over it.” – Ebony S.
“Not everyone wants to or can parent again later in life, no matter which child. Tell them how grateful and honored you are but you are at a point in your life where it’s not possible. An honest answer is the answer they deserve for their child.” – Dar L.
“It sounds like you already know your answer. Telling them will be hard but it’s your life and the child deserves to be somewhere they are 100% wanted. There’s no easy way to break bad news. Just do it.” – Kelly W.
“I would 100% be fine with someone saying “I am honored that you trust me that much. I just don’t think I can give Johnny what he needs, due to my finances, my own anxiety, my health problems, etc. I love him dearly, but he needs more than I can give on a full-time basis.” I’d much rather hear that than be watching from heaven and seeing my child’s needs being neglected. You can always offer something like being a weekend helper for whoever does have the child, if you feel you can do that. Being a good caregiver to a special needs child is HARD. It’s not for everyone. Don’t feel bad if you don’t have what the child needs.” – Lisa B.
“While it’s difficult to say “no” to a family member in this situation, if you don’t want to do it, don’t. They respect you enough to ask you to care for their child, then they should respect your decision to decline. Is it possible to offer your assistance to whomever does agree to care for the child? Good luck. I hope there’s no drama but anytime you’re dealing with family…” – Erick H.
“It is a huge honor, and huge responsibility. Just because someone asks does not mean you’re obligated to say yes. Don’t let others place the discord on you.” – Rhonda F.
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This article also appeared in Chicago Parent’s July 2020 magazine. Read the rest of the issue here.