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The Gift He’ll Miss Most: What It Means to Have a Special Needs Child in the Military

By Kelly Hafer

By Kelly Hafer

When you are married to a service member, you quickly become accustomed to the fact that he (or she) will miss many moments during your time as a couple. He’ll miss more anniversaries than be present for, holidays, celebrations, funerals – heck, he may even miss your child’s birth.

We spouses are made of strong stuff. We can improvise, adapt and overcome. We’ve been relocated to a new city – or country – with a peck on the cheek and given the key to our new home, and off he goes into the wild blue yonder. Or haze grey underway. Or whatever else the other branches call it. We learn quickly how to settle ourselves, and our household, and carry on smartly until his return.

But it’s the family moments that he misses that will hurt the most. The things that initially are no big deal: a conference here or there, a kinder graduation, the first chapter book your child reads by himself. The first bike ride, the first steps, the first spontaneous I love you.

We tell ourselves that although him missing these moments hurts, there will always be more of them. Once a skill is mastered our spouses will see examples of this when he returns.

With special needs children, that is not always the case. Our kiddos take one step forward and maybe 3-4 steps back. And those backwards steps may not come forward again for months, a year, or even longer. So we grieve for the not only the lost skill set, but for the missed opportunity of our spouse to see and appreciate those moments.

This is exactly what is in the forefront of my mind right now. You see, my son, is in the middle of an unprecedented run of good behavior. Unbelievable progress. From severe meltdowns, aggression and self-injurious behaviors multiple times each week, to this majestic calm. In fact, we haven’t seen a meltdown or had SIBs for the past six weeks. Unimaginable success. Literally – I never imagined we’d be in such a good, healthy place with him.

And, of course, my husband is not home to appreciate it. He has yet to meet this Ted. To see him as an emotionally giving and attached young man. To hear him give commentary on his day at school. To listen to him reason and make good choices. This Ted would blow my husband’s mind. This Ted makes every single battle we’ve waged so very, very worthwhile. I’m terrified this phase will be long gone before my husband’s return. And even more terrified that when these meds no longer work (and they always stop working), we won’t be able to get back to this place. And I’ll have nothing but memories of a son who can find his control, and who asks for hugs unprompted.

This is by far the most amazing experience that my husband will miss out on. For the first time in our nearly 22 years together, I am not jealous of his time away, seeing the great wide world. Instead, I feel so bad for him that he isn’t home to appreciate the growth and achievement of our son.

Read more blogs by Kelly

Kelly Hafer

Kelly is a Navy wife and mother to four children: a 17-year-old neurotypical (if you can say that about a teenager!) daughter, 6- and 5-year-old boys on the spectrum; and, since life was getting a touch boring, another beautiful baby girl. Kelly is the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for Military Special Needs Network. MSNN is a peer-to-peer support organization founded to respond to the needs of all branches of the military and of our Exceptional Family Members. We strive to provide family and emotional support and lasting friendships – See more at:, or Kelly has been featured in a collection of essays entitled, “Wit and Wisdom From the Parents of Special Needs Children.” She manages the official blog of Military Special Needs Network,, and can be found as a guest blogger throughout the blog-iverse. You can contact her via email at

About Tidewater Parent Staff

One of our staff who provides news and information for families in Hampton Roads.

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