Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

"I Don't Know Where We're Going." Marital Problems and the Young Family

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

"I Don't Know Where We're Going." Marital Problems and the Young Family

Article excerpt

"I don't know what happened," Frank Jones, a short and slender man in his mid-twenties, said quietly. "I just don't know where to begin.

"I guess it all starts with our son, Frank Jr., who just turned three. He was born with serious problems. Last Sunday we celebrated his third birthday and we had Jean's family and mine over. It seems that whenever we have the families together, it's very tense. When everyone went home, we cleaned up and we sat down just by ourselves, I started to cry. I don't think I have cried since I've been three years old. I just don't know what we have for a life. I don't know where we're going and I don't know what we should do. Sometimes, I wish we could start over.

"I find myself resenting attention that anyone gives Jean or my son. I also have begun to envy my friends whether they're married or single. These thoughts make me feel terrible, but I can't stop them. And, last Sunday I felt I'd reached the end of my rope. Jeanie told me she also felt discouraged but couldn't talk to anyone about how her life is going. She suggested that we come to you to see whether you can help us make sense out of what's happened to us and what our life can be.

"I can still remember when we got married. I met Jean when I was 20 and she was 19. I had just finished at community college and I didn't know what I wanted to do. Jeanie was starting a nurse's training program. We went together a couple of years. We had a great time together. We talked a lot about what we were going to do and what kind of family we were going to have. When Jeanie had one more year to go at nursing school, we decided to get married. She finished school, and a week later little Frank was born two months early

"We were looking forward to a child and thought we'd have a big family. I still remember the look on the obstetrician's face when he came to see me. He told me that Dr. Ellison was going to see Frank Jr. and would tell us what the score was. Dr. Ellison told us there was a lot of brain damage. He wasn't sure first whether Frank would live and, if he were to live, how well he would do. He was going to get a specialist in babies to look at Frankie. And it seemed that life, a part of my life, ended right then and there.

"We were both upset. I guess I showed it more than Jean. I tend to get very agitated when I can't settle something. No matter how hard we try, neither of us can remember that first week. Jean really took care of Frankie and I guess, me, for a while. From that time on, we've been surrounded by Jean's family. She has two older sisters who live not too far from us. It seems they're around all the time. It's unfair to look at it that way, I guess, because they have been very helpful and try to do what they can to help Jean. At this time Frankie can do so little for himself. He requires constant attention. But I haven't had any privacy - we haven't had any privacy since then. I began to wonder whether I really will ever have a wife again, or what kind of a wife and husband we're going to be.

"For about a year after the baby was born, our sex life was almost nothing. And I guess that was both of us. Jeanie certainly is, as I am, concerned about what would happen if we had another child - would the same thing happen? Since then, that part of our life has not been very satisfactory. Sometimes it's because Jean is tired, sometimes it's because I'm tense. At Frankie's birthday party there were no little kids his age except his cousins. I really began to wonder, who do I belong to? Who belongs to me?'

"My family has tried to help some, but they always criticize jean. They worry a lot about me. They want to know why I'm not being taken care of and why I don't look happier. And it's almost as if it's a constant criticism of Jeanie. I think I feel the same from her parents, although they don't say it: `Why aren't I a better husband?' And I began to say to myself, `I'm still young. …

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