Am I Selfish For Not Wanting to Date a Man with a Special-Needs Child?

Am I Selfish For Not Wanting to Date a Man with a Special-Needs Child

Hi Evan, I am a single mother of young children. I am currently in a relationship with a great man who has kids of his own. My dilemma is that one of his children is special needs (autistic) and will likely never live independently, only possibly in a group home as a young adult in his 20s. Raising him will very likely be quite difficult and stressful. It will be life changing if I choose him as a partner, for me and my kids. I enjoy the freedom I have to travel and enjoy my kids, and this would all change very drastically. The man is great…consistent in how he treats me, loving, kind, and generous. If it weren’t for his son I would continue the relationship and see where it leads. But I am having a lot of anxiety about the possibility of committing to him and his child long term. I know my kids are young, but they will be independent adults one day. Am I being selfish or shallow in my fear of this undertaking? Is this a valid reason to keep looking for a different partner? I really hope to hear from you. Thanks so much for your time.


Thanks for asking such an honest and challenging question, Carol.

One of the things I’ve learned over thirteen years of giving advice is this: if I ever dare suggest that someone is entitled to not want to date you, I am perceived as an insensitive asshole.

If I tell a woman that it’s okay for her not to marry the penniless, 46-year-old, always-between-jobs Peter Pan guy, then those guys will feel I’m denying their basic humanity, when, in fact, all I’m doing is letting the woman know that there are plenty of other fish in the sea that she will not have to financially support.

I caught a lot of flak for this post, in which I empathized with a woman who suffers from debilitating depression, but let her know that men were perfectly entitled to choose a healthy, normally functioning partner instead.

If you were to not consider the effects of being a stepmother and caretaker to a special-needs child, you could be considered hopelessly naïve.

In other words, I’m a realist, not a moralist.

Is it fair that women discriminate against short men? Men discriminate against heavy women? Women discriminate against Asian men? Men discriminate against black women? Everyone discriminates against older people?

No, but then again, life isn’t fair. A man is allowed to not want to date a 400lb woman if he doesn’t find her attractive. A woman is allowed to not want to date a guy who looks like her father if she doesn’t find him attractive. I’m not even sure how we can argue otherwise.

Which is just my long lead-in to suggest that your concern about the effects of an autistic child on your life is entirely reasonable. In fact, if you were to not consider the effects of being a stepmother and caretaker to a special-needs child, you could be considered hopelessly naïve.

A quick Google search reveals that the annual cost of autism therapy can exceed $40,000 to $60,000 per year and that the lifetime cost to support an individual with autism is greater than $3.2 million. Do you think subtracting that from your bank account might have an effect on you? Do you think that the all-encompassing time-intensive nature of caring for an autistic child might impact your relationship, quality time, siblings, vacations, sitters, and sex drive? You bet.

Listen, my wife has a cousin who is wheelchair-bound with MS and has a supportive partner. I got an email from a reader the other day who found a great guy although she’s blind. I helped another client fall in love and have a baby even though she’s paralyzed from the waist down. I have a friend in Los Angeles who was born with no legs and is happily married. There is a lid for every pot. But that doesn’t mean that you have to be the lid, Carol.

When you’re merging lives, you have to take everything into consideration and make an informed decision before tying the knot.

It was fair of me not to date a former drug addict I met online. I was right to have concerns about my wife when she was $40,000 in debt. When you’re merging lives, you have to take everything into consideration and make an informed decision before tying the knot. We can parse and say that it’s not someone’s “fault” for being depressed or having an autistic child. But it doesn’t really change the gravity of the situation for the person who is taking on a loving person’s challenging situation.

God bless the people who take on those challenges, but not everyone is cut out for the tough stuff. Don’t beat yourself up if you decide that, no matter how much you love this man, this isn’t the life you want.

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  1. 1

    Good advice, Evan.


    This is something she clearly needs to discuss with her partner. Perhaps he can provide her with a plan of action or detail into how this will affect her and what roles and responsibilities she will have.


    Perhaps such a large family will add to the support the autistic child will get, making his care easier. Perhaps joining this man’s family will only make things harder on everyone. The man has things to consider too.

    Above all else, they should talk about their hopes and concerns and see what page each person is on.

  2. 2

    Evan, I Love what you said here.  I think you spoke it perfectly.  This is probably my favorite response you have posted here!  This is coming from someone who does not see eye to eye with you on posts sometimes.  I feel if more people took everything into consideration, there wouldn’t be so many families broken apart in the end.  When you truly Love someone, you have to be able and willing to take on all parts of their life, if you want to share your life with them.  The foundation must be correct for anything to be built on it through out the years.  Either your heart is in it or out.  Especially when children are involved, it must be 100% in.  Nothing is stronger than the bond of a parent and child.  If we can Love and accept our partner but not Love and accept their children or special needs/circumstances, then truly are you Loving unconditionally ???

    Evan, you are right, every pot does have a lid, and everyone is not cut out for the tough stuff.  Our choices have a very large ripple effect in this Universe.  It’s not selfish of her to question herself on moving forward with this relationship, but it would be selfish of herself if she never did.

    Love It Evan!!!

  3. 3

    People make their choices in life, and those choices affect their relationship prospects.

    The OP’s boyfriend did not ask for this situation, but it is a result of the unfairness of the universe,  and the inherent risk involved in having children.  If you choose to have a child, you accept the very slight risk factor of a severe mental disability such as that debilitating level of autism.  You accept the even greater risk factor that you end up with a child will struggle with drugs or alcohol, and require very expensive residential treatment and continued financial support.  And yes, those struggles may make it more difficult to find a suitable partner who is up for the challenge.  These are the tradeoffs that are part of life.


  4. 4

    This is an important issue that needs discussing. I have a part time job working for a charity with special needs kids and it’s only a couple of times a year but I’ll feel exhausted at the end of each day. I have realised that I can’t very well emotionally cope even doing it as a job. I couldn’t deal with it full time unless it was my own child. I am just too emotionally sensitive. Most of the children are great but some of the very autistic ones are difficult and don’t know boundaries or will try and bite me. I feel bad saying this but it’s my honest experience. I think OP  has to be honest with herself and what her needs are and go from there. This isn’t selfish as her decision is going to affect those kids so the right one should be made. She must do what makes her happy as it will be a long-term decision. Doing what makes her happy is not selfish as it will have a knock on effect on her and his kids.

  5. 5

    I think this is the first time I’ve disagreed with Evan at least partially. First of all, why did she even continue dating this guy if she knew about the kid? I don’t think this is like depression, drug addicts, or the other comparisons on here. Sure, the response is realistic, and many people would bail at the first sign of a partner who has or doesn’t have a deal breaker. But there are many other people who are willing to work with those who have kids with disabilities. And sometimes you just love who you love and have to accept a less than ideal situation and work through it. I do agree in the sense however that if this woman is this worried about it, she should probably bail now rather than be resentful, affect all the kids,  or leave in ten years because she didn’t know her own limits.

  6. 6

    Great post! Thanks for sharing, Evan! I really enjoy reading your reasoning behind your logical resolutions. It brings a feeling of relief in realism.

    I am a mother of an autistic child with ADHD. I have dated men before that adore me, but talk bad about and to my son in a demeaning way. It got to the point where my son told me he didn’t like the guy I was seeing, because he is mean.

    Now, I could not live with a man that mistreats my son. I know God made good men with hearts that have compassion for special needs children. In fact, I am dating one right now!

    As for Carol, I suggest she moves on. Her frustration with her partner’s son will only expand and turn into hurt experienced by the whole family!

  7. 7

    My family has spent more than $850K since 2011 keeping my paranoid schizophrenic uncle under supervision.  He has bankrupted the family, and every nickel my grandfather worked for has been flushed down the toilet.  Then there are the calls in the middle of the night about his attempted murders on the staff and his escapes (2 escapes and attempted murders this year alone).  He’s 65 and has been this way since he was 19.  I grew up in terror of him, he stalked my little sister at school, tried to murder my grandma and father, and beast grandad with a pipe.  Stay away from families with problems.  There is no love that can fix it, and you don’t know how this kid will turn out in the future.  Who’s going to support this kid?  It will take someone’s entire salary per month to keep him up for his whole life.  If you really love the father, and want to stay together, then don’t mix finances and families in a marriage.  If you’ve already had as many kids as you want, no harm in being a long term girlfriend so that the State doesn’t come after your assets as well to take care of the autistic kid.

  8. 8

    Excellent response, as a BW  I often come across men if they can’t get a White woman let me try with a Black woman on the dating sites. I came across a Professional White male  who had 4  children the youngest child had (9 years)  autism.. After, trying to set up 3 dates over a month due  to him rushing his son to the emergency room he finally told me his son’s condition. When  I talked to him, asking him why his interest he said  “vicinity only” since I really don’t have time to spend on a woman or even myself. I stopped all contact with him.

  9. 9
    In Not Of

    I don’t find the OP to be selfish at all.  She is still raising three children and she has responsibilities to them. That doesn’t mean this man and is child are bad or wrong either. It just is what it is. Even wonderful people can not be the right partner for us.  And it doesn’t mean there isn’t a woman that won’t take on the challenges this situation presents. I’d rather see the OP admit this up front than to marry this man, then come to resent the situation she’s in.

  10. 10

    I had a bf with an autistic son. We broke up because of other reasons, but the fact that he has a child with special needs 50% of the time  living with him was always on my mind. I think I always knew there would be no future together as I was worried about my girls. The prognosis was the there is a big chance that this boy would never be living as an independent adult.

    I have 2 little girls 4 and 8 and his son, 9 was walking naked in front of them. I was thinking how is it going to be when they reach puberty and we all live together in one house. We have to keep the interests of our own children in mind first.

  11. 11

    Very good post Evan. I keep reminding myself throughout this dating journey that not all nice, kind men are meant to by my husband.

    As a mother, the number one priority is your own kids.  Bringing a step parent into their lives is harder, step siblings harder, a disabled step sibling harder still.  I can absolutely see why she would fear the impact of a severely autistic child on her entire family.  When we have children, we can’t predict that our children will be healthy and won’t have problems, but in choosing a step family we do have control over that choice.

    From my own experience, I dated a nice guy for two years.  I decided to move on for various reasons but two of the biggest ones were (1) he had no children and after 2 years I was not certain that he would be a patient step parent for my kids.  He was particulalry impatient with one of my kids and I sensed that he didn’t like her.  (2) He wanted a child and I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to add a child to my family when I already had kids that needed me.  No special needs involved, but I had to make a choice thinking about the overall likely impact of that choice on my kids.

  12. 12

    Continuing with the pot lid analogy, if the OP ignores her own intuitive sense that this situation is not right for her or her family, but commits to this man anyway, she actually prevents him from meeting and forming a relationship with the person who is the better fit for him and his family. Sometimes the more you love and care for someone, the more you have to take yourself out of the picture, for their higher good. In the original story of Cinderella, the stepsisters cut parts of their feet off to make the glass slipper fit. This is a gruesome but instructive form of symbolism. If we are going to damage ourselves as part of the process of accommodating ourselves to a relationship, it’s not the relationship for us. Let this prince go, so he can find his true Cinderella. She will wear the glass slipper of this relationship comfortably and gracefully, and they will all live happily ever after.

    1. 12.1

      Elle, this is REALLY beautiful.  I Love what you have said here.  It is very truthful and wise and deep.  No one should ever damage themselves to be a part of someone’s life, yet it happens every day.  Sometimes it happens so slowly, the transformation, you don’t even realize it yourself till one day you wake up and are no longer the person you once were.  Although it is very painful and hard, sometimes you do have to let someone go, no matter how much you Love them.

      Thank you for sharing this.

    2. 12.2

      Elle – you have no idea how much you have touched me with this post.  I love the man I am with – he is without a doubt, the kindest and most genuine man I have ever met.  He is also the father of an autistic child that we never really talk about, in terms of the future.  And as much as I love and care for this man…I love and care for myself more.  And I can’t risk my long term happiness and needs for the ‘glass slipper’.   For a very naive hope that the love I feel for this man, and that he feels for me…well, that will be enough.  The fact it – I know it very much likely won’t.  Not any of the romantic ideals that love triumphs all will deal with the daily reality of a life that hasn’t met your hopes.  I love the man I’m with.  It breaks my heart to accept that love simply doesn’t conquer all.  But it’s the reality.  And I thank you, Elle, for beautifully pointing that out.

  13. 13
    Mrs Happy

    My (now adult) brother is special needs, and will never live independently. When my parents die I will inherit the care of him. Growing up our family was very stressed. As often happens in these situations, the normal sibling/s (me) missed out on parents’ care/time/attention/resources, and also on innumerable normal childhood experiences.  That’s fine, I love my brother, I can live independently now, I don’t need my parents now, and he is still dependent so needs more of them. But life would have been much less of a struggle for my parents particularly, and myself too, if he weren’t special needs.

    It is probable that taking on a special needs stepchild will have a major, largely negative, life effect, on your own 3 biological boys. You will have less energy and time and other resources to give them.  Their lives will suffer in countless little ways.  They will learn and gain stuff too (e.g. tolerance) but in my opinion the overall effect will be negative rather than positive.

    Good luck with your choice.

    1. 13.1

      Mrs Happy, I grew up in similar family. I have a mentally challenged sister, who is 7 yrs younger than me and she is also my inheritance. :-). My parents had issues with tiving m

  14. 14

    Mrs Happy, I grew up in similar family. I have a mentally challenged sister, who is 7 yrs younger than me and she is also my only inheritance. :-). My parents had issues with giving me unconditional love even before she was born and my childhood ended when she was born. This experience made me a strong, successful and independent woman.  However I lived my life subconsciously knowing that I am not good enough to be loved.  When my phycologist asked me about my best childhood memory I started to cry.

    So, being a sibling  of a special needs chils is a very tough experience and OP shouldn’t feel guilty or shallow.


  15. 15

    Hi, I work at a biomedical treatment center in NYC run by a MD physician for children with autism and young adults with mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar, OCD, and new-onset schizophrenia.  I am very happy to see that we are able to find out the underlying cause in nearly 100% of the cases we see, 80 % of patients improved with biomedical treatments, and 7 patients have recovered !

    The blood tests are covered by insurance,  and we offer discounts of 20-50% off of the already low office fees, because we want to help these children to become more independent, to lessen the burden on their parents, and to improve their quality of life !  Without treatments, it’s a life-long disability, 80% of parents with autistic children end in divorce, and very often we see one parent just disappeared and cannot be found, abandoning the other parent with the child.

  16. 16

    Evan, this is the first time I am commenting here, but wow, that’s a great post.

    The internet likes to force opinions on others, on what should be the moral thing to do and equal opportunity and all that, most of the time enforced by social justice warriors.

    But in the end, you know what? It’s MY life. And however I want to live it doesn’t involve you, random internet stranger.

    Unless you are there and want to help out when push comes to shove, I’m going to choose who I date, and ultimately, marry the person whom I am going to be happy and content with for the rest of my life.

    If I can choose the best man possible to give me the marriage that I want, who are you to deny me of that?

  17. 17

    As a special needs teacher I see the joy these children add to our world.  I think  people should think about the downfalls of dating someone with entitled kids, alcoholic kids, or mean kids.  Those are the kids I fear.  We know how to help kids with autism — all those other issues will bring rise to possibly more conflict and stress.  There are community resources for kids with autism — good luck with resources for those other issues.

    1. 17.1

      I couldn’t agree more Lizzie <3


  18. 18

    hello I have a child that has special needs. I personally believe that because of the path I chose for myself and my child that maybe I give myself off as being to strong

  19. 19
    A.E. Jones

    The question posed is whether she should “feel guilty”, well yes, or some form of embarrassment. It’s shallow and immature, no bones about it. But should she avoid dating a person with a special needs child? Yes, please! Do! Don’t think twice about it.

    Self-awareness is a virtue, if she knows she’s not capable of being a parent, then avoiding such a situation will save everyone a huge amount of chaos and pain.

    Only those who have the respect, empathy, care and strength that’s required to help someone care for a child with special needs should even think about dating someone with such a child, or any child for that matter.

    Reality is that no children come with a guarantee that it’s all going to work out the way their parent or stepparent wants it to. Parents who judge children for not meeting their expectations are often damaging to their children, and kids with “special needs” who have a parent or stepparent like this are particularly vulnerable. And on top of that, ANY CHILD can end up being a “special needs” child, even if they were born apparently “normal”. The child you haven’t given birth to yet could turn out to have “special needs”.

    The answer to the question “should I feel guilty” is about questioning her character, which actually shows some maturity and self-awareness. She knows there’s something off about the way she feels. But if she’s even thinking about that, then the important questions she needs to ask, which you answered well, are “what can I handle” and “what do I want”.

    If you can’t handle someone else’s child, you aren’t going to be able to handle your own. It could just be a lack of maturity due to young age, too, she might be ready to be a parent with some time, but if she’s not now then it’s best to bow out. Just like anything else a person isn’t up to handling, especially something that’s as important as a child’s life and future.

    1. 19.1

      I couldn’t disagree more. She is not at all immature nor is she shallow, she is making a well-thought out and reasoned choice for herself based on the ifnromstion she has, which is all anyone can do. In no way is her choice a sign of less than stellar character. Not being willing to do something doesn’t mean you can’t handle it.

    2. 19.2

      Jones, I couldn’t agree with you more, though I doubt her intolerance has anything to do with age. She’s old enough to Google the disability and learn how others adapt with it. It does say a lot about her character. Evan may not be a moralist, but I am to elaborate this. Maybe its because she’s privilege. Maybe she’s some upper-middle-class woman who got so used to getting everything or almost everything ideal to her. But that isn’t a really good explanation because you have others who had everything handed to them and still are tolerant.

    3. 19.3

      I agree completely. If you have to ask others for advice about your guilt, just say no, move on, find a man with perfect children. Better yet, don’t impose yourself on a family that already has enough issues, your guilt doesn’t need to be added to the complexity of an autistic child and the family.



    4. 19.4

      What a terribly passive aggressive note!

  20. 20

    I am in the exact same boat as the OP’s bf. I only wish I could meet a man that can understand the challenges firsthand. I only seem to meet men with typically developing kids or no kids at all 🙁

  21. 21

    If Carol were asking about dating a person who uses a service dog or a prosthetic limb or whose skin color were different than her own, I would say yes, shallow, selfish, and ridiculous (Evan, your pot-lid comparisons need revision).

    That is not what she is asking. She is asking whether or not she should continue investing in a man whose financial, emotional, time, and many other of his resources will be focussed on a child who will never be able to care for himself for (at least) another 12 years; she is also considering that if she stayed with him, she would be taking up that burden.

    Saying “no” to this is neither shallow nor selfish nor ridiculous. I am sorry that you have to make this choice, Carol, and I hope that you can find a man who can offer you the same attention that you’re able to offer him <3 .

    1. 21.1

      great note

  22. 22

    I think that the poster should follow her gut feelings.

    If she does not feel right about it, then she has to give up on the man and on the son.  It’s a tough one, but if she took it on, the kid would feel the resentment, and so would the man by the way.

  23. 23

    We need to be honest about what we are able to conquer in our lives and loves. Sometimes, though we may think a person is swell, we know our lifestyles aren’t compatible.  The OP has young children herself and will discover that a lot of men will not want to tackle HER kids. It’s best to be honest and lay out the issues rather than try to ignore them. They will come back to haunt you in the future.

  24. 24

    Well, I’m living this. My stepson is autistic and I adore him. He is a pleasure while his neurotypical sister is a trial. We do not spend tens of thousands on autism “care” for him yearly. Far from it.

    He is a delightful kid that makes us laugh all the time. We do not know what level of independence he will achieve as an adult but we are hoping for the best and intend to have him employed  by the age of 15.

    My husband waited till we had been dating for several weeks before he ventured to tell me about this child’s special needs. I couldn’t imagine why he had such trepidation about it? Now reading this thread I guess I can understand.

    Well, I guess it’s true the letter writer should break up with her boyfriend so he can find the woman like me who won’t think twice and will love and enjoy his child.

    I would just add that the letter writer is confident her children will one day be independent. Let us all hope that is true. But any kid is one accident or virus away from some debilitating condition that takes that rosy future away. Then the letter writer will be in the same position as her current boyfriend is.


  25. 25

    My brother has a severe form of cerebral palsy; at age 22, he is in a wheelchair and doesn’t talk or walk. Unless he is put in a group home, he will live with my parents. It is a huge burden on our family, both financially and emotionally. I don’t think any parent really expects to change diapers and share their house with caregivers when your child looks like an adult. I really think you have to live in this situation before you can judge people who do.

    OP, If I hadn’t lived this reality growing up, I might think you were being a little heartless or selfish. But having lived this reality, I would say your concerns are very much  valid. Though it sounds harsh, having dealt with all the trials that having a child like this entails, I would not for a second want to live like this if I could prevent it. If you really think the relationship is worth it, then go for it. Having a child with a severe disability is a definite challenge and many relationships do not survive it, but having said that, every family deals with different trials and tribulations, so perhaps you could make it work. It’s both difficult but rewarding 🙂


  26. 26
    Mr. Mom

    I am a single parent of a 23 year old girl with CP, I have found that women do not want to date a man in this situation.  My last gf of 7 years decided to not take it any further, she also has a disabled child,  but ended up giving him up to her Mother so she could have a “normal” life. Is that selfish of her ? I think so. She is now remarried and just had another baby. I have aceppted the fact that I will more likely than not live out the rest of my days alone with my beautiful daughter and I’m okay with that.  Is this what I want ?  Of course not, but I see first hand how women run from my situation. This is a me generation and people just don’t have the same values as in generations past. Having a disabled child is certainly a challenge,  but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker as someone else mentioned.

  27. 27

    My girlfriend of the last 5 years has a disabled son and the lack of freedom, in particular has been an issue for us.   We’ve had ups and downs, mostly because we do not have a close, traditional relationship.  Getting good care for him is expensive and a challenge and we often stay home and/or do things separately.  Understandably, she is anxious and detached quite often because she lives in fear regarding his well being.  I have 3 typical kids and we’ve discussed moving forward and blending families. I truly love this woman like no other, but do have concerns about living an isolated, sedentary lifestyle. I know that the there are no guarantees but she does hope for him to be semi independent as an adult.  Really it’s been the hardest decision that I’ve ever faced.

    BTW, she is wonderfiled to my children.  Completely accepting and loving towards them.







  28. 28

    As someone who recently became romantically involved with a single parent of an autistic child, my early response is “no.” We hardly have any time alone – maybe two or three days during our first month together. Most of our time together includes her son, one or more of his friends, and/or other adults. I consider myself to be an independent person, but the situation for me is already getting old. I like this woman a lot, but it’s pretty damn difficult to establish and build emotional intimacy (and physical intimacy) with such time restrictions in place from day one. Needless to say I’m frustrated already. I don’t want to be, but I am.

    1. 28.1

      I meant two or three “times,” not “days.”

  29. 29

    I don’t understand why she is still stringing this guy along, sounds like a big time user if you ask me. If you don’t like his child then you shouldn’t be with him. Is she selfish, YES, obviously he must be treating her like a queen and she feels threatened by his special needs child. Do him a favor leave him, so a real woman can treat him and his children better than your selfish ass. I hope you realize you’re teaching your own children to be judge mental and narrow minded as yourself, pray your children become a better adult than you, spoiled brat.

    1. 29.1

      How is being honest the same as being selfish?  I guess everyone should be politically correct to the point of stupidity.  I think Carol is just saying what a lot of people think, but are afraid to voice.  The only narrow minded judgemental person here is you.

  30. 30

    I am in a relationship for 3 1/2 yrs with a wonderful man with an autistic nonverbal 20 yr old son. The son’s mother is pretty much out of the picture and lives in another state so basically, he has raised his son by himself. I also raised my two wonderful daughters on my own and we both have something in common and that is being a great mom and dad to our kids.  My heart is open and big enough to accept his situation and figured I have enough love in me to love another man’s child with special needs. Lately, I’m having second thoughts whether I could do this, not because of the child, but rather, I feel shut out by my boyfriend when it comes to certain situations concerning his son. I am more of a parent that tries to “prepare the child for the road” and he is more the parent that “prepares the road for the child.” He coddles an enables his son instead of allowing him to be more independent. All his actions contradicts his belief and assurance that his son will be able to live in a group home after adult transition so we can have a future together. When I try to voice my feelings about him not allowing his son to grow, he’s shuts me down or deflects what I say. He says he is a special Ed teacher and he knows best about autistic kids. What do I know about autism, my kids are typical bright kids.  I feel silenced, like I’m just good enough to care for him but on the sideline, and nothing more. I truly love this man but I am starting to feel frustrated and the thought of marriage scares me.

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