Why I feel invisible at IEP meetings (a dad’s view)

Sometimes I feel invisible. It’s not my family that makes me feel this way. The thing that makes me feel invisible is being a dad at an IEP meeting.

My wife and I have two sons who have IEPs to support their learning and thinking differences, and we’ve both been going to IEP meetings for years. Each year there are new teachers, new administrators, and sometimes even new schools. And with these changes come new meeting notices in the mail with my name left off, and emails I haven’t been copied on.

It seems automatic. We walk into the classroom or conference room, set our notebooks and water bottles down and do the introductions as usual. Then, when the meeting starts and the school staff ask for parent comments or concerns, all heads and eyes turn to my wife.

I speak up when I have something to say, ask questions, and try to be as present as anyone else at the meeting. After all, I am my sons’ father.

But most questions and comments are invariably directed at “Mom,” as my wife is so often referred to. I might as well be one of the notebooks or bottles of water!

It’s not until I say something really impactful that anyone really notices I’m there.

For instance, I remember one meeting when the discussion focused on a change to my younger son’s IEP. After a teacher asked my wife how she thought things were going, I cut in as politely as I could.

“I picked him up at the bus stop the other day,” I said. “That’s when he told me, ‘Daddy, guess what? I didn’t need to be talked to about my bad behavior today!’”

The room silenced, and all eyes turned to me. It was as if I’d appeared out of thin air.

“What he said was heartbreaking,” I continued, “but it’s also a positive sign that what’s being done is working.”

With one comment, both emotional and concrete, I broke through and let them know that “Dad” is here too. I could tell by their faces that they’d finally realized, He’s plugged in, knows what’s going on and is invested in his child’s education.

After that, the school staff turned to me more often. They listened to me and acknowledged my concerns a little more carefully.

I know it’s not always the case, but to me it feels like schools aren’t used to fathers being as involved as moms when it comes to their kids’ education. Maybe that’s a leftover from a time when fewer dads were the primary caretakers.

I’m a stay-at-home parent, and I frequently spend more hours per day with my kids than my wife does. That means I see things that perhaps she doesn’t. That means I have unique, meaningful perspective the IEP team needs to consider.

I’m sure I’m not alone here. But sadly, I don’t think attitudes toward dads are going to change overnight. In the meantime, my wife and I have found a few ways to help me take a more significant role.

Most importantly, we prepare for the IEP meeting together. Before the meeting, we run through what we want to bring up at the meeting. We talk about what strategy is best and what language will be most effective.

Preparing together helps us work as a team and gives both of us things to say. Having strategy sessions with your partner can go a long way toward leveling the playing field for dads at IEP meetings.

My advice to fathers who go to IEP meetings is to speak up. Let the team know that you’re an important part of your child’s life and education. Call your kids’ teachers once in a while for updates on how things are going. When you take the initiative, you set a good example for your kids.

If you’re a mom or a dad with a partner who seems reluctant to be part of the IEP meeting, I suggest sharing thoughts about your child’s IEP. You might be surprised by what you hear. Your partner may actually want to be involved, but not know where to start. Help your partner feel like part of the parent team. The stronger the partnership between spouses, the stronger each parent will feel at the meeting.

It can be difficult to be a dad at an IEP meeting, but in the end it’s also very rewarding. For me it feels great when my wife, my kids and the educators all know that I’m every bit as important as Mom when it comes to my kids’ education.

See a collection of stories about how fathers made a difference for their kids with learning and thinking differences. Learn how to be an effective advocate for your child. And get tips on how to talk to your partner about your child’s special education needs.


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