By Lexi Walters Wright
Raising a child with learning and attention issues can place a lot of stress on the relationship between you and your partner. Use these ideas to keep your marriage or partnership strong.
Are you confused about what happened at a recent IEP meeting? Worried about how your child will do on the sleepover? Set aside time when you and your partner can talk about what’s going on in your family and how you both feel. Sharing your thoughts will remind you that you’re not alone. When there’s no time for talking, a quick text, email, or note on the counter can help you feel connected until you can talk in person.
It’s important that you and your partner both be experts on your child. It would be great if you could attend every meeting and make decisions together. But if only one of you can be at an appointment, make sure the other is included in all the emails. Presenting a united front sends the important message to your doctors, the school and your child that “We’re in this together.”
Having time when you focus on each other—and not your child’s learning and attention issues—strengthens your bond as a couple. Schedule time with your partner doing something you both love. It doesn’t matter what that is. Take a bike ride, have dinner out, or watch a movie at home. It’s OK if you do end up talking about the kids, as long as the conversation draws you closer.
You both need time apart from the family to relax. Trade off. While one of you is out having coffee or catching up with a friend, the other can watch the kids. The next time, switch places. Giving one another space can ease feelings of resentment—a common problem among parents of kids with learning and attention issues. When you reconnect, the time you spent apart can make you appreciate each other even more.
It can be easy to feel weighed down by the challenges your child’s learning and attention issues present. You can lighten the mood by remembering to look for the good. Point out the positive things you see your child doing. You might say something like: “He was so gentle with the neighbor’s dog today,” or “He started his homework without my even having to ask.”
Many parents of kids with learning and attention issues wonder whether they’re doing the right things to help their children. Or if they’re doing them well enough. So when your partner hears that you think he’s doing a great job, it can mean a lot. Try: “I was really impressed by how you handled Justin’s tantrum at breakfast. I might have lost it, but you really kept your cool,” or “Thanks for getting his lunch ready for tomorrow. It’ll make my morning so much easier.”
Making time to talk is important. But it’s also important that you focus on what each of you is saying. Give your partner your full attention when he speaks and try not to jump in with your own thoughts and opinions until he’s done. Ideally, he’ll do the same for you. Even if there’s no clear solution to whatever problem you’re discussing, sometimes it’s enough that you each feel you were heard and understood.
Letting other people give you a hand can take some pressure off you and your partner. But you may feel wary about imposing on others. So think about small favors. When a cousin asks, “How can I help?” be prepared to say, “Could you please pick Todd up from basketball?” That can give you a few minutes to chat with your partner after work.
Look for local support groups for parents of kids with learning and attention issues. You may both find it helpful to hear from other families whose situation is similar to yours. You can also connect with other parents through our online community. Couples’ therapy is another option. Even if you and your partner are getting along well, a therapist can offer ideas for how to keep your relationship strong.
When you’re in the midst of tough times, it can be hard to imagine that things will ever get any easier. Feeling defeated by your child’s slow progress or fearful about his future can definitely affect your feelings about your relationship with your partner. Try to help each other maintain a positive attitude about what the future holds for your family. Share triumphs big and small. Reflect on how much your family and relationship have grown. And help each other keep your sense of perspective.
It’s not always easy for parents to get on the same page when raising a child with learning and attention issues. When parents are divorced, there may be even more obstacles. These tips may help.
Do you handle the majority of activities surrounding your child’s learning and attention issues? Do you wish your partner played a bigger role? Follow these tips for encouraging a reluctant partner to be more involved.
Lexi Walters Wright is veteran writer and editor who helps parents make more informed choices for their children and for themselves.
Molly Algermissen, Ph.D., is an associate professor of medical psychology at Columbia University Medical Center and clinical director of PROMISE.
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Ditching Good Cop, Bad Cop: How to Put Up a United Parenting Front
8 Tips for Getting Your Reluctant Partner Involved
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