I hear time and time again that not only are us Warrior Mums fighting the system, the teacher, the playground mums but we are also having major battles with the dads of our special children.
Dads who just have different strategies and rules that vehemently clash with yours. Dads who find it difficult to accept the diagnosis. Reluctant to read or learn about special needs, ADHD or autism. Dads who are stuck in the traditional ways of parenting that worked for him and can’t see why they shouldn’t work with your child. Dads who then openly undermine what you are trying to do.
Now I am not saying for one minute that this is all dads. Of course not.
Without meaning to sound patronising, there are some amazing men who are doing a brilliant job. Who get it. Are supportive and real advocates for doing things differently and understanding. I follow closely the work of the fabulous Richard Mylan and his beautiful son Jaco. A shining example – and one amongst thousands of fantastic fathers. Honestly. I don’t mean to offend anyone or undermine any great dads. But unfortunately there are many dads who really don’t get it.
By no means am I suggesting that men = rubbish with special needs; women = super heroes. What I am saying, is that I hear so often from my clients that they are battling with their husbands and ex-husbands, to really get them on-board to offer a real joined-up approach to this parenting lark.
It’s bloody tough every single day but our special children need consistency. They need boundaries to be clear and for everyone to pulling in the same direction. Any chink in the armour and our children will pounce.
What’s going on?
Maybe the whole thing is down to behavioural psychology. Men from an early age are programmed to be macho, bread winners, fixers. They are conditioned to not show emotion and be strong. I’ve written about gender stereo-typing previously as I think it is a basis of a lot of emotional health problems.
Dads are perhaps, like mums, mourning for the child and the life they thought they would have. Dads imaging the normal scenarios that we all fantasize about; graduation, engagements, weddings. Playing together without treading on egg shells. Going out for uncomplicated family treats. Being able to relax without constant disruption and peace making.
Maybe dads feel their role is to be the fixer when actual fact what is needed is communication.
So how on earth do we get the dads really understanding, supporting and helping with this difficult parenting job?
Yes really communicate and work out together what to do when your child has a meltdown. How to help your child in tricky social situations. Whether your child should be struggling in school without support. All these situations demand action. And it shouldn’t be knee-jerk responses. They should be carefully thought about and considered. We know that home-life is fraught. Our children demand a huge amount of attention. But if you and your husband or partner are working together, then the burden is eased. Compromises need to be made.
It is massively vital that dads learn about your child’s condition. However best they learn.
There are some great YouTube videos – just Google ‘What is ADHD / autism’ and up will pop short 5 min videos.
Some brilliant audio or podcasts to listen to in the car or on headphones. There are some incredible TED talks and again just type in the search button for relevant videos.
Or read some simple texts. There are also some really great novels such as ‘Boy Made of Blocks’ or ‘Curious Incident of the Dead Dog at Night Time’ which help to understand the world from a child’s perspective.
Then of course you could go together to a meeting or support group. To talk with other parents, as we know, is so reassuring and comforting to know that you are not alone.
When my son was first diagnosed with ADHD back in 1996 there were no groups or networks for me to join. I felt lonely and isolated. But today there are so many groups on Facebook to belong to where you can ask for help and practical advice.
3. Give responsibility
I am amused by the idea that some women don’t ask their men to iron because they don’t do it properly. But how will they ever learn and acquire the skill if they don’t have experience.
The same I guess is with parenting.
Maybe we need to give dad a bit of time to make some of the parenting decisions and to take responsibility. That way he will experience the pitfalls, make adjustments and learn what works and what to avoid.
4. Make mistakes together
You won’t get it right. And dad won’t get it right. Everyone gets it wrong. The trick is to get it wrong but be together. Try not to blame, criticise or judge. Be understanding that it is bloody hard and you’re both trying your best but sometimes things go haywire. But if you’re on the same page when it comes to discipline, having fun, rules, taking risks – then it is more likely that you’ll all experience some success.
5. Be a great role model
The best way for your partner to see that your strategies are working is to show him. Be a great role model and show by example that shouting and nagging doesn’t work. Being organised, clear and maybe using visuals will help your child. Getting your child to sit still and not fiddle is difficult at the dinner table so you provide movement breaks, fiddle toys and distractions. Get your partner to see that these things actually work. If you change the environment and your responses, your child’s behaviour will massively improve.
So you both need to do this parenting thing together. You must talk to one another and agree a way forward. Your child cannot see a clash or will take advantage of the situation which makes tensions within a home worse. We know that children need both their mums and dads. Whether we all live together in the same home or not. And this parenting thing must be consistent, fair and help bring fun and joy to the family.
I have been thinking what additional services I can offer families.
As you may know, I run a successful monthly support group where mums meet up, share experiences, laugh, cry and help one another. I offer some training on a theme we’ve all decided together.
But what could I offer dads?
Do you think your ex / husband / partner would attend an evening workshop on ‘How To Support Your Child with Special Needs’?
Please take this quick poll below and let me know
[ For research purposes only – this isn’t a commitment to anything ]
I’m happy to give further advice, just email me firstname.lastname@example.org