You and your partner won’t be the ‘same’ at parenting – and that’s a good thing. When it comes to marriage and ADHD, your differences increase the range of responses you might have for your kids, and there is much you can learn from your partner’s opinions.
But these differences also bedevil parents, particularly when dealing with stress. I’ve had numerous parents ask me about the ‘right’ way to handle kids, secretly hoping I will tell their partner that an approach s/he favors is ‘wrong.’ I don’t do that – there are many ‘right’ ways to parent kids. But I do suggest they explore ways to react as a unit when conflict arises with their kids.
This doesn’t mean that parents have to agree on everything. It’s more important that they respect and make room for each other’s parenting style — so that when emergencies happen, they present a ‘united enough’ front. For example, you might say to a teen, “you know your Dad and I don’t agree on this, so we will discuss your being 30 minutes late for curfew last night and then talk with you about it.”
How Do Parents Coordinate Better?
Here are 9 tips that can help you navigate the world of marriage and ADHD. They’ll improve consistency, and keep both parents positively involved:
Stay away from “primary parent-itis.” In many families, one parent spends more time with the kids than the other…or at least seems ‘in charge.’ But additional time with kids doesn’t mean your opinion carries more weight…only that you have an obligation to share what you have learned so the other partner isn’t left out; and that the other parent has an obligation to learn from your first-hand experiences. The opinions of both parents still count.
Schedule time to talk about big topics. Every family has ‘big topics’ such as setting rules around your child getting a learner’s permit; responses to a child being bullied; or drawing the line between supporting a child and doing too much for him. Life is busy – if you don’t block out time in your calendar to talk about these things regularly with each other, you are likely to get into conflict around them at the worst possible time – when a crisis hits. So set time aside some couple time at least once every other week, and alternate who gets to pick the topic.
Schedule a different time to talk about logistics. Try to get into a daily routine to discuss logistics. Do NOT use this time to resolve your attitudinal differences, but allow this simple structure to lessen ‘surprises’ and make your ‘big issues’ time more productive.
Listen to your partner non-defensively. Start from a place where you assume “My partner’s opinion is exactly as valid as my own.” Then open-up to learn how your partner got to where s/he did. Often, with more understanding, you can find common ground even if you aren’t in complete agreement. If that sounds scary, then it’s probably time to start journaling about this or seek some professional help. Because your partner’s opinion IS as important as yours. For your family to thrive, both of you need to believe this.
Lobby for your point of view, but be prepared to stand down. Successful parenting means that each parent must be willing to go with the wishes of the other sometimes. So if you are getting nowhere in your conversations, consider discussing which of you can more easily back away from his or her position in this instance. Then, make sure it’s not always the same parent who is giving in.
Have a conversation about your own upbringings. We unconsciously bring a lot of assumptions to our parenting based upon what we grew up with. We also often assume that ‘familiar’ is also ‘better.’ Ask questions, such as ‘who was your role model, and why?’; ‘what made family time special (or awful)?’ and ‘what kind of parent do you want to be?’ You’ll learn a lot.
Put the positive solutions first. When kids have learning issues and ADHD, they can face a lot of push back and criticism from adults, peers, and themselves. Parents play a huge role in creating a ‘safe space,’ helping kids find the positives in life, and in themselves. When faced with two options – such as sending a child to his room to calm down, which can be perceived as punishment vs. saying, “I will talk with you about that after you’ve stopped whining,” – choose the option which is less punitive and more respectful.
Have a poker face and ask questions. Sometimes you might be horrified, sometimes you might want to crack up…but take your kids’ opinions seriously. Rather than correct or critique what they said, ask questions and find out how they got to their opinion. The trust that gets built between you and your child will lead to fewer crises and, as a result, less need for parental negotiations to stay coordinated.
Get family or parent coaching or counseling focused on behavioral strategies. Research shows this is particularly helpful for families with challenging kids. Training parents to respond consistently and compassionately to a child’s more difficult behaviors creates a safer place for every member of the family. And, again, it cuts down on the discord between parents, which is all too common when you try to navigate the challenges of marriage and ADHD.