HELP FOR PARENTS WITH STRONG-WILLED, OUT-OF-CONTROL CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS

Education and Counseling for Individuals Affected by Oppositional Defiant Disorder and ADHD

Ex-Husband Undermines Mother's Parenting Efforts

I have a 13 year old son, who has ADD and ODD. His father and I are divorced. D has 2 sisters ages 22 and 18. We had been going to a wonderful Doctor who was helping both houses deal with the issues that D has and giving us the skills you speak of. He wanted certain things to be the same in each house, but then the houses would run differently based upon each parent.

It was working so well and everyone has seen such a huge change in D. Unfortunately, his father could not follow the program and was not following it in his house. I was and the conflicts were dealt with and D was less defiant etc... There was harmony for the first time.

This was the third therapist, and was the only one of the 3 that was able to figure out why my ex husband has undermined and sabotaged each and every one of them. We are under and have been under the court order for the kids to seek therapy, and each time my ex would not make the appointments, not listen to the advice of the therapist, and tell the kids that they didn't need therapy etc...

He didn't know who to believe after each of us had our initial meeting at the beginning back in April 2007. Our 3rd doctor, was able to take my son out of the middle by being the go between for myself and my ex and try and see which parent actually was telling the truth and who would follow through or not. Well, he apologized to me for not believing me from the start, as I was the one that followed through and dove into the program. It was hard, but I knew that I had no other choice if I wanted to be able to survive with my son.

He was doing his chores on his own, would listen when and if he had to have the consequences for not doing homework, chores, talking back or being rude etc...

He was 14 assignments behind, as part of the program was to let him suffer the consequences of his own doing. That was one of the most difficult things I had to do. Knowing that he was not doing his homework, but I did it. My ex went on his honeymoon and I had D for 2 weeks. D got caught up in that time span with all of his homework, but I was called all the names in the book for following through and not letting him practice or play soccer (as this was one of the consequences spelled out). My ex got back from his trip and in less than 48 hours, dismantled 6 months worth of work, by letting D go to soccer when his rough draft of his major report was to have been completed before the soccer game.

I had a funny suspicion that he was not going to follow through and I contacted the doctor to let him know what I was feeling. He contacted my ex at 2:30pm, and was assured the doctor that D was not going to be going to soccer that day.

The next day my ex, his new wife and D had an appointment with Dr. M and they all sat there and did not mention to him that D had played in his soccer game the day before (his rough draft was not completed) letting Dr. M think that D did not go to soccer.

Dr. M once he found out that he was lied to, tried to get my ex to come back in and get back on track with the program. He refused to, so Dr. M had no choice but to terminate.

Oh, by the way Dr. M figured out that my ex portrays himself on other people. Example: Tells people that I am the bad parent, when it really is he that is the bad parent.

I also just found out from both of my daughters that their father was telling them starting at the age of 8 or 9 that I didn't love them, and that he was the one that raised them. Now he is doing this to my son. The girls have stated that they were brainwashed by him, which I had been saying all along. All 3 of the kids all have said the same lines, which came directly from their father.

So, my question(s) to you are how do I get back on track in my house, when dad has undermined my efforts in my house to follow the program?

D will not listen or do anything in my house. He wants me to ask him nicely each time I want him to take out the garbage, recycling etc... When I try to send him in his room for speaking to me so disrespectfully he refuses.

D is on a 50/50 split, which I believe is the worst thing for him, as he is now stuck in the middle once again. When we were with Dr. M, D was out of the middle and was able to have a 3 neutral party to find out what parent was actually telling the truth and which one of us did what they said they would do. Because D was able to finally know and see what his father was doing, I believe his father did not like D telling knowing that he was the one that couldn't follow through, was a wimp in D's eyes and D knew that he could make his father do what he wanted him to do. For this reason and others, his father really bucked Dr. M and the program. I have now found out that his father only followed through with D and consequences once in the entire 6 months.

Help if you can. I am open to suggestions.

Sorry for the long e-mail, but I am so afraid for my son if we continue this way.

Sincerely,

S.,

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Hi S.,

Re: … how do I get back on track in my house, when dad has undermined my efforts in my house to follow the program?

There are some families in which the parents’ beliefs about changing children’s behavior are so different that their attempts at discipline become more of a problem than a solution. A child whose mother is strict but whose father is a consistent pushover, for example, receives confusing information about what’s expected.

A parent who gives in to his children’s every demand in the hope of satisfying them almost always finds that the opposite happens: Instead of letting up, the children continue to push for more and more, looking for a sign of how much is too much.

A similar thing happens if the parents cannot decide how to discipline and set limits on their children. It’s healthy for children to see how their parents reach a compromise or settle a disagreement if it’s done peacefully and effectively. But if the parents can’t reach an agreement, the children’s behavior often gets worse as they search for the reassurance of stable boundaries to their lives.

In those situations, the main issue of using discipline to teach children appropriate behavior gets lost in the battles between parents for an illusion of control. The children become confused and respond by continuing to act out, both to assert their own power and to figure out which rules are really important.

Realize that disagreeing with your ex about child discipline is normal and inevitable. It doesn’t mean that you are incompatible as parents. It does mean that you are not clones of each other. Don’t let lack of agreement evolve into more than it is. Agree to disagree.

Unfair fighting is never a good life lesson. Witnessing parents sniping, bullying, screaming or giving the cold shoulder is frightening to children, and teaches them to avoid or to abuse disagreements. Don’t go there, no matter how tempting it is to hit below the belt.

Decide in advance (as in right now!) what’s really important in your family. I’m sure that you and your ex can agree on at least a handful of issues that you’ll always concur are important and should be handled in a certain manner. Many families consider health (ranging from wearing bicycle helmets to banning substance use), education (completing class work and homework in an appropriate manner), respect (at home, school and in the public), and honesty to be “givens.”

The bottom line is that the best disciplinary decision is made, not who made it. This is not about notches in the gun belt — it’s about giving consequences that will lower the child’s frequency of inappropriate behavior and raise the odds of acceptable behavior in the future, pure and simple. If you feel that your ex is working against you, try giving a preset signal that means “we need to talk.”

Forming a united front on discipline is often more easily said than done. Here are some ideas that may help:

Don’t be trapped by your past. That includes both your own childhood and the style of discipline you may have used in an earlier marriage. Look for ways to explore, with your ex, your unquestioned assumptions about disciplining children. One good way to do that is to take a parenting class together. That does two things: It helps you realize how differently other people respond to the same situations you face as parents, and it gives you and your ex a common base of information from which to develop your shared approaches to discipline.

Be prepared for behavioral problems. Remember that many changes in children’s behaviors are linked to their stage of normal development. Talk ahead of time about how each of you would handle predictable situations. That way you’ll have fewer conflicts when they occur.

Agree on a signal to alert both of you that the conversation is – or is about to get — too heated and needs to be halted.

Make a commitment both to honor and act on the signal. You might walk away and have an agreed-upon cooling off period. Or set a time to revisit your differences in opinion. Or write down what you’re feeling and later share it with your partner, who might better understand where you’re coming from.

Create your own family “rule book.” Write clear, reasonable, attainable rules (for both parents and kids) about what behavior is acceptable and what isn’t. Your family, like a baseball team, will be more successful when you have clear guidelines.

Remember your successes. You and your ex have undoubtedly successfully negotiated many situations – with each of you both giving and taking a little until you reached some middle ground. You also be successful at ending arguments in front of the children if you really want to. It won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding. And your children will be the ultimate winners.

Having said all that, it’s important not to go overboard in trying to avoid arguments. Having small squabbles in front of the kids – and then resolving them peacefully – can actually be good for them; it shows that it’s possible to disagree with someone, and that relationships don’t end just because people are quarreling with each other.

Lastly, a weaker plan supported by both parents is much better than a stronger plan supported by only one parent.

Mark Hutten, M.A.

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