My husband and I often disagree on how to discipline our defiant ADHD son. How can we find ways to agree?
As you and your husband share the responsibilities of parenting and managing a defiant child with ADHD, problems will arise. Here are a few of the most common difficulties that today's moms and dads encounter with such a child -- and how you can handle them:
1. Competition— Sometimes rivalry can develop between parents over their kid's attention and love. If dad wants his daughter to spend Saturday afternoon fishing with him, but mom wants her to go shopping with her, they may struggle to get their way, putting the youngster in an unenviable position, right in the middle of the conflict. The two of you need to find ways to cooperate, not compete, with each other. That doesn't mean you have to agree on everything; but it does mean that you are committed to working together toward a more harmonious relationship and family life, and you are not going to let differences undermine your common goals. Each of you needs to demonstrate some flexibility. As you form ground rules for the family, identify the areas in which each parent excels. That parent should then exert leadership in the areas of his or her strength, so the decision-making responsibilities are divided within the family.
2. Confusion— Uncertainty about what stands to take and what rules to impose can create turmoil within the family. Too often, moms and dads are perplexed about issues like the degree of supervision required for their kids and the amount of freedom to give them. Mothers/fathers frequently do not make decisions at all, and that can leave their kids puzzled and dismayed over what is expected of them. You and your husband need to resolve your own ambivalence on important family matters and agree on a position on these issues. Then you must clearly inform the entire family about your decisions and how their own lives will be affected by them.
3. Inconsistency— Often moms and dads differ in their rules and expectations for their youngster. Mom might say, "You can't watch TV until your homework is finished"; but when she's away, Dad may say, "Go ahead and watch TV if you want to." Dad might insist that the youngster's bedtime is 8:30; Mom may say that stretching it until 9:00 is fine. Similar conflicts can develop over issues like approaches to discipline or a youngster's choice of friends. When these inconsistencies occur, one parent inevitably undermines the authority of the other. To begin to resolve this problem, you and your husband need to be explicit with each other about what your rules and expectations are. If necessary, write them down, review them and be sure they are workable. In areas in which you differ, find a compromise that you both can live with - and stick by it.
4. Non-Communication— If you and your husband do not talk about the issues the family faces, one of you may be left out of important matters you should be informed about. To avoid this situation, you and your husband need to commit yourselves to communicate about every significant issue in your family life. At least once a day the two of you need to check in with each other and discuss what happened that day that was important. At the same time, talk about long-term issues that may be confronting the family.
5. Overt Conflict— Too often, moms and dads argue and openly challenge each other on family-related matters. Perhaps their youngster has gotten into trouble at school, and the parents disagree about how to handle it; the mother may think the youngster should be grounded, while the father believes it wasn't her fault. They start to argue - sometimes for hours or even over a period of days - and eventually, rather than resolving the problem amicably, one parent wins out because the other ultimately gives in, at least for the moment. Nevertheless, the parental power struggle often begins all over again at a later time with a different issue, with some of the same anger from the previous conflict resurfacing. The wounds never fully heal and the animosity builds. Clearly, this is not a healthy situation. Mothers/fathers need to learn the skills of conflict resolution. These include:
• Clarifying points of difference
• Generating alternative solutions together
• Taking each other's feelings seriously
Remember, the way you handle conflict in your family is how your youngster learns to manage disagreement. Many community colleges offer seminars and courses on conflict resolution.
Interpersonal relationships do not exist in a vacuum. If you and your husband are having marital difficulties, they are likely to disrupt the entire family. When your marriage is not going well, your parenting skills and your kids will suffer.
Parents in the most successful families do not neglect marital problems. They commit themselves to spending time together as a couple and working together to resolve any misunderstandings, jealousies or conflicts. They make a commitment to communicate, praise, and forgive each other; they try to understand each other; and they routinely examine their relationship and how it can be improved.
Sometimes kids are a convenient excuse for not dealing with serious marital difficulties. Moms and dads may think, "The children require so much of our attention now; once they're grown, we'll have a lot of time to talk about the problems we have in our own relationship." But that is a prescription for marital and parenting disaster. Problems tend only to become worse with time, and once your kids are grown, you may not have much of a foundation to build on - if you are still together at all. So don't be complacent and let problems persist without attempting to solve them.
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