We were outside by the fire enjoying cooking a slow Sunday meal. The kids were still little and I could hear the familiar sound of sifting lego from Judah’s room and girls choreographing a dance routine soon to be performed for us.
I was talking fast, giving too many detailed glimpses into a parenting book I was enjoying, failing miserably to give the big picture to my confused looking husband.
The book was by a South African author and parenting coach, Hettie Britz, who writes a user-friendly analogy of different tree types as a picture of the four classic personality types of children. It was long before I knew about brain differences but it turned into my first happy invitation to let the needs and personality of a child inform how that child receives love, discipline and education.
I launched into a theory of how my husband and my son couldn’t be more different and that this might help us understand our boy if we…
“Here’s what you are going to do” Tim interrupted “ Just read the book, then come back with a simple summary and some ideas on how we can apply what you’ve learnt”
I wish I could tell you that I realised immediately that Tim was pre-empting my future career in sifting information and making it accessible to parents. I wish I had taken it as a compliment and as encouragement.
I didn’t. I bristled.
Was this man giving me homework? Was I responsible for all the parenting knowledge we were growing? Could he not rather listen patiently to all my jumbled thoughts and we find the course forward together….
I know you’ve been there.
As the parent who reads blogs like this one, I know you are the one who looks for insight and keys to unlocking your child. Sometimes it feels to you that the responsibility on your shoulders to ‘figure out’ what is best for the kids is too heavy and isn't equally shared.
Debbie Reber’s Tilt 13 in Differently Wired, raising an exceptional child in a conventional world urges us to align with our partners.
Parenting together is always difficult for two people who step into the job with different backgrounds, different personalities and a good dose of personal baggage. It’s even more complicated for you if you are divorced and trying to share a consistent parenting plan with an ex-spouse; new relationships and blended families complicate matters even more.
When you add all of that to the task of raising children who think and learn differently, a tough job becomes even harder.
“Sometimes divides open up the moment it’s clear there’s something different in the way a child is developing, because it’s not uncommon for one partner to drive the quest for answers while the other treats challenges as purely behavioral, relaying tales of their own outrageous behavior as a child. (And, hey, I turned out just fine, right?)”
Debbie makes some wonderful suggestions on how to close the gap for parents of the WonderfullyWired. You can catch a summary of the book here as a taster of just how useful reading it this holiday season can be.
“Luckily, we don’t need to be in a perfect relationship with our partner to best support our atypical kids. But we do want to be in an honest and aligned one, one in which both parents share the same goals for themselves and for their child, are equally committed to helping their child thrive, and are willing to show up and do the work, even when the work is hard.”
Debbie suggests an honest look at what is working and what is not for both parents and then a decision to ‘intentionally design your alliance.’
Here’s what Tim and I have found helpful:
Facing our stuff
There are only two kinds of people. People who face their issues and people who don’t. There are none without issues.
It became apparent to me early on that few things exposed my unhealthy habits and ideas more than marriage and parenting.
For me the barometer is always this: Am I able to intentionally make a choice of how I behave or am I reactively responding to things? When I see reactivity I ask: What was that about? What lie am I believing that keeps me from freely choosing my response? Then I set out to do the hard work of retraining my brain with truth that gives me the healthier outcome in my relationships.
It doesn’t happen overnight. It takes brutal self reflection and hard work to make new habits. But I have never regretted a moment of work to leave behind dysfunction.
I wholeheartedly agree with Debbie’s recommendation to consider getting a couple’s counselor to help navigate such an honest look at your situation. Give yourself permission to get help and stop telling yourself you shouldn’t be needing it.
Think of the most generous explanation for your partner's behaviour and choose to believe it.
I was once given this gem of information: A Gallop study of the happiest marriages found that what these marriages have in common is not a lack of conflict but instead this attitude of generosity in explaining the action of the other.
Debbie calls it having compassion for your partner,
“When we can recognize that our partner is experiencing parenting challenges through their own personal lens, and that their related emotions may look and feel different from ours, we can change the dynamic.”
When we let our partner have reasons and generously imagine them to be good reasons, we come with less judgment and enable more teamwork.
Spend Intentional time together without kids
A couple of months ago my eldest said, “Isn’t it time you and dad went on a trip together again?” And it wasn’t even to get us out of the house! She has genuinely seen the whole family benefit from time spent investing in our marriage.
We’ve been brave to ask others to help us with our children during these trips. I often feel indebted to people, but I have chosen people who remind me that real community serves the deep needs of one another. I choose to pay that forward.
We invariably come back from these trips with a better perspective. I’m especially in need of reminders of a world outside the needs of my kids and find that I do better with my task of giving them increasing independence when these reminders are there.
In your situation with a wonderfully wired child who struggles with self-regulation and behavioral difficulties, it seems naive and rude of me to suggest you go on a trip.
What is the equivalent for you in your family? Debbie suggests you implement a daily check- in, a regular time where you connect intentionally with your partner. The key is intentionality.
Choose to respect what the other brings to the situation
It took me some time to discover that Tim’s different responses to the kids helps me separate from them and fosters independence in them.
I remember the two of us sitting in a therapy session discussing our gifted kid and our concerns about her anxiety and emotional intensity. I was saying something diplomatic like ‘I’m concerned Tim is causing distance between them by the way he responds?’ I was thinking something way less generous like ‘He is escalating her anxiety, and screwing up his relationship with her’
The therapist turned to me and asked, ‘Are you sure this bothers her as much as you think it does? Are you not projecting how much it would bother you if you were her? I get the sense that she is quite sure of her Dad’s love and is filtering all his responses through that.’
The penny dropped.
My kids don’t need more of me in Tim’s responses to them. They already have me. They need him. In fact, if they have more me we risk enmeshed relationships and dependance. I can offer the softer, patient approach while he calls out the superhero in them and they, wonderfully, get both.
It changed things for us once I respectfully stopped asking Tim to be like me.
Once I wasn’t trying to compensate for what I regarded as a shortcoming in Tim and he stopped being worried about the kids being coddled, we could both stop holding the good cop, bad cop outposts! I could sometimes say to a struggling child’ Let me know when you’ve figured it out’ instead of ‘Let me figure it out with you’; and Tim could grow steadily in patience and softness.
It felt like we were designing our win-win alliance!