Your primary relationship comes first
Stress can affect the most solid relationships. Families like yours, with a troubled child, have a higher divorce rate than the general population, 50% higher. Coping with your child will bring out any and all relationship issues that may have been manageable under normal circumstances. If your relationship is falling apart, and it was mostly healthy before this period of stress, then it must be a priority over the child for now. Get counseling, if not together than singly. Or ask for help from supportive friends–prayers, cheerleading, or the opportunity to vent. Partners must stand by each other and present a solid front as the family leaders. This is just as important for your child as it is for you. Let this draw you closer together rather than pull you apart.
The most common situation I’ve seen is men emphasizing discipline and women emphasizing protection–neither is wrong.
This must be worked out and balanced. Your mission must be identical and your goals must be balanced. Sometimes the child needs discipline, and sometimes they need protection and nurturing. Discipline need not be uncaring or harmful, and protectiveness need not be enabling. While your grapple with this ongoing polarity, here’s a good way to manage in the mean time.
- Stand strong, shoulder-to-shoulder
If you strongly disagree, then together make a list of the things you agree on and worry about the disagreements later. This list should include:
- List each parent’s strong points, so you can remember what attracted you in the first place, and strengthen your bond and respect.
- Never ever argue in front of children, and make a rule for how and where to argue. Observing parents arguing creates problems that worsen your child’s behavior. Stress is an obvious result. But what about kids who manipulate their parents in order to get their way with something? Parents can be played against each other! This happened to me and it damaged my relationship with my children’s father for years (yes, we divorced too). Don’t let this happen to you.
- An agreed-upon role for each parent, which is something that they’re good at. If one parent is competent at handling a specific challenge, the other steps back, and vice versa.
- Take turns managing the household for a period while the other takes a break.
- Set aside personal feelings temporarily to co-manage one specific little problem at a time, a problem you both agree on.
Have each other’s back
A true story with names changed:
Susan and her daughter Pam were constantly fighting over who hurt who the most by what each said. Jason, husband and father, was frustrated and angry by these conflicts, but avoided interfering because he knew he’d upset both his wife and daughter. Yet Jason was always able to calm Pam down quickly because their relationship was different. One day, Jason took his wife aside and suggested they try something. He suggested that Susan step back from certain daily interactions with Pam, those which always ended in fights, and let him do the communicating. Susan did not like the idea that Pam had “won” by getting all of her dad’s attention, nor did she like the implication she couldn’t handle their daughter! But Jason came up with the idea that if he saw Susan and Pam slipping into a fight, he would use a code phrase, like “Hey dear, can you help me find the _____?”, and Susan would catch herself, save face by stepping out to look for the ____, and let Dad take over. This worked wonders rather quickly. Nothing was ever discussed openly, but after a few weeks, both mother and daughter started to catch themselves starting a fight, and one or both would find some reason to step away from the situation.
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