7 Issues to Contemplate When Co-parenting For a Particular Wants Little one
My client, Mr. Cooper, was sitting on the sofa in my office wondering if I could help his nine year old son with ADHD. Ex-wife Cooper sat across from him in the chair and couldn’t look him in the eye. They both loved Jacob, that was clear, and their reasons for seeking my help as a psychotherapist specializing in ADHD were based on this love. Jacob struggled with behavior at school that at best sent him to the principal’s office and, at worst, resulted in overturned chairs and injured students. Jacob hated school and Jacob was angry.
In the course of our meetings it was very clear that the Coopers were not going through a friendly divorce. Pointing fingers in abundance. Allusions, covert taunts and small differences of opinion made it clear that although they loved Jacob, they were more concerned about “being right” and “getting their way” than actually helping Jacob. In the end, my professional opinion was that while Jacob had ADHD and that made school difficult, Jacobs ADHD wasn’t why he threw chairs.
While a conflict-ridden divorce can often have a negative impact on children, it can add a particularly complex layer in a child with special needs. In fact, it can often contribute to the couple’s separation in the first place, especially if there is disagreement about treatment and parenting approaches. Here are seven things to keep in mind when creating a parenting plan for your special needs child:
1. Consistency across all homes is key. Routines can be lifesaving for children with ADHD, autism, and anxiety, to name a few. Discuss and agree on routines that will stay the same in both households, such as homework, discipline, bed times, and parental approaches. If you cannot agree, contact a professional or clinician.
2. Be willing to teach the non-primary carer. Very often one parent has become the contact person for care, treatment, homework, etc. This parent may fear that the other will not be able to safely care for the child and may request greater custody. Regardless of the division of custody, it is in your child’s best interest to provide tips on how to best care for the child. Be open to sharing and receiving. It’s not about control – it’s about what works best for your child.
3. Create a special needs section in your parenting planwhere you agree on things like treatment, education, long-term care, nutrition, doctor contact, and household changes, to name a few.
4. Discuss suitable supervisors in the absence of one parent, including the right of first refusal of the other parent.
5. If there are siblings, keep in mind that their needs can be different, including sharing custody. I once had clients who agreed that the special needs child would live with mom full time and the siblings walked back and forth and this was the best arrangement for their children.
6. Stay in your lane. If the other parent refuses or has difficulty looking after the special needs child in the way you think is best, provided there are no safety concerns, let go of them. It may appear that this will cause your child to have problems, but the reality is that your child (special needs or not!) Is going to have difficulties. Learning to deal with difficult situations and people (including their own parents) can be a growth situation for them. Be the solid foundation to fall back on when things get tough without stressing or beating up the other parent.
7. Stay flexible. You may not want to see each other again, but now this is not about what you need. Despite your feelings for one another, always remember to put the child first. Sometimes that means acknowledging that what your child needs most is time with the other parent.