Wednesday 12 June 2024

Side Eye and an Elbow to the Ribs - Relationships and Tricky Kids

She dug him in the ribs with her elbow and he gave her the side eye. 

I ignored them, though it was clear across the room other couples were giving each other knowing, withering, disapproving, ‘see I told you that you were wrong’ looks. 


I’d been explaining, so one parent looks at the other and thinks: 

‘They’re far to soft on our kid, how are they going to function in the real world, I’ll tighten up some boundaries, rules and expectations to get the kid back on track.’


The other parent looks back and thinks:

‘They’re like a camp commandant, I’ll cut the kid a bit more slack to compensate for them, this kid needs a bit more flexibility and understanding.’


Slowly these positions embed, views are exacerbated by time and experience and inevitable the gap between parents gets wider. 


Folks have often come to my talks expecting or hoping for a magical formulae for getting complicated children to bed on time, eat their greens and stop what can be often complex, challenging, aggressive and/or violent behaviour.


They did not come for relationship advice or insight. But that’s where we’re at in the talk, the rib dig and side eye moment. I’d been talking about the impact on relationships of parenting complicated children. For many couples the very foundation of their relationship is significantly undermined by the complexity, relentlessness and personally challenging nature of caring for children with histories of adversity, complex trauma, neurodivergent and with complex needs. Behaviour can be complex, physically and emotionally challenging. A hairline crack in a relationship can be exacerbated to breaking point, sometimes it does break. 


I recall talking to an adoptive parent about the challenges of raising a child with difficult behaviour, without prompting the conversation turned to their partner.  We don’t see eye to eye any more and we can’t talk about it. We don’t argue about anything other than our child. 


There are no magic formulas for managing children’s challenging and aggressive behaviour, but before we get to child we need to attend to our relationship. Is it easy? no. Do I have all the answers? Nope. I do know honest conversations sometimes need to be had, sometimes with the help of professionals to reconnect us with our loved ones to agree boundaries, approaches and how to work together. 


As they say, a house divided against itself cannot stand.  (Abraham Lincoln. Luke 3:25)

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