Getting a diagnosis of any kind can knock the wind right out of you. What follows is a whirlwind of information, assessments, appointments with various service providers, recommendations, and of course unsolicited advice from the well-meaning masses. All of this has the weight to crack the shoulders of the most together, solid marriage. So what happens when you're divorced and going through all of this? The added level of anxiety and frustration (and in some cases past resentments) can come crashing through your solar plexus like the Kool-Aid Man. How is this supposed to work? The good news is it can. The bad news is it takes time, infinite amounts of patience, and willingness (and a crazy amount of mediation and prayer for me!). And how am I so sure? I’ve been doing it for the last five years in my own life. I’ve been a teacher and therapist working with divorced parents, and I am a divorced parent of a child who was diagnosed with T1D when she was a toddler.
Sitting in with parents who are divorced there are various levels that we have to get through. The first is the initial explanation of why their child needs services or support. Next comes why it hasn’t happened, and this can take awhile. 80% of the time, in my experience, there is one parent who wants services and the other does not. Some explanations are that they don’t want their child labeled, they don’t want them to “look” different at school (e.g. being pulled out of class for services and their peers questioning it), it can be too pricey and/or time-consuming, they don’t want to change the way they are interacting with their child, they are scared to change how they interact and their child's behavior worsens, you get the gist here. There are many, many reasons someone will say they don’t want services and once I spend more time with families I start to see a trend. Ok, here’s the part you may not like but this trend is that sometimes parents have a hard time taking their ego out of the situation. And for children to be successful their parents need to step away from what “they” want (or don’t want, such as, “I DON’T want to work with my ex!”) and take a long, hard look at their child. What are the benefits of taking your ego out of the equation? How will this better serve your child? I told you wouldn’t like this, but I’m here, to be honest with you. And, trust me, I know firsthand how hard it is to put your ego aside and stay “child focused. “But Ronette, you have no idea what a jerk s/he is! You have no idea what I put up with for so many years” you may be saying in your head right now. And, again, trust me that I do know. I left an abusive relationship, have worked for years undoing the damage and the one thing that I always came back to was how does this affect my daughter? If I live in the past and keep rehashing this how will it benefit her? It won’t. So what can I do that will benefit her? I can work with her father and focus on what the end goal is and that is to keep her happy, healthy, and safe. So, when your in the middle of fighting about who did what to whom, stop and ask yourself how is this helping your child? What can we be doing differently? And if it’s hard, and it will be, then “act as if”. Act as if you both get along. Act as if you are both putting your child's needs before your own. Fake it until it becomes true.
Now what if your a therapist that is trying to tow this fine line between parents who have two very different ideas about what they want? My first words of advice is to identify what issues they are bringing you can be solved with your interaction with their child, and which are challenges they need to discuss with one another. You are the expert in your field and are there to provide a service for the child, so relay what your input and recommendations are and leave it at that. It will be their choice whether they go forward with the recommendations, but it’s not in your pay scale to be part of the discussion between them. When you are focused on their child and not other issues being brought to the table, then there is a level of respect you get and it makes it easier for others to focus on the child as well.
Sometimes it seems like we have to fight and fight just to get our kiddos the basic rights that other children take for granted. And sometimes it just doesn’t seem fair that we have to do this with another parent who we have a hard time even being civil too. But one thing I don’t doubt is that the love you have for your child far outweighs anything else in the world, and knowing that you both love this little being and want what’s best for them helps to ease some of the frustration and anxiety.