I am asked this question all the time. “My husband doesn’t believe my child’s diagnosis is real. What do I do?”
I have been thinking about writing this post for years.
I am asked this question several times a month and see it in the search history reports showing what brings women to my site. It is a topic my husband and I struggled with as well, in our first few years post diagnosis.
I know it is a daily stressor for those living in the midst of the confusion and arguments.
For me, it feels heartbreaking to even ask –
What do you do when your husband doesn’t believe your child’s diagnosis is real?
If you find yourself asking this question, please know, you are not alone.
In fact, I think on some level, every single family learning how to live with a special needs diagnosis has a disconnect between what one partner believes about the diagnosis and what the other feels may be “overblown” or a “discipline problem.”
And like it or not, most of the time, it tends to be husbands questioning the diagnosis. I am not sure why, but my guess is that in the early years of a child’s life, mom is typically more involved in the day to day care of a child. Moms are also more likely to be around other children at the park or play dates. (Again, not always and there are certainly exceptions. But if a mom is asking this question about her husband, this has typically been the case). Moms see the differences, heading into diagnosis. Dads may not.
No matter how in tune parents may be, I think it also makes sense that two people may process this type of information differently and with different emotions, timing and levels of acceptance.
Is Mom To Blame For Her Child’s Behavior?
Another factor I have to address in this dynamic is that like it or not, we have a culture that blames a mom first for her child’s behavior. It is not fair, but my experience has been that it weighs heavily in relationships struggling to make sense of a new diagnosis.
This blame defined my relationship with my boys and my husband for years. Sometimes, it still does.
In fact, most of the time back then, I believed the number one problem in my children’s lives was me. I thought if I could just get it together, parent better, be stronger, make him wear the shoes, sleep in his own bed, punish him for the meltdowns, be consistent, create a behavior chart, and ignore my maternal instinct, my child would not struggle everyday.
I believed this. So did my husband. So did my friends and family.
For that matter, so did the judgey lady at the store and the stern man yelling at my son in the airport. The world seemed to point to me as the culprit. Of course my husband also believed it.
Unfortunately, we avoided getting any real help because of the shame and discouragement I felt, and it delayed his diagnosis for years.
Getting The Diagnosis
The crazy thing is, once we had the diagnosis, I felt better. There was an explanation that made sense. It wasn’t all my fault!
I was scared and sad, but I was also intensely relieved.
This was not true for my husband. He was scared and sad, only. He says now that it was incredibly convenient for him to cling to his belief that it was my fault. It meant I could fix it. It meant the diagnosis didn’t have to be real.
I wish I could say we got on the same page quickly and moved on. We didn’t, and please hear me when I say, most families don’t.
It takes years for everyone to work through the reality that is parenting a child with special needs. The denial of one parent, in my experience, is a very real and even normal part of a family’s dynamic moving forward.
When Your Husband Doesn’t Believe Your Child’s Diagnosis Is Real
It may be a relatively common problem, but it is also an incredibly hurtful and painful place to be.
Here are a few things that helped us.
Try Not To Take It Personally and Provide As Much Education As Your Husband Is Willing To Accept
In our home, this looked like conversations around something that I had read or a discussion I’d had with the doctor. When my husband would dismiss the information, my response was usually something along the lines of, “I want you to be informed about what’s going on. You are not with the boys or the doctors as often, so it makes sense that it’s hard for you to grasp all of this.”
Giving my husband a little grace, no matter how I much wanted to scream, made a real impact our first few years post diagnosis.
Dad Goes To The Doctor Too
Another helpful step was my husband attending some of my son’s therapies. For an entire year, we made arrangements for my husband to be the parent that took my son to occupational therapy. He was a little resistant at first, but we decided that if he was going to dismiss the diagnosis, he needed to be prepared to do so in an informed way.
It had the opposite effect entirely.
Find Outside Support
The very best thing I did in this difficult time frame, was find other people who knew what it was like and “got it.” It helped and encouraged me and eventually, it allowed my husband a little visibility into other homes that were dealing with the same issues and concerns.
Even Facebook groups and other blogs helped us both eventually get on the same page.
Time Makes All The Difference
I want to give you as many practical suggestions as possible, but please know, the number one factor in changing this dynamic is often time.
As our children get older, they often display more and more of their differences. A meltdown at 3 years old doesn’t look any different from a tantrum of any other 3 year old. A meltdown at nine years old begins to be more obviously different. That same meltdown at 13 years old makes no sense without a diagnosis, even to a husband in denial for years.
If Your Husband Just Doesn’t Believe You
I am so sorry if you are reading this in desperation. Please know, it is something many, if not most, families deal with on one level or another. At the end of the day, no matter what your husband believes about the diagnosis, he is still your husband. I know it’s hard, but try not to let this define your relationship. You have plenty of time to sort this out, but not if it becomes a festering wound in your relationship.
And please, please, take care of yourself. This is a long haul and you are someone’s mom.
Yes, it would be wonderful to have the support and encouragement of your partner, but if that is not a reality right now, my heart is for you. Reach out to friends, other moms, family, even here on this blog.
We are all trying to figure this out, husbands included.
I think it’s so much better when we figure it out together.
For more encouragement and support:
Shawna Wingert is a former training and development professional turned education specialist, and has homeschooled her two children for the last ten years.Shawna has written four books about homeschooling unique learners and has been featured in homeschooling discussions on Today.com, The Mighty, Simple Homeschool, My Little Poppies and Raising Lifelong Leaners.
You can find her online here at DifferentByDesignLearning.com.