Parenting with a Traumatic Brain Injury
I have four children between the ages of 1 and 8. My husband was in a car accident several years ago and suffered a traumatic brain injury. When our children ask him to read books or play games, he has difficulty reading and processing. My husband wants to promote a positive relationship with our children. How do we do this while helping them understand their dad's limitations?
First of all, kudos to you, your husband and children. It sounds as though your family has gotten through the worst moments of a serious injury, and is now creating a new vision of family, co-parenting, and relationships.
As you know, positive relationships are built on shared experience, consistent nurturance, and loving interactions. Try to increase shared activities that are not impacted by your husband’s TBI. The goal is to have positive, engaging and joyful interactions each day. Children are pretty accepting of limitations in others if they’re not worried that their own needs will go unmet. And they do better with accurate information. Creating scripts that are acceptable to you and your spouse that grow more sophisticated as the children ages will be of benefit to you and to them. "The way your dad's brain is wired makes it difficult for him to read the words but he can tell a great story with the pictures." Reading books or following directions may be difficult for your husband, but telling stories based on the pictures, building with Legos and other less structured play activities might work.
While the traumatic brain injury may not interfere with your husband’s ability to be a responsive father, he is at a higher risk for depression and feelings of inadequacy as a parent. You and your children are also at higher risk for depression. Honestly monitoring your own and your family members’ emotional health—and seeking treatment when things get off track—are crucial steps in ensuring healthy relationships.
Because parenting is often an on-the-job learning experience, your husband may need special support in acquiring the skills necessary to be successful. There are formal resources out there for parents with cognitive disabilities (such as www.lookingglass.org) that can offer ideas and strategies to help with common parenting dilemmas. I would also encourage the two of you to talk about future parenting decisions – bedtime, homework, friends, middle-school clothing choices—and come up with a loose game plan.
The rise in the number of returning service personnel with TBI means that there are more family support services available. You may want to contact the Veterans Administration in your area to see if there are support groups, parenting classes, and sibling groups that your family could join. There may also be parenting classes or coaches for parents with TBI.
Above all else, get consistent support. With a busy household of four children, enlisting parenting partners may ease the burden on you and your husband (a regular babysitter could help with homework while you cook dinner or vice versa.) Then give yourself a hug: your children and husband are lucky to have you as a mother and partner.