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Husband Is Too Hard On Our Son

I've written about the good cop-bad cop parenting dynamic here, and I think that's what's at play in your situation too. You are correct to be worried about undermining your husband's parenting, which I discuss here. Then again, you don't want your child to feel bad about himself. So what are you to do?
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Reader Good Cop writes,

I feel my husband can be very hard on our 7 year old son and I'm struggling to convey my message to him. I think it's been going on for years but it's been worse in the last few months. Husband gets upset with son very easily and, in my opinion, talks at our son for long periods over minor things.

We have two children, 2 and 7. I've always felt that he expects too much maturity and understanding from our boy (7). And I've been known to say things like "You're the parent, not him," "He's 7, you're the adult," and "Act like an adult."

Lately my husband is quite negative and he thinks he and our son don't have much of a relationship. I've started to think that it's because my husband can be quite unfair and unreasonable to our son. Like if our son does something he knows he's not meant to, like eat lots of cookies or watch tv longer than agreed, my husband, in my opinion, overreacts and our son ends up in tears for something minor.

What's nagging me is that I've tried speaking to him about it but it's been going on for a while. I worry it's going to have a negative impact on our son. I think he's quite a sensitive boy and he's very hard on himself so I try and not criticize him too much and praise him for his good traits. I want him to be a happy well balanced boy. He's a very clever, kind and generous boy that works hard at school and sports he plays.

This is one of the few things that my husband and I can't seem to agree on when it comes to parenting. I don't want to undermine him on this one but I think it's wrong. I'm just not sure I'm reading too much into this or not...

Dear GC,

I've written about the good cop-bad cop parenting dynamic here, and I think that's what's at play in your situation too. You are correct to be worried about undermining your husband's parenting, which I discuss here. Then again, you don't want your child to feel bad about himself. So what are you to do?

I suggest that you first introspect deeply about why your husband's behavior is triggering you. I would imagine that you were fairly sensitive (read about Highly Sensitive Children here), and one of your parents was critical or dismissive of you, and now you're very sensitive to the idea of your son feeling as you may have felt. Your husband, on the other hand, may be wired very differently than you and your son, and may think that your son can withstand more correction than you think he can. He also may have grown up with a critical parent, and is replaying that dynamic in his relationship with your son.

Ideally, you and your husband could sit down and have a heart-to-heart about this topic, focusing on your own families, and the pros and cons of discipline tactics in each of your childhood homes. Here is what would NOT be helpful:

- Telling your husband to act like an adult

- Criticizing him for criticizing your son (you can see when it's written out that way why it's unproductive and fairly unreasonable)

- Acting like the "good" or "right" parent

- Acting like there is one way to discipline/parent (and of course, it's yours)

Here is what would be helpful:

- Being on your husband's side: it is both of you against the issue. The issue is your husband's increasingly negative relationship with your son. Both of you, as a team, want to work on that.

- Empathize with whatever information your husband shares about his thoughts, views, upbringing.

- Validate how annoying your son's behavior can be at certain times.

- Note your own parenting weaknesses as often as possible during the conversation (Are you permissive? Too anxious? Disorganized? Anything?)

- Apologize for any time you may have disrespected your husband and his parenting ability, particularly in front of your son.

- Apologize if you're always the parent who is a huge softie and therefore leaves any discipline to your husband. (You may not think this is what's happening, but he might. Ask.)

Another good behavioral technique would be stepping in during the next potential altercation between your husband and your son, to agree with your husband and do the discipline yourself. Here's an example:

Son eats ten cookies instead of three.

Husband: Whoa, I thought we agreed on three. You can't be eating like that right before dinner! You KNOW we've discussed this. What were you thinking?

Son: I don't know.

You: Hey, you're right, Husband. Son, next time please make sure that you only have three. Let's clean up and start homework.

Later, if you want, you can discuss with your husband the value of your son being allowed to gorge on cookies, or his tone when he chastised your son. You can phrase it like, "Hey, you're totally right about Son not needing ten cookies before dinner. I felt like he was kind of sad after you talked to him about it, though." Your husband may surprise you and say something like, "Yeah, well, I know. I'll try to keep my tone nicer." He may say this particularly if you had previously surprised HIM by taking his side during the interaction about the cookies.

Good luck, and till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says Empathy Can Do Wonders Here.

This post was originally published here on Dr. Psych Mom. Follow Dr. Rodman on Dr. Psych Mom, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Pre-order her book, How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family.