QUESTION: Please help me. I am at
my wit's end with my husband. I stay at home with our two children (ages
3yrs and 5mos) while my husband works full-time 9-5 Mon-Fri. My problem
is that he views my discipline as harsh and often questions me in front
of our son. In many situations, my husband will "discipline" in one
breath and apologize or hug him in the next.
This all came to a head this summer while on
holidays. In a temper, our son threw a toy and hit our daughter in
the head. I felt that he needed discipline and asked my husband to
attend to it while I calmed our daughter down. He gave our son a little
tap on his rear and then hugged him because our son was crying.
I was furious that he was sending mixed messages
to him about discipline. I told him this and he told me that I as
a cold b**** towards our son. I feel that he has made me into the
sole disciplinarian, because his discipline is erratic and unpredictable.
We have tried talking about this before, and for a while, he is good.
Then after a while, he slips back into his old ways.
This is the only bone of contention in our
relationship. He is a loving doting father and a wonderful husband
otherwise. Can you help me?
ANSWER: It appears that your husband is over-identifying with
your son's emotional pain, while ignoring his son's needs for clear
limits. You are correct in your assessment that he is giving double
messages which will end up confusing your child. It is your husband
who is confused, but this is no excuse for verbal abuse or undermining
your authority in front of your son!
Your spouse is a great Dad with a blind spot about
his son's "crying". He is not accurately responding to his child's
needs. It is likely that he is projecting unresolved pain from his
childhood that is distorting his parenting abilities. Your husband
is missing the fact that children need limits to develop a sense of
the other person's feelings. This is the way they learn empathy. Without
developing and ability to empathize with others, your child could
experience difficulty with relationships in the future. The ability
to develop and sustain relationships is a key element to a healthy
life. Discipline at this age is a part of helping your child develop
empathy for others.
Let your husband know that there are at least three
good reasons to become motivated towards consistency in discipline.
Firstly, your three-year-old does need to know that love includes
limits, and his parents are the best people to teach him this because
they love him! Tell your husband that if he does not set limits now,
your son will be faced with learning appropriate boundaries from strangers
who may have little or no affection for him. It is in his son's best
interests that his Daddy who cares for him, teaches him not to throw
objects at people, rather than learning limits the hard way.
Secondly, misconstruing a child's tears (in the above
example) for extreme emotional pain may create exaggerated responses
from your son in the future. It will leave the door open to the potential
for manipulative behavior which could cause even greater escalation
and confusion about what constitutes "too much" pain for your son
as time goes on. And thirdly, marital discord increases when parents
do not resolve conflicts. Failing to create parental teamwork in your
partnership creates division which can have damaging effects on your
marriage over time.
Make it clear to your husband that you expect him
to reinforce the rules you make together. Do not accept name calling
and ask your husband to consider the roots of his difficulty with
effective and consistent discipline. Parenting classes and popular
books on child rearing that address discipline such as "Discipline
Without Spanking or Shouting" by Jerry Wyckoff and Barbara Unell may
also prove useful, particularly if your husband is at a loss for age-appropriate
Consider couples' counseling focused on resolving
parenting conflicts if your husband continues to experience difficulty
in approaching discipline as a parental team. You have so much that
is great together, why let this spoil your otherwise loving situation?
Nip this problem in the bud before it has a chance to cause further
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