Is Dad Overly Critical of His Kids Because His Father Was Harsh?

Dr. Laura Markham,

I am writing for guidance in regards to my husband.

We have two children; a 2 1/2 year old son and a 1 1/2 year old daughter.

From my analysis and observation, my husband is very tough on our son. I realize fathers often feel a need to toughen their boys up but it's not so much that as it is, he is super critical and easily loses his patience.

Instead of encouraging words, he is very critical of him and always rushing him. If our son is trying to walk down steps, he tells him to hurry up. Of course, he is two and doing the best he can not to fall. If he steps in someones yard on a walk, he'll yell and yank him out. I agree he shouldn't trample in the neighbor's yard but it seems a little severe. A gentle, no no, would be enough. My mother and my husband's mother notice it as well.

I have tried numerous times to talk with him about it but he refuses to see it. He says, "he never listens!" But our son knows all his shapes, colors, numbers, letters, and is fully potty trained. I am a stay at home mom who plans on home educating and I am a true believer in gentle discipline. The fact he knows all this, I tell my husband, proves he DOES listen but like any 2 year old, when you tell them time to go inside...they don't want to and they throw a fit. That doesn't mean he didn't hear you, but he just doesn't want to go inside.

I feel like I need some outside proof on child development or being overly critical as a parent for my husband to understand and see what he is doing. He says I just give the kids whatever they want or am too easy on them. Of course, it is very hard on our marriage as well because it makes me see him as the enemy when he's supposed to be a companion. He is not like this at all with our daughter-- she can do no wrong in his eyes.

That being said, my husband's father is, for lack of better words, a real jerk and I am sure he was raised in a similar way.

 

How heart-breaking. I am sure this is how your husband was raised. So it's automatic for him. Worse, unless he can admit how much it hurt him as a child, he will need to act like this as a way of trying to work out the trauma.

A similar example that explains what I mean: When someone was hit as a child and can't acknowledge how devastating that was, they are likely to hit their child because they have not addressed the trauma and they are replaying it with their child. Once the person allows himself to feel that pain, he no longer needs to keep replaying it.

So the path to change is for your husband to talk about his childhood and how his father treated him, and to let himself feel how awful it was for him. Most of us don't want to do that hard emotional work. But if he began to suspect that his approach will create a rift between him and his son (like the one I am sure he has with his father), maybe that would motivate him. And if he began to suspect that he might destroy his son, that might motivate him as well.

The proof is easy. He could read my book (Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How To Stop Yelling & Start Connecting) or Alfie Kohns book, Unconditional Parenting. Mine is more hands-on, Kohn's gives lots of research to back up our approach. If your husband won't read, my book is available in audio on Amazon. You might want to start with bite-size pieces by getting on the list to get my free posts 3x/week, and sending on to him the ones you think he might read (you can sign up on any page of the Aha! Parenting website). Or, you might want to take him to a talk by a gentle parenting expert, depending on where you live and who might be speaking.

But I think you also want to start having discussions with him about his own childhood. "What would your dad have done if you had ......" "Wow...That must have been tough." Also discuss what you both want for your kids, and your concern that his approach will sabotage his child.

And, to me this is serious enough that if your husband is not open to these discussions, you should insist that the two of you go to couples counseling. It's a great opportunity to work through tough issues in a way that brings you closer, and resolves the issue more positively.

Good for you for advocating for your son's well-being. I wish you the best of luck in helping your husband heal.

Dr. Laura


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