May 23, 2018
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My great husband is a monstrous dad

Emily Yoffe
By Emily Yoffe, Slate.

Dear Prudence,

I hit the jackpot with my husband. He treats me like a queen, cleans the house, has a successful career that allows me to be a stay-at-home mom, encourages me to have evenings out with girlfriends, etc. We’ve been happily married for 10 years and have two wonderful children ages 5 and 7.

My concern is that while I know he loves our children, he doesn’t enjoy them. He was raised by an obsessive-compulsive-type mother who still vacuums twice a day. He barks at the kids if there’s a sock lying around or a toy on the floor. He yells if he has to ask them twice to do anything. When he gets home, he wants to tell me about his day while I’m cooking dinner. The kids sometimes interrupt, which drives my husband crazy. They hate to be left alone with him because he’s “grumpy.” He thinks, wrongly, that they are naughtier than other children, and I feel defensive that he’s criticizing the way I’m raising them.

My mother says he parents the way he was parented and he turned out great. I’m going away with some girlfriends, and he’s said that “things are going to change” and he’s going to “fix the kids.” I’m secretly afraid of him trying. Should I just accept that he’ll always be hard on them? The kids are the only thing we argue about.

— Dad Dilemma

Dear Dilemma,

Your husband turned out great except for the glaring fault that he’s a dismissive, inflexible, punitive father. You may “only” fight about the kids, but that’s a pretty big only, especially since you’re afraid of his plans to whip them into shape. You two aren’t sniping over toothpaste squeezing methods (I assume you don’t squeeze from the middle at the risk of causing him to hyperventilate); how you raise your children goes to the heart of your marriage.

Your mother may be worried about you disrupting what looks from the outside to be an ideal life. But if he doesn’t like his kids, and vice versa, it’s not. That doesn’t mean there are no standards of behavior, but it does mean understanding this is a home, not a boot camp. If he’s truly the loving husband you describe, then he should be willing to listen to your request that you two take some parenting classes together, because you think his expectations for your children are unrealistic and you’re afraid that an emotional barrier between him and the children is being erected.

When my daughter was little, I went to some excellent lectures at a parent-sponsored organization in Maryland called the Parent Encouragement Program. Its focus is on understanding your children’s psychology and helping them become responsible without resorting to threats or anger. You need to find a similar program in your area, and PEP has links to get you started — for example, the Positive Discipline Association website.

You and your husband should also read some parenting books together. Start with Haim Ginott and Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Tell him that you both need to be on the same page in how you treat your kids and that being parents should be a shared pleasure, not burden. Make some changes to reduce the tension in your house.

It’s wonderful that your husband wants to talk to you when he gets home, but he is now sending a message to his children that says, “I haven’t seen you all day, and I’d like to keep it that way.” While you make dinner, have him play with the kids — roughhousing would help him connect with them, and tire them out. Then after they’ve gone to bed, you two can have a glass of wine (after patrolling for stray socks) and enjoy the fact that your whole family has hit the jackpot.

Dear Prudence,

I’m an early 20s female college student who is about to move to a different college for my masters. However, before I go I want to do something nice to a particular teller at my bank. She always remembers me and is extremely friendly and helpful even with little things like remembering I like knowing my balance after a deposit, etc.

The other tellers aren’t half as kind as she has been. I’ve been thinking about giving her a small batch of cookies and a card thanking her for her service of the past four years, as well as calling or emailing her branch manager of how much I appreciate her. Several of my friends think this is too much for someone I only know the first name of, but I’m a firm believer in rewards for good deed instead of just ranting on problems. What is your opinion? Am I too young for my message to her boss to be deemed respectable or are just cookies and note enough? — Good Deeds

Dear Deeds,

Please contact the manager and make sure your praise is in writing. You are absolutely right that people who deal with the public mostly hear complaints, so any manager, and any teller, would appreciate hearing about great service. I, too, have occasionally written to managers about exceptional employees and have gotten nice notes back about how much that means.

Dear Prudence,

My son and daughter-in-law are going through a rough divorce. We know that our son has been unfair to our daughter-in-law, but we feel that our daughter-in-law is being unfair to us throughout this process. We did not cheat on her or lie at all. And yet whenever we try to discuss grandparent visitation she either ignores us or tells us we will talk about it later. It is never later.

Given my son’s behavior, it is highly unlikely he will get very much visitation at all. We retained an attorney to help us have visitation with our grandchildren. My daughter-in-law told us that she only wants to communicate through our attorneys now and for us not to attend any school functions or see our grandchildren until we have this “officially sorted out.”

My husband and I are frustrated because we feel like we did nothing wrong, and yet are being punished through lack of contact with our grandchildren. Were we wrong to hire an attorney? Should we show up to our grandchildren’s functions anyway? They mostly take place at their school, so I am not sure if our daughter-in-law could kick us out. — Grandma

Dear Grandma,

OK, so this chat’s theme is, “Adults, even if you hate the guts of your former spouse, don’t take it out on the kids.” Yes, your daughter-in-law is being unfair. What the children need most now is love and stability and keeping them from adoring grandparents is cruel to everyone.

I don’t think you were wrong to step back from contacting your daughter-in-law and try to get your concerns addressed legally. She’s decided everyone in your family is the devil. Let’s hope that once the worst is over your daughter-in-law can see the benefit of having the kids spend a weekend with their grandparents.

But don’t provoke her by showing up at school functions. Follow your lawyer’s advice and if you do get to see the kids, do not trash their mother.

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