Dear Dr. Yael,
I am writing to you in the hopes that you will have a suggestion for our family.
My wife is constantly putting me down in front of our children, which leads them to be very disrespectful to me. I work hard to support our family; my wife works part-time so she can be home when the kids get there after school.
I appreciate all she does for them, but the way she speaks about me to them causes me a lot of pain. She will often tell the children that I don’t want to buy anything for them and then buy things without telling me and give it to them. She also tells the children that I don’t care about them and that she is the only one who loves them. She allows them to have tons of unhealthy food and, when I tell her to cut down on the junk, she tells them, “Daddy doesn’t want you to have nosh” and then proceeds to give them more of it.
Let me give you some background: My wife comes from a dysfunctional home where her mother always put her father down. In general, her family was very negative and spoke badly about each other.
Dr. Respler, I have suggested that we go for professional help, but she refuses. I just don’t know what to do. I can’t see staying in this marriage, but am afraid that if I leave she will brainwash our two kids against me. I am also concerned about their growing up in the same negative environment as my wife did.
I love your column and my wife does as well. Maybe your answer will help.
A Desperate Father
Dear Desperate Father,
What a heart-wrenching letter. I will do my best to give you some advice. However, your issue is best handled by a competent mental health professional.
Research has shown that it is integral that parents relate to their children in a united and consistent manner. Although all parents have their own unique styles, children should see consistent expectations and consequences. Research has also shown that children are more likely to demonstrate good behavior when the expectations from their parents are clear, consistent, and conveyed to them in a loving manner. All parents have some sort of parent rivalry, though most of the time it is a subconscious feeling. Each one wants to be the “better parent” and sometimes this causes one half to speak negatively about the other or give inconsistent and clashing messages.
Perhaps your wife feels insecure about her parenting or disagrees with some of your choices. In addition, if this is what she saw at home, it is understandable that her feelings of inferiority are causing her to speak against you to your children. Unfortunately, many of us parent the same way that we were parented.
Research and my own experience with my private practice has shown that when parents respect each other, children will show more respect to their parents and they will often be more self-confident. On the other hand, children don’t know what to do with negative information about their parents and it makes them feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Even when parents joke about things that are negative about their spouse, children can be negatively affected. Children in this type of situation learn to manipulate and to play one parent against the other. Down the road this can lead to behavioral problems in school and at home.
You mention that your wife is a negative person. Although it definitely affects the way she speaks about you, it needs to be dealt with as its own issue.
Negativity generally comes from what a person saw at home when he or she was a child – it is an ingrained perspective. In order to stop, one has to work hard on recognizing the positive in one’s life. Exercises such as naming 10 good things on a daily basis helps people focus on the positive. This takes a lot of work and commitment, but becoming a more positive person is definitely possible and doable. Try to explain to your wife, without blaming her, that you feel the house has become a negative household and you would like to work on being more positive as a family. You can use the idea of naming 10 good things and make it a family project. At the end of the month, if everyone participates, you can do a fun family activity.
I hope that your wife will read this column and begin to see that what she is doing is highly damaging to your marriage and your children.
Of course, I do not know your wife’s side of the story, so I don’t know if she’s feeling unloved by you for some reason or insecure in your marriage or in her role as a parent. I’m not excusing her behavior; rather I’m trying to provide some insight.
On your end, try to be more loving and caring towards her. Kamayim hapanim el panim, ken lev ha’adam le’adam. People act towards others in the way they see others acting towards them. Perhaps you can infuse a lot of positivity into your marriage and family and turn things around.
While I do believe that you both need to seek therapy together, I am hoping that my ideas will help you begin this process. Hatzlocha!