Dear Dr. Yael:
For the most part, my husband is a very good husband and father. He loves our children and will often go out of his way to make sure their needs are met. He is also loving and good to me. However, he often comes home with a very negative attitude. When he arrives home from work, he sees nothing good. He criticizes the children for not being in pajamas or for not finishing their homework. Even if he is right on both counts, he does not convey his criticism appropriately or at the right time.
When my husband comes home, he should be excited and happy to see the children and me. I want him to be positive and loving and to notice all the good things the children have done. I want my children to be excited when my husband comes home, and not want to go to their rooms as soon as possible. While I don’t blame the children for not wanting to be around when my husband is acting negatively, I wish my husband would be more positive so that the children would look forward to his return home. I do not think that they dread his coming home from work; however, they are definitely learning to stay away from him.
I know my husband works hard and wants time to relax after a long day. But the children miss him and want his attention. What can I do to help my husband come home with a happier attitude?
It is difficult to ascertain why your husband is coming home in such a bad mood. Perhaps he is hungry and tired from a long day at work and wants to relax a little when he gets home. Maybe he is experiencing a lot of stress at work and is bringing it home with him. Or it’s possible that he just grew up in this kind of home and is recreating what he went through. If your husband is simply tired or hungry, or just wants some time to relax when he comes home, you will be able to easily remedy your situation.
When he is calm and not hungry, you can explain to him, in a gentle and loving manner, that he seems to be coming home in a very bad mood. It may be something he doesn’t even realize is happening. Ask him why he thinks this is. If he says that he does not know, ask him if he is having a hard time at work or if he is extremely hungry or tired when he returns home. If he says that he is hungry, one solution may be to send an extra snack with him to work, so he does not come home with an empty stomach.
Making your husband aware of this – in a non-accusatory way – is a step in the right direction. If your husband becomes defensive, make sure to remain calm and tell him that you know that he is a great husband and father. Assure him that you want to help him feel better when he comes home.
Devising a plan that works for both of you is key. It would be ideal if your husband could think of a solution, as people are generally more invested in something when it is their idea. So, even if you originate the jointly accepted idea, try to make it seem as if he came up with it. If he expresses a liking to your suggestion, say to him, “What a great idea. I like how you thought of it.” And if your husband is not on board with your idea, then make every effort to jointly create a plan of positive action.
Attempt to explain to your husband how hard you try to have things organized during the hectic period before he gets home, and that you get nervous when he comes home feeling unhappy. Using an “I feel” message generally helps people not to become defensive, as it puts the “blame” on you and not on the other person. Thus, saying things like “I feel bad when you come home upset. I want you to be happy to come home and I want the children to feel good about the time they spend with you. What can I do to help make this time easier for you?” would be helpful. This will likely make it easier for your husband to explain to you what is going on with him at the present time, and it will help you arrive at a solution together. Also, this is generally more effective than saying something like, “Why do you always have to be in a bad mood when you come home? It is extremely annoying and obnoxious, and I want you to stop it!” These ineffective comments will probably lead to a fight, and although you may release your frustration you will likely feel worse afterward.
If your husband was raised in an environment where one of his parents would come home in a bad mood, his behavior may be a little more difficult to change because it may be embedded in him. He may be playing out what he experienced, making your conversation with him potentially tougher and more sensitive. If this is the case, the conversation still needs to be initiated with the abovementioned “I feel” script. (You need to tread lightly, as people often do not take well to criticism of their parents or themselves.) Another idea to ponder is your husband and you coming up with a silly word that you can say when he unknowingly comes home cranky. This can help him remember your plan while making the mood lighter.
Try to have dinner ready (either by cooking during the day or the night before, or ordering in if that’s easier) and the children somewhat calm when he comes through the door. I understand the challenges of the after-school rush, so I know that more work at that time is difficult if not impossible. So try to reprioritize what you need to get done.
As for the children’s homework, it might be helpful to have them do it right when they get home. Give them a special snack as an incentive to complete their homework. It would be beneficial to keeping the home situation calmer while you make whatever changes possible.
With summer here, now may be an opportune time to improve the situation, as your husband’s hopefully better mood upon returning home from work may extend to the school year.
Finally, if all else fails, you should seriously consider seeking professional help. If your husband is experiencing depression, which may be manifested by his anger at the children, medication may also be something to consider. This idea should be discussed with an appropriate professional. Please keep me informed if any of my suggestions were helpful as you confront your challenging situation. Hatzlachah!
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