Dear Dr. Yael,
I have heard you say jokingly that life begins when the children are married and that marital happiness is greatest before people have children and after the children are married.
I thought I had a great marriage. When the children were very young my husband was very loving, helpful and giving to them. Now that they are getting older, my husband has become extremely difficult and strict with our children. There are times where he takes them out and they have fun. However, most of the time he is hard on them.
Dr. Respler, my husband grew up in an abusive home with parents who were angry all the time and hit him. He suffered terribly and before we were married promised me that he would be a very different parent. And yes, he was a great baby and toddler father. Now he is so domineering with me and with the children. The older ones resent him and are terrified of him. He says it’s my fault, that I am too lax with them. My children are good children and good students. They are forever hiding behind me and run away when my husband comes home.
My husband is very religious and although I tell him that his attitude towards the children will cause problems with their self-esteem and in their level of Yiddishkeit, he is copying the way his parents raised him – Baruch Hashem, he never hits them as he feels that is inappropriate. However, the yelling and the severe punishments are out of hand.
Please Dr. Respler address this type of child-rearing since I think our children are being hurt terribly.
A Frightened Mother
I agree with you that being overly harsh and strict can cause children to rebel and become irreligious. It is also the reason that children develop low self-esteem.
Unfortunately, although your husband does not want to repeat the system in which he was raised, he cannot help but do so. It would seem that on some level, your husband believes that this is the correct way to raise children. Baruch Hashem he is not repeating the physical abuse, however, emotional abuse cannot be ignored. If your husband does not want to seek professional help, you must do so anyway.
Until then, here is an idea that might help. Can you help your children focus on some of the positive ways your husband relates to them? For example, if he takes them somewhere fun and is good with them, make a big deal out of it. Say, “Wow, Daddy (or whatever name your children call him by) is so much fun. He took you out and he really gave you a great time.” Tell your husband how happy you and the children are about these outings.
Just like with an angry child, you would want to “catch them being good.” Never make your husband feel belittled or made fun of, but rather point out in a nice way anything that he does positive for you and the children. It’s easy to get stuck in a negative loop, especially with someone who is critical and angry, but if you can find the inner strength – and it will take a lot of inner strength – you may be able to turn things around and make things more positive in your home!
The stricter parent hates to be labeled as the abusive one in a relationship. The abusive parent resents being perceived as the bully, while the softer parent seems to be adored. When children see their parents in these lights it makes the abusive parent feel more estranged and insecure.
Perhaps you can find a way to build your husband’s self-esteem so that he does not need to be so controlling. Loving your husband and giving him special attention as well may help him be less angry. Perhaps preparing his favorite foods or planning a night out to someplace he enjoys going, will make him feel that you treasure him and want to spend time together.
I know that his destructive behavior is upsetting to you and it can be hard to be with someone with whom you are upset. However, your anger does not help decrease his, if anything your anger hurts him more. Seeking professional help for yourself to use effective countermoves to help deal more effectively with his anger will ultimately help him be a more positive father. Remember, while the man is the head of the household, the woman is the neck and she can turn him in any way that she wants to make it a more loving household.