Dear Dr. Yael,
I am married to a beautiful woman and we have, Baruch Hashem, beautiful and healthy young children. I make a good parnassah, we have help at home and generally speaking have a good life.
So, why am I writing to you?
My wife is very critical of me and of our children. I know it’s not all her fault – she was brought up this way. Yet, I see the effect it has on family. My children are suffering from low self-esteem, are shy socially, exhibit insecure behavior and are always looking to me for help.
And that, of course, upsets her even more.
She says, “Sure they love you, you are good time Abba, while I am the one who has to set boundaries with our children. They are always so excited to see you since I have to discipline them.”
Dr. Respler, we have great children. They need love and positive reinforcement. That is what I saw at home and the way my parents still are today.
I have begged my wife to take parenting workshops and to try to be more positive and loving as a mother. However, her attitude is “It’s my way or the highway.”
I love my wife who is a lost soul and I worry what will happen to our children if I don’t try to counteract her negativity with my own loving positive attitude. Please give me some ideas how to proceed.
I commend you for trying to be a good husband in a challenging situation. I will answer you based on the information that you are sharing. However, not knowing your wife’s side is one of the challenges we face in writing this column.
From your description, it seems that your wife may be insecure and thus feel a need to be in control. Since she comes from a critical home, she may not have your positive energy that you acquired from your home situation.
As Dan Pearce notes, “People who love themselves don’t hurt other people. The more we hate ourselves, the more we want others to suffer.” In addition, “Only people who are not happy with themselves are mean to others-remember that.”
Both quotes express the same idea. In order to be positive and loving to people around you, one must have inner happiness.
Unfortunately, your wife appears to have been raised by parents who did not have that self-love and therefore were very critical of her. You need to help your wife find a more positive way to bring up your precious children; however, it is imperative that you do so in a positive manner so as to not alienate or hurt her. You are correct that children can grow up very insecure from getting too much criticism, so please continue to be loving towards them.
This does not mean that they do not need rules or boundaries. If your wife is critical and you make it a free for all, this will cause even more damage. Even if you feel bad when your kids are suffering, they need to be disciplined in a positive and loving way.
It is also important to make sure to compliment and praise your wife, so that she can see you as a source of support to her as well. Hopefully, your positivity will infuse the house with happiness and help your wife feel better about herself, thus making her stronger and more able to be a positive mother with your children. It must hurt your wife that the children prefer you and that she is stuck in a negative cycle. She may feel like she does all the work, yet gets none of the love. Outside professional help can hopefully help you build your wife’s self-esteem and help you both raise healthy, happy children as well as help you have a better marriage. Hatzlocha!