It’s Not Fair

13 May

Letterbalm Pencil with Fair UnfairDear LetterBalm: My husband is harder on our son than our two daughters. He’s stricter about standards of schoolwork, sports, household chores and responsibilities in general. At 16, our boy is the eldest, so this may have something to do with it. (Our girls are 11 and 13.) Also, my husband was an Army officer for 20 years until he retired to take a job in civilian life two years ago. Our son is growing sullen and argumentative, which he never was before. The unfairness about the way my husband is treating our kids is spilling over into our family life. What can I say to make him see this is having a negative influence on all of us, especially his son?

–Mediating Mom

Your husband is doing none of your kids any favors. Your son may grow up resenting authority, and your daughters may grow up thinking that because they’re girls, they can slide. You’re not going to be able to sway your spouse by attempting to reason with him. His military background inclines him to believe his orders are proper under the circumstances and shouldn’t be questioned. Maybe the more prudent course of action is to ask him how he thinks his discipline is going. Is it working, and, if it isn’t maybe he should consider another strategy? You might also ask your husband why he believes his son deserves stricter rules. And, Ms. L.B. suggests, you need to tell him that the tension between him and his son is affecting the whole family. Meet your husband privately on neutral ground where he feels comfortable (perhaps during a walk in the country together or other low-impact exercise?) and talk with him, listening carefully to his responses. Your goal is to change the father-son dynamic and establish family harmony:

David, how do you think things are going with you and Martin? I wonder if you’ve observed that Martin is angry and sullen these days, which isn’t like him. He’s always been a cheerful boy, very cooperative and helpful. But lately, he isn’t himself. Could it be that he’s pushing back too hard at your rules and you way of enforcing them? I’d like to know why you feel he needs stricter discipline than the girls. [Listen carefully here, and take your cue from your husband’s response.] He doesn’t seem to be developing self-reliance – in fact, I’m beginning to see a fight for supremacy between you and your son. Darling, this isn’t doing anyone any good. Yes, it’s true that each child needs different kinds of guidance, but the girls are acting out because they know you let them get away with murder, and Martin is resentful of your strict discipline that is patently unfair. Don’t you see that this will have a pernicious effect on the whole family, with lasting consequences? You and I need to talk about this because it’s serious. You’ve always been a good and concerned father, and I know you’d never want Martin to remember his teen years as a horror story.


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