My husband is very harsh with the children. He is particularly harsh with our son, aged 14 years. He constantly yells at him and has spanked him when he was younger. He is a good husband and a good person in other areas. He just believes that if he isn’t tough, our son will be a sissy. Our son is sensitive and it would be better if he were tougher. But I fear his father is driving him away. Whenever I interfere, I make it worse. My husband gets angrier, we get in an argument and he is worse with our son. What can I do?
This is a difficult challenge. There is often conflict when parents have different views of how to discipline children.
Generally, it is best not to interfere with your partner’s discipline. It is fine to discuss issues but in most cases, it is best not to criticize your partner’s methods of disciplining. We are all pretty sensitive about our parenting. Criticism doesn’t work. It may encourage your husband to be more extreme.
There is one time when a parent must interfere with the other parent’s discipline. If a child is being abused the law requires any adult to report the abuse to the child protection authorities. If a child is in immediate danger you must respond immediately.
It is pretty easy to decide on physical abuse. The Supreme Court has said that hitting children under 2 years or hitting teenagers is illegal. They also said that any physical punishment must be very minor. For example you cannot use a belt, wooden spoon or stick and cannot hit a child in the head.
Emotional abuse is a tough call and hard to define.
I expect your husband had a father who dealt with him harshly. People often repeat the mistakes that their parents made. He may think that he did OK with his harsh upbringing and it taught him to be tough.
Your husband may be confusing having high expectations with being harsh. You can be warm and caring and still have high expectations. The best way to prepare our children for a tough world is for them to know they are loved and cared for at home.
If your son and his father have positive links, their relationship may survive the harshness. If your husband has few things he shares with your son, he is at risk of losing his son. I am sure that is not what he wants to happen.
Notice things that your husband does well with your son. See if you can encourage these. You may have to be very subtle. When your husband does something positive with your son, let him know you think he is a good father.
Since interfering doesn’t work, try other methods. One strategy is to stay entirely out of the situation. Ignore their arguments. You are not responsible for their relationship. They have to work out how to deal with each other. Your interference may be prompting your husband to be harsher and your son to be overly sensitive.
If you avoid interfering and focus on positive aspects of your husband’s parenting, he may become more open to talking about how he handles your son. You may be able to point out how his harshness is a contradiction.
Harsh or cruel parenting never helps children. It makes them resentful and angry. It may rob them of self confidence. It won’t teach them how to deal with a difficult world.