Written by Doctor G

When Parenting Styles Differ About Schoolwork

I have a concern about my husband – he was super smart when he was little.  My 10-year old son is average/poor student to my husband and I think my son is pretty smart.  He exceeds expectations in math and meets expectations in reading and writing.  All teachers like my son.  Like any parent, my husband wants my son to get better.  The issue is that my husband approaches my son in a very aggressive tone.  I feel that this could hurt my son’s self-esteem and confidence.  To balance that, I try to shower a lot of love to my son so he does not feel inferior.  My son so far has been really good in handling it and is pretty confident. However, I am afraid that as he gets older, he might take my husband’s words too seriously which might affect his growing up.  I have explained several times to my husband that he needs to change and be gentle while approaching him, but my husband thinks that I am too easy with my son.  Moreso, my mother-in-law also reinforced this to my husband that “I am the cause of my son slacking”.  Do you have any suggestions in handling this?  I know my husband would not change.

Anonymous in IL

There are a lot of questions here! I can’t fix your nasty mother-in-law, so let’s focus on improving the interactions in your house. I really hope that Grandma Grouchy doesn’t live with you.
You are worried about your son’s feelings. Your husband is worried about your son’s actions. Neither of you are wrong, and neither of you are likely to change your perspective.

Want your husband to speak differently to your son? Focus on actions. Men (warning: sweeping generalization ahead!) think in terms of actions. What will I do, what will he do, how can I get them to do what I want them to do.

My best guess is that you’ve been focusing on feelings to try and change your husband’s actions. You say to your husband “If you speak to him that way he will feel hurt, upset, afraid.” Your husband doesn’t think his son’s feelings are as important as his son’s actions. In this, he is correct.

What we do is more important than how we feel.

You are also right. If your husband continues to berate and attack your son’s performance it is likely to have lasting negative effects on his self-esteem, confidence and behavior. This last part is where you need to put the focus for your husband.
Stop talking to your husband about your son’s feelings and start talking about your son’s actions.

The next time you bring up this topic with your husband, do this.
1.    Make sure you’re alone. No son, no mother-in-law, and no TV or computer.
2.    Start on common ground: “I’m wondering if our son  is doing as well in his schoolwork as he could be.” This will surprise your husband into being less wary, and help him to see that you have a shared goal.
3.    Ask your husband for his ideas. Then really listen to him. Try to say yes to as many as you can. A tutor? Great, never hurts. Homework before play time? Sure, but suggest breaks so he can stay fresh. Kids his age can focus for about 20 minutes at a time.
4.    Ask your husband what he is worried about. Chances are his concerns will make you feel better as you see that your husband is thinking about your son’s future and not just comparing his son to himself. You might point out that a lot of really successful people were average students.
5.    Want your husband to stop yelling? Point out that it doesn’t seem to be working. Also show some empathy – no one enjoys yelling. If your husband can see that he is doing something that isn’t resulting in the action he wants, he will be far more likely to change. Like this “I’ve noticed that yelling at him seems to make the quality of his work goes down.”
In the end, you cannot control your husband’s relationship with your son. However, if you approach this your husband’s co-parent, not as your son’s ally against your husband you may be able to effect a little change.

I hope you’ll let me know how it’s going.

Hey readers, what do you do when you and your co-parent have radically different “styles?”

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