Help! My Husband Is Angelic to Me and Demonic to Our Kids.

Advice on manners and morals.
April 12 2012 6:00 AM

Daddy Dearest

My husband is wonderful, but he rages at our kids. How can I quell his anger?

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photograph by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I hit the jackpot with my husband. He treats me like a queen, cleans the house, has a successful career that allows me to be a stay-at-home mom, encourages me to have evenings out with girlfriends, etc. We've been happily married for 10 years and have two wonderful children ages 5 and 7. My concern is that while I know he loves our children, he doesn’t enjoy them. He was raised by an obsessive-compulsive-type mother who still vacuums twice a day. He barks at the kids if there’s a sock lying around or a toy on the floor. He yells if he has to ask them twice to do anything. When he gets home, he wants to tell me about his day while I'm cooking dinner. The kids sometimes interrupt, which drives my husband crazy. They hate to be left alone with him because he’s “grumpy.” He thinks, wrongly, that they are naughtier than other children, and I feel defensive that he's criticizing the way I’m raising them. My mother says he parents the way he was parented and he turned out great. I’m going away with some girlfriends, and he’s said that “things are going to change” and he’s going to “fix the kids.” I’m secretly afraid of him trying. Should I just accept that he'll always be hard on them? The kids are the only thing we argue about.

—Dad Dilemma

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Dear Dilemma,
Your husband turned out great except for the glaring fault that he’s a dismissive, inflexible, punitive father. You may “only” fight about the kids, but that’s a pretty big only, especially since you’re afraid of his plans to whip them into shape. You two aren’t sniping over toothpaste squeezing methods (I assume you don’t squeeze from the middle at the risk of causing him to hyperventilate); how you raise your children goes to the heart of your marriage. Your mother may be worried about you disrupting what looks from the outside to be an ideal life. But if he doesn’t like his kids, and vice versa, it’s not. That doesn’t mean there are no standards of behavior, but it does mean understanding this is a home, not a boot camp. If he’s truly the loving husband you describe, then he should be willing to listen to your request that you two take some parenting classes together, because you think his expectations for your children are unrealistic and you’re afraid that an emotional barrier between him and the children is being erected.

When my daughter was little, I went to some excellent lectures at a parent-sponsored organization in Maryland called the Parent Encouragement Program. Its focus is on understanding your children’s psychology and helping them become responsible without resorting to threats or anger. You need to find a similar program in your area, and PEP has links to get you started—for example, the Positive Discipline Association website. You and your husband should also read some parenting books together. Start with Haim Ginott and Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Tell him that you both need to be on the same page in how you treat your kids and that being parents should be a shared pleasure, not burden. Make some changes to reduce the tension in your house. It’s wonderful that your husband wants to talk to you when he gets home, but he is now sending a message to his children that says, “I haven’t seen you all day, and I’d like to keep it that way.” While you make dinner, have him play with the kids—roughhousing would help him connect with them, and tire them out. Then after they’ve gone to bed, you two can have a glass of wine (after patrolling for stray socks) and enjoy the fact that your whole family has hit the jackpot.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence: Secret Tattoos

Dear Prudence,
I'm a woman in my 30s with over 15 years experience in my field. Last year I was passed over for a promised promotion in favor of a supremely annoying, fresh-out-of-college Manic Pixie Dream Girl who doesn't know the first thing about the job. This was devastating to me and my husband, since we'd been counting on the additional income in order to have a child. Instead we have had to put parenthood off indefinitely, which at my age may mean forever. Recently, I've put together quite a damning file of evidence (emails, credit card statements, and the like) confirming my suspicion that the MPDG and our boss are sleeping together. Her conservative father is on our board, and our boss is married to a trophy wife and has several young children. My file could really shake things up at our company. The options I'm considering are: a) approach my boss and threaten to send my file to the board and his wife, unless he raises my salary to be comparable to the MPDG's (since I already do about 90 percent of her work); b) approach the MPDG and threaten to do the same unless she resigns, in which case I'm almost certain to get her job; or c) any other suggestion that you might have.

—Waiting To Get Even

Dear Waiting,
The new person in the office may be a MPDG, but you sound like a DBNE, a Demonic Blaming Nightmare Employee. Before we get to your course of action, let’s review some of your assertions. You are an experienced professional, and since you don’t mention your husband is a deadbeat, I’ll assume he’s employed, too. So it’s ludicrous for you to declare your ability to ever become parents was destroyed because a possible raise didn’t materialize. Migrant workers raise children, for goodness’ sake! When your promotion failed to happen, you needed to express to your boss your concern about the reneging of this promise, and explain that you have been put in the difficult situation of reporting to someone whose duties you continue to discharge. Instead you decided to collect a scandalous dossier. I’m wondering through what devious methods you came to possess personal emails and credit card statements of your colleagues. Your file might well shake things up, and one of the first things to come loose could be you from your job since your plan of career advancement involves blackmail. All this leads me to choose option C, and suggest that given your ethics, you look into a new career in financial derivatives.

—Prudie

Dear Prudie:
I'm a fiftysomething happily married man. Awhile back a woman joined the exercise class that I attend. She's single and in her mid-40s. She is the most attractive woman I've ever met. I've never had such a stupefied reaction to another woman in my life. When she walks into the gym, I momentarily stop breathing. If she asks me a direct question I can usually formulate an answer, although completely void of the wit for which I'm universally renowned. As I said, I’m happily married and not looking for a romantic relationship, but I would like to cultivate the kind of acquaintance where we could discuss the events of the day. She's bright, successful, and outgoing. We have many things in common: owning dogs, listening to NPR, enjoying exercise. How can I get beyond my fear? I've considered honestly sharing my feelings, but that opportunity hasn't presented itself. Any suggestions?

—Speechless

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