Wifey Wednesday: When You Think He’s a Bad Parent

When You Think Your Husband is a Bad Father: How to get on the same page againIt’s Wednesday, the day when we talk marriage! Today I want to talk about a sticky issue: What do you do when you think your husband is a bad father?

I’ve been talking a bit about parenting toddlers on the blog lately, and in the meantime I’ve received some emails by women who are exasperated with their husbands as fathers. This is a really common conflict in marriage. You think you should discipline one way, and he thinks you should discipline another.

You’re sure you’re right. He’s sure he’s right. You’re at a standstill.

In this situation, instead of looking for a marriage resolution, most people just try to convince the other that they are a bad parent. If you’re at that point, can I ask you this question: what is your desired outcome? Is it that he admit he was completely wrong and that you are completely right and that he needs to change?

Imagine if that happened. Would that actually be the best thing? It seems to me that what a marriage needs is for both partners to respect and love each other, and what a child needs is to feel that her parents love her and love each other.

When you think you’re right, and he’s morally wrong, though, it’s all too easy to set up a situation where it’s you and your children against him.

You triangulate him out of the picture.

You drive a wedge between him and his kids. And even if he isn’t parenting appropriately, he has a right to a good relationship with his kids without you undermining it.

I’ve been in a similar situation with my husband and my oldest daughter a few years ago. I felt he was being overly harsh with her, and I found myself constantly going into her room and apologizing for what her dad did. After a few months of that, I found that she got mad at him far more easily than she ever had before because she had confirmation from me that he was a bad father. I had meant to just console her and make her feel better about herself, but instead I made the rift between her and her father greater. And even if her father was wrong, she still owed him some respect (again, we’re not talking about abuse; we’re just talking about someone being overly harsh). I realized that she would do better respecting him and loving him, even if he were overly harsh, than she would if I was always telling her what a bad father he was.

Instead, I worked at having fun as a family.

I made sure we laughed together a lot, to try to break up some of this dynamic of the two of them not wanting to be together. And, once we had laughed a lot more as a family for several months, and there was a lot of goodwill between us, I talked to my husband about the fact that I felt he was being too harsh. He didn’t like it, but he listened, and now they’re really close again.

But I realized in all of that how easy it is to drive a rift between a spouse and your children. It’s natural to do; we’re worried about our kids, we think our spouse is wrong and is a horrible parent, and so we gravitate towards our kids and get their affirmation. We start emotionally aligning with our children instead of our spouse, which is dangerous.

When you drive a wedge between your kids and your husband, you don’t actually improve anybody’s relationship, even if your concern is that your children’s emotional health will be harmed with your husband’s attitude. You’re really driving them even further apart.

You also give your husband the impression that he is the “extra” one in the relationship, the one that isn’t needed. The only way for him to now cope is to double down and be even more harsh to try to assert his authority. The thought process that is going through this head now is, “I’m going to make them listen to me!”, even if it’s not at a conscious level. He is fighting to make himself relevant, because he’s being pushed aside.

What I would suggest is that you change the dynamic.

Why don’t you consider yourself an ally with your husband?

He is your husband, after all. Work on that relationship before you even address the issue with your kids. He isn’t going to be willing to talk until he knows that you also respect him, and he likely currently doesn’t feel that you do. You may think that there’s nothing he’s doing that’s worthy of respect, but by having that attitude you’re driving him away and making him even less likely to help.

So why not find some common ground? Try to start doing fun things together. Play board games. Suggest that after dinner you do something fun. Go for a walk (when it warms up). Play Monopoly. Play on the Wii. I don’t know what you as a family like to do, but if you don’t have any hobbies, develop some! Spend some time just laughing together and building memories. Be a family again. It may take some time to think of something like this, but it sounds like you are stuck where you never do anything fun together. And if your kids and your husband never laugh together, they are not going to solve your differences. You simply must find things to do as a family.

Stick up for your husband.

When your children are disrespecting him (even if your husband is in the wrong), tell your kids that they should not be speaking to their father that way. If your children are old enough to negotiate a relationship with their dad, then talk to them. Tell them,

“I know you’re angry at him. But living your life angry at your father is not a good life. You need to find a way to relate to him. So why not start thanking him for one thing that he does a day? Just one thing. Start thinking of him more positively. Be nice to him. You owe that to him. He is your father. And part of the reason you are always fighting is that you don’t give him what you owe him. If you feel hurt by what he says, then you need to go to him and explain that. But think about this: he is far more likely to listen to you if you have taken time to give him the respect and love he deserves as your father. So for the next month, smile at him. Thank him. Give him respect. And once you see the dynamic of your relationship change, then talk to him. Tell him when something he says hurts you. Because you do not want to live your life separate from your dad.”

You need to put the onus on your children (if they’re old enough) to talk to their father and do their part to repair the relationship. Then you can say the same thing to your husband:

“You are driving your kids away, and I know you don’t want to do that. So for a month, why don’t you try just praising them whenever they do something good? Watch for the good things. And as you notice more good things, then they’ll be happier with you and more willing to listen when you have changes you want them to make.”

He is parenting differently from the way you would. That doesn’t mean he’s right; but he is their father, and you are his wife. So try to build goodwill and make sure that you have time to laugh as a family. Do that first. Then talk to them each individually and tell them that it is up to them to repair the rift. Get out of the way. Right now, you are hurting your relationship with them because you are driving him out of his children’s life (even if you are right).

Remember, too, that you may not be right. I know many women who are far too permissive with the children, never disciplining them, and the husband becomes harsh in response. He overcompensates.

Frequently when we have these arguments, that’s the dynamic; we’re overcompensating for each other, instead of finding a happy medium

If your husband is calling your kids names, that obviously is an issue. But you aren’t going to be able to address it until you build some goodwill and show him some respect.

There may be times you do need to intervene to protect your kids from your husband. If he calls kids hurtful names routinely and with a mean spirit, or if he hits them, then you need to take steps to protect them. Talk to a mentor or pastor about this. But often we women label things “abusive” that are not actually abusive. They’re simply different from the way we would do them, and we build up in our minds how bad our husbands are because we think we’re the good parent. So please, before you take harsh action, really look at the situation. Is he abusive, or is he merely harsher than you want him to be?

I have friends who grew up with harsh parents, but they love those parents today because they know that their parents loved them when they grew up. Harshness, in and of itself, does not ruin a child’s life or personality, as long as it is accompanied by love (it is not ideal, but it is also not as psychologically destructive as other things). On the other hand, I have seen many adults very messed up because their parents played them off against each other, rather than presenting a united front and loving each other.

One day your children will move out, and you will be left with your husband.

Your whole life cannot be your children; you have to build intimacy, goodwill, and friendship in your marriage. He may not be an overly willing partner, but you can try just to change the dynamic and have some fun. Show him you respect him. Thank him for things he does do that are good. That will do a lot more for your children’s relationship with him than for you to be always trying to get in between the two of them!

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  1. Christine says:

    >This is such a wonderful post! It really is a problem in marriage when your parenting style are different and you paint each other as the enemy. My husband and I have grown a lot in this area and 99% of the time we wait till we are alone to discuss problems. I especially have to guard against letting the children see that I disagree with him. Our children see us as a team now and it is a priceless gift for them and for us as a married couple!

  2. D.L. Diener says:

    >I agree with this post. It's an area I struggle with (I say "I" as opposed to "we" because I don't think it's my husband's problem so much as mine) in part due to some bad modeling on my parent's part.

    During a vacation that my family was sharing with my stepmom, she witnessed me belittle my husband's parenting skills, and witnessed this misalignment happening.

    Granted, my husband was acting in ways that really were borderline irresponsible- to the point she occasionally felt like she needed to say something.

    But she called me on it. She'd been in a similar relationship before and offered me this gem, that our children need to learn how to be with their fathers. I can't change who my husband is and how he parents- there are some things really hardwired in there. And my children will have to know how to navigate their relationship with him in their own way. I can't oversee every situation and will have to trust my husband to keep them safe and treat them well.

    I hated this. It grated against every mama bear instinct I had. But..But..But!! After some prayer, I knew she was right. I could encourage him privately to parent differently, to modify his definitions of what was safe and what our children were capable of, but in the end- it was between him, my children, and God.

    I still have to surrender this piece of our lives from time to time, but ever since I started surrendering it- and trusting my husband to be a good father- he's begun to live up to it. And the change I've seen in him in the last 3 years is like day and night. If I had continued to interfere- he might have resisted harder, or worse, shrugged off his dad-hat altogether.

    Yes, make sure your kids aren't being harmed (abusive language, physically, neglect). But beyond that- the negotiations need to take place out of the children's ear shots and mom and dad need to present a united force.

    Excellent food for thought & a reminder I needed to hear.

  3. Mama Know Best says:

    >I just found you through another blog on your linky and I love your blog. I'm intriqued by the sound and practical advice in this post. I think most of us struggle with this same scenerio at times, I know I do. Anyway, I just want to say hello and let you know that you have a new follower. I think I may even try to link up to this later on in the day, but definitely next wee. Blessings to you and yours:)

  4. >Thanks for your comments, ladies!

    Christine, good to see you here again, friend! I like what you said about how we have to remember that our spouse is not the enemy. So often we start to see him that way, and it doesn't help anything!

    D.L., I know what you mean. It is hard! And I had to learn that I was the one hurting my daughter's relationship with my husband, not him, by interfering. It does grate against that momma bear instinct, doesn't it? But we're so much better off when we resist.

    And Mama Knows Best, so glad to see you visit! I hope you'll be back soon!

  5. I disagree with alot of what you wrote. At the age of 12, my mom put the “onus” on me to repair my relationship with my dad. What age are you talking about? My husband’s dad was extremely abusive. By abusive, I mean serious abuse. It makes me sick to even think what he went thru. He does not have a relationship with his father now and I believe the “onus” is on his dad to make things right. My husband met with him once 12 years ago with a terrible outcome. It is not up to my husband to keep trying to repair the relationship. I believe it is almost always the parents responsibility to pursue the child.

    • Kelli, I clearly said, though, that if it’s abusive it’s different, you know? I’m talking about if a parent is simply parenting in a way that you think is wrong–but not abusive. When there’s abuse involved it’s different, but often we think people are just too harsh, and when you start triangulating in a family, it’s really difficult and dangerous.

      I do believe that the parent should pursue the child, which is why I would also tell the dad (as I said in the post) to talk to the child, and also try to create lots of “family times” that can decompress the issue. I’m just saying that in the long run, interfering and preventing your child from having a positive relationship with their father because you think the dad is being bad actually can bite the child more. People survive having harsh parents. They don’t survive nearly as well if they’ve been taught that it’s okay to be bitter, or to feel alienated, or to feel as if their dad doesn’t understand them. Do you see the difference?

      • ButterflyWings says:

        The problem is the line between harsh and abusive. My parents believe they were strict, I KNOW they were sickeningly abusive at times.

        My exhusband would not even call himself harsh – in many ways he wasn’t. He’d let our daughter do anything she like, and then snap and verbally (and eventually physically) abuse her when she hadn’t even done anything wrong. We split when he belted her in the head after she tried to give him a hug, he roughly pushed her away, and just as toddlers naturally do, told him they weren’t friends anymore. And he savagely attacked her for it.

        I did everything in the blog above that it says not to do with a father, but because I knew to do otherwise would risk her life. I basically made sure in our last year together that he never spent time alone, unsupervised with our daughter. Because of his mental illness and drug use (both causing psychotic episodes), that he could go from normal to a psychotic rage in the space of literally a second. And for the tiniest imagined slight. After he’d flown off the handle a few times, and the only thing that stopped my daughter getting physically abused was me stepping in take the blows meant for her, I realise there was no way I could leave them alone together.

        Did it damage their relationship? Well he still got time with her, and she adored him. It saved her life. The alternative was her growing up like me – a violent parent while the other did nothing to stop it and I used to resent my father (the one who ignored my mother’s violence) more than I ever used to resent my mother.

        The real problem is when you know your husband is abusive and he just thinks he was a little harsh.

        When your partner is being harsh – then they still deserve your love and support and help building a relationship with your child. But when they cross over into being abusive. Sometimes you have to try your hardest to control the relationship, even to the point of ending the relationship (between your child and the father) if their life is at risk.

        It’s always a tough road to walk.

  6. First off let me say, that I am LOVING your blog!!! I wish I had more time to read more of your posts!! I’ve given my two cents worth in my blog today. (Thanks for giving me a topic to write about and allowing me to save my topic for today for tomorrow. :))
    Crystal Green recently posted…Join Forces; Don’t Battle Against Each OtherMy Profile

  7. I LOVE your blogs. I wish I had more time to read more of your posts. You also give me great topics to respond too on Wednesday too. :)
    Crystal Green recently posted…Join Forces; Don’t Battle Against Each OtherMy Profile

  8. YES, YES, exactly! Both of us have fallen into this trap as parents in our relationship. It caused more issues than any other thing that has happened. Of course the issues from that trickled into other areas, too. If you think the other parent isn’t a good parent, then when they aren’t great with money you are probably twice as mad about that topic, too!

    We now focus on respect in our house in general. So our child has to treat us with respect whether the other parent thinks a time-out was necessary or not. If one or the other of us things said time out was not necessary, we quietly mention to the other parent that we think that-or we don’t. It depends on just how unnecessary it was.

    Sometimes, I think we have to remember that our spouses are the child’s parent, too. No more or less important than us.

    I also think that while consistency is important, having parents who might slightly different approaches to the same issue can actual be helpful to children because it teaches children that different people have different personality types, etc. It will give them more realistic expectations of the “real world”. Of course, if parents are at odds with each other over those differences, it teaches the child negative things like, “one person is always right” and you can deflect from what you’ve done wrong by getting other people in conflict with each other.

    Communication is key here. Communication between the parents and between BOTH parents and children. Communication and respect are really the keys to a well functioning family.

    • I also want to add that even getting into the “right or wrong” topic, even if you are in fact “right” on one area of parenting, doesn’t mean you are right every time. Okay, maybe he overreacted when the kids didn’t pick up their toys, but that doesn’t mean the next time he disciplines them, he will be wrong, or that you wont ever be the parent over-reacting to something the kids have done.

  9. Thank you for this post. I am having this issue right-this minute, and you’ve opened my eyes to how I am damaging my families relationship.
    Until about 7 minutes ago(before I read this blog post), I thought I was the “right”/”good” parent…
    Thank you for sharing your parental knowledge!

  10. Thank you for this blog post!! I am having such a tough time watching my husband parent my 2.75 yr old daughter!! It’s extremely hard to support him when he wants to punish her simply for being upset. I ask him for help more often now because we now have a newborn too so this is happening more often. The problem I find is that she gets shut down by him and runs for me and says “no daddy!” Because he won’t listen to her, doesn’t respect her and just tries to control her and assert his authority. He doesn’t help her through her emotions and teach her how to express them acceptably, he punishes her for having them. I believe that damages her and their relationship. He ends up feeling rejected by her when she cries for me (even if I don’t respond to her cries and try not to interfere) and won’t listen to him and he gives up on her. It’s sad and I see it as immature on his part (he’s 40yrs old, not 25).

    I have suggested books to him, told him about information and tips I’ve read but he ignores me. I agree with your post about the damage I may be imposing… I see your point and I am going to try to make sure he knows I respect him and hope and perhaps pray (I’m not even religious) that it will open him up to at least listening to me and giving my perspective some thought. He’s not a bad husband but I feel like he is a bad dad. It’s really disappointing to realize the man you love is not good at parenting the little people you have created together. So disappointing it brings me to tears often these days. Thanks again for your very poignant perspective.

  11. …………and sometimes you just get a husband who doesn’t want anything to do with his kid, unless it’s to tell her how awful and wrong he thinks she is. My husband’s specialty is tearing our 10 year old daughter down and antagonizing her every chance he gets, and he’s been doing it since she was 4. He is a horrible father, and subsequently a lousy husband, who is incapable of affection or any kind of positive praise. The only thing he is capable of on a consistent basis is making sure we hate him. While most of you ladies have husbands who are willing to try and change, or make a difference in their relationships with their children, we here have a guy who refuses to change for anyone for any reason, and would rather be dead than go to counseling. So I guess it’s game over for us.

    • Hi Heather, i’m exactly in the same position as you are. I have a 4 year old daughter and since she was 7 months old, i began to see that my husband is good for nothing other than “disciplining her when she’s done something wrong”. He shouts at her, calls her names, teases her “as a joke!”, and is fabulous at putting her in the naughty corner at the smallest thing she does. He doesn’t give her any affection or time to play with. He’s simply is uninterested. He doesn’t help me bath, feed, dress or do anything for her. I have literally reached a breaking point now. I have tried time and time again to confront him, and wait for him to change. There has never been any change that lasts for more than 24 hours. I have decided to never have children from him ever again even though i’m so desperate to give her a sibling. And now i’m considering leaving him. The only thing holding me back is the guilt of taking away her so called “father”.

      • ButterflyWings says:

        It sounds like you both have verbally and emotionally abusive husbands. I wouldn’t recommend leaving over it – especially since most family courts believe in equal shared custody at all costs But keep an eye out. It doesn’t take much for verbal and emotional abuse to turn physical. My first husband was exactly the same with our daughter – verbally abusing her terribly even when she hadn’t done anything I would consider wrong eg if she dropped a too full huge glass of milk he’d given her, he’d scream obscenities at her – ignoring that it was his fault for giving her something to heavy for a toddler to even hold.

        We did eventually separate but only because he turn violent on her. But even after his savage attack on her (which he was allowed to plead guilty to just violating a domestic violence restraining order not assault or child abuse which is what he should have been charged with – he got off with a small fine), the family court said it was a once off incident and didn’t make him a bad father, and when it came to his long running verbal and emotional abuse of her, they did to me exactly what they do to all women in my situation – they put the blame on the mother because “she must be a bad wife if her husband is so frustrated that he speaks to a child that way” and ignore the fact that some men are just abusive bad people and it has nothing to do with whether they have a good or bad wife.

        And he was given every second weekend with our daughter by the family court, where his abuse of her continued, without me around to be able to protect her.

        Leaving your husband won’t automatically mean your child loses a father – sometimes they keep the father (by family court order) and the father takes it out on the children for you leaving.

        As long as he’s not violent, please do everything in your power to help him fix his problems rather than leave. Ultimately, the choices he makes are up to him, but keep pushing for counselling, keep setting him a good example of how to treat the children (ie actively showing him) and just keep praying.

  12. rosanne says:

    This was a helpful post for me to see :-) I actually made a New Year’s Resolution to be more respectful to my husband this year and not argue; since we are a little way through the year it is nice to have some more food for thought! I would add that as we try to be fun and bring more good memories and peace to the family, that we be thoughtful to choose things that are husband’s would enjoy/desire to do as a family, and not just take this as the next opportunity to decide what activities “we think” will be “best”…Maybe even ask him, haha ;). Get him involved in choosing at some level-however possible. As God as our guide this is a very doable task.

  13. Thank you for this, it’s been a struggle for me a lot recently. My husband is really great with our girls, but his relationship with our 4 year old son is not doing as well. I know he just eants our son to grow up and be a strong man, but it hurts me to see him treat him so much differently then the girls. And I have come to the realization that the distance between them got worse when I would overcompinsate, and coddle my son because my husband wasn’t. I really am afraid though of what there relationship will be in the future, and how it will effect my son, but maybe if I just let go and let them work things out it will get better. My husband was definitly the victim of a mother who pushed a wedge between the children and their father, when we first met he hated his dad, so much. But over time he started to realize that a lot of the things his mother said weren’t true, and that she was a lot of the problem. He has started to develop a good relationship with his dad, and has become very bitter and angry with his mom, and they are no longer speaking. I see first hand the damage this has done, and have always said that it is never ok to speak badly about your spouse to your children, I see the pain it’s caused my husband. But I never considered that my over reactions to my husbands parenting could be doing the same thing. Thank you.

  14. rosanne says:

    TMama & Heather, I didn’t grow up “religious”, but I did grow up with fighting parents (who eventually divorced-mym mom didn’t have to “deal with my dad anymore”…but I still did and kids sense all that stuff, doesn’t set a good tone for the future of their relationship). I am so much happier now and I have real peace, knowing God will work in my husband’s heart and life if I patiently wait, and give God room to work. My husband, my father, and my step dad all had difficult relation ships with their dads (neglect and abuse). There is a saying I saw on pinterest: “Sometimes the hardest people to love are the one’s that need it the most”. I try to remember this when my husband is hurtful to us. I think with men there are many times there are deep hurts from long ago that they still haven’t learned how to deal with and, at least from what I’ve seen in my family, it carries over into their other relationships…what they still need is RESPECT that is their love language, a disrespected man doesn’t feel loved, period. Jesus is the way to peace (even if your husband won’t choose it for themselves, he is The Prince of Peace :) and can make the difference for you and your kids no.matte.what. There was a time when my husband was so irresponsible and disrespectful that my Pastor counceled me to not let him around my kids ( he didn’t give me child support and threatened my life) this was before we were married. Then he almost killed himself…I was already a born again believer at this time and I prayed for him much. He ended up being more peaceful after this it took a few years and more prayer, but he asked the Lord to be his Savior and then we were married-our first 2 kids came before we were christians,…now we have 2 more. I still have difficult times often because he doesn’t want to lead our family in certain eays-like discipline, but I’m so glad to have God between us so
    I know better than to fight with my husband, like I grew up with from my parents. We always have room for improvement and our families wi
    All be better off if we focus on us and understand that pur husbands are accountable to God-he is the Creator, whether people admit or not. I will never regret an opportunity that
    I could have criticized my husband (“to protect my kids”), but what I already regret is not staying out of the way more often, praying more, and doing as this woman is encouraging us: to find any ways we can to do good, and show love, peace, mercy, grace, patience, and share laughter.

    • I love this. I am in the situation of feeling like my husband is a little too harsh, so I jump in and tell him what I think and then we end up in an argument. But What you said hit home. I am a Christian and instead of trying to give my opinion on the situation, I need to support him in front of the kids, talk to him about what I don’t necessarily think is “right” to say, and pray. I pray for other areas of my husbands life but not this part. Thank you for the eye opener.

  15. alicia hopkins says:

    me and my husband battle all the time you say play games together I cant because everything my kids do is wrong in my husbands eyes he yells at them for everything it seems they cant do anything right I love my husband but it is putting a big wedge between him and I I don’t even want to have sex with him because yeah I know kids grow up and move out but it is a turn off when your husband cant even talk to your kids with out looking at them like they are stupid im so tired of fighting about this and im at my wits end I don’t want to leave him I love him to much for that but I want to be happy and I cant when I see how he is talking and acting towards my kids he has only laid hands like a spankin a couple of time but he is so intimatating that my kids always cow down like he beats them im so lost and don’t know what to do. I have 3 boys age 11, 7, 4 and a baby girl any advice would be great thx

  16. Brandi Prys says:

    I’ve had several problems with my husband, kids ,us etc but lately it’s just getting him to improve the way we live our home etc. yes we rent but jeez would it kill him to put some time into it, I want to put up this huge playset he built for the kids at our old home in my parents yard, yes we live in AK, so snow wil b here soon but it’s just sitting and rotting its a huge fight ‘”your dad I’d going to pass on” then we will move away with your mom” who cares lets enjoy it now! That’s just the latest I feel like he doesn’t care that how things look bring me down or just little things make me think he cares I’ve got TBI, so yeah I’ve changed but does everything with him have to b ugly!!!!

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