Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: I’m a mom of teens and young adults. My husband doesn’t get along very well with the kids and it is becoming increasingly painful for all of us. I feel like I have an imperfect but close relationship with the kids.
I don’t know what to do to help. I can’t really talk to my husband about the way he acts with the kids because we have a stable but uneasy relationship as well. When they bring issues up to me, I encourage them to speak their mind with him but be respectful. This phase of life feels hard, but I sense that it needs time and flexibility and a lot of mutual grace and respect.
I’m not sure what my question is. How do you raise parents of kids who are mostly raised already?
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Would your husband be receptive to family counseling? Sounds like the “time and flexibility and a lot of mutual grace and respect” are things you know you need and can personally choose to provide, but hoping for it from others without any sort of guidance might be wishful thinking.
Parents who are at odds with their kids often get that way because their expectations don’t match reality, be it because they have specific outcomes in mind and their kids choose otherwise, or because they (the parents) don’t have an accurate idea of what to expect from any given age.
If you’re able to convey what to expect generally from teenagers and young adults, or if you have a resource you’ve used to help you understand what to expect, then do pass that along as nonjudgmentally as you can (how he takes it is the part of the equation you can’t control). Also take care to note, encourage and articulate each of your children’s particular strengths.
Sometimes the best messenger, though, is one who is objective, thus the therapy suggestion. A good therapist can offer practical ideas for pre-empting and de-escalating conflict, and also have the perspective to say, hey, this is normal and nothing to get worked up about – since just knowing it’s OK not to get upset can be the magic serum for family peace.
Another thing that can help is to pay close attention to where your husband struggles in dealing with the kids, and get at that counterintuitively – not by jumping to correct him, but instead by validating what he’s seeing and what he’s trying to do about it. “I know you want X and Y, understandably.” If you can put yourself in that spot, even better. “I’ve struggled with that, too.” Then you are in a better position to add, “I think you’ll have better luck if you try Z,” or, “I had some luck with Z.”
Obviously working on your own “stable but uneasy” relationship is a priority, even if I’m mentioning it last. In my experience, uneasy + home (equal sign) instability. As in, families who don’t get along well.
If your marital difficulties mean he’ll refuse any sort of intervention, professional or otherwise, then please make an appointment just for you to discuss any possible next steps – to include, I hope, also bringing the kids.
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