DEAR CAROLYN: My 8-year-old son does not have the greatest relationship with my husband, and I am clearly his favorite. My son is a bit challenging in general; he has ADHD and is gifted and sensitive to boot.
Anyway, my husband’s expectations of him just don’t seem to match reality. He expects my son to act like a “normal” 8-year-old, and when he gets distracted or forgets to do things, my husband gets stern with him. Not angry or yelling, just stern. He believes he should treat him as normally as possible, and thus similarly to his older brother, because that’s the way the world works.
He also thinks I coddle him by neutrally reminding him when he gets distracted. Every time my husband gets stern, my son gets upset, reflexively saying, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” even when he wasn’t to blame. He also asks me, “Is Dad disappointed again?”
Of course my husband doesn’t believe in therapy — family or otherwise — and won’t go. He doesn’t especially believe there is a problem at all. Am I overreacting? Am I coddling? What’s my next step?
Caught in the Middle
DEAR CAUGHT: Aaaaaargh. So, your husband doesn’t believe in ramps outside buildings? You either haul yourself up the steps or you don’t get in, that’s the way the world works.
There absolutely is a problem here, and most of it is your husband. The arbitrary stubbornness required to rule out a possible way to make things better — one he hasn’t even explored for himself — will affect every aspect of your home environment.
Therapy might not be the answer, who knows. But his refusal even to try it means he won’t challenge his certainties with new things; won’t consider that his reasoning or actions might be wrong; won’t defer to an expert; won’t acknowledge your son’s feelings and confidence as aspects of his overall health.
I find it incredibly frustrating that people don’t or won’t see the costs of such certainty, especially when it comes to raising children.
Kids can grow into happy adults by way of households tyrannized by know-it-all parents, but it’ll be harder than it needs to be for sure, and it won’t be sure to happen. Your advocacy is going to be crucial to your son’s belief that he’s not defective and is not to blame for every obstacle he faces in life.
Specifically, you need to avail yourself of every resource you can: Read the work of Edward Hallowell, who has and specializes in ADHD; advocate for your son to get what he needs at school; try CHADD.org for other reading; look into assistive technologies and techniques.
Getting these right will increase the percentage of healthy support at home and dilute your husband’s impact – which is the path his stubbornness forces on you.
Finally, go to therapy solo, please. Your kids need you to have a steady hand.
RE: “NORMAL”: It is a necessary lesson that we’re in charge of managing our own issues. But the kid’s 8! Husband should be TEACHING the boy, very gradually and in an age-appropriate way, how to cope with his problems, not just telling him he’s doing it wrong. Teaching and coddling are NOT the same thing!
DEAR GIFTED: Important distinction, thank you.
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