Dear Carolyn: My husband and I work at home together and get along exceptionally well … that is, until we don’t. Once in a great long while we will have a huge blow-up. It doesn’t get physical but my husband will start dropping the F-bomb. Last night such a dispute occurred – he swore and stomped around and the kids could hear. We have household rules about cussing – but he lost his temper.
He is under stress at work and I think this contributes a great deal to his loss of control.
Today I get the silent treatment. It will pass by tomorrow – at least it usually does. What to tell the kids?
Once in a Blue Moon …
You tell the kids what you always tell the kids when one of you screws up. You say you’re sorry – in this case, he says it – and admit the mistake by name. “I lost my cool, no excuses. You deserve a better effort from me.”
If he refuses, then you need to tell the kids you’re sorry you argued, you’ll work with Daddy on it and it’s going to be OK.
Kids – people, I should say – are naturally inclined to lie their way out when they’re busted, so push against this by making it clear that mistakes aren’t big horrible things that must never be said out loud. Normalize the admission of fault, normalize a show of love for family members at their least lovable times.
This is the whole purpose of “household rules” and the adults who serve as their enforcers, beyond just keeping a household in line. Kids need to see their trusted adults make the effort to follow those rules themselves, and demonstrate humility and grace when their efforts fall short.
Conscientiously raised children are ones who have been told (BEG ITAL)and(END ITAL) shown how to conduct themselves when it’s their turn to mess up. Doing the wrong thing isn’t an “if,” it’s a “when,” for everybody – and the consequences of a mistake tend to get worse when we try to deny, shift blame or cover up.
So you have a duty here to set a crucial example of taking responsibility upfront.
Since the problem you’re writing about is a recurring one, you also have to take responsibility beyond just a, “Sorry, my bad,” from Dad. He really must do better, and that means admitting he needs a healthier way to manage his stress. Day-to-day mitigation, that is, instead of ignore-ignore-ignore-BOOM-silence – no stage of which is healthy.
This is his step to take, of course, and you can’t take it for him – but you can be the one who calmly and lovingly insists you both take a hard look at your coping methods. Wait till the emotions of the most recent eruption have cooled, then step in, with love: “Ignoring things till we have an explosive fight isn’t good for the kids to see. I’d like us both to learn how to manage our day-to-day stresses better. Will you commit to this with me?”
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