Carolyn Hax: Advice

Husband, dad seems he’s not listening

Carolyn Hax
Carolyn Hax

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Hi Carolyn! My husband and I have two kids (5 and 3) who listen about as well as all other young kids, leading me to repeat directions a lot. I have kind of accepted that they have a learning curve, but what about my husband? Frequently he will listen long enough to catch keywords and then proceed as if he heard everything. For example, I will ask him to grab a couple of things we need as I head to the car with the kids, and he will grab the first thing and that’s it.

He will frequently look like he is listening and even respond with an affirmative when I am done speaking, but it’s like he literally just tunes in for a few seconds and then tunes back out.

I am at the end of my rope dealing with a house full of people who don’t listen. Is there anything I can do here or am I just stuck repeating myself for eternity?

Tired of Repeating Myself

You can consider the possibility that he’s not good at following oral instructions and needs to receive them in writing. Some people’s brains are just that way — including mine, for what it’s worth. I need lists. Conditions like ADHD can also make following such steps difficult if not impossible.

I realize this won’t help you as you’re heading out to the car, but in that case you can start requests with: “There are number things to grab on your way out.” That way he knows how long to listen. And, too, you need to accept that he’ll always be somewhat this way, and pre-empt any thoughts that he does it on purpose.

It might be worth a screening for processing or learning issues. Or just go straight to trying the different work-arounds that people who have these conditions use. Not everyone is wired to function in mainstream ways. Edward Hallowell has good suggestions: www.drhallowell.com/books/

Re: Tired: I used to deal with that problem on a daily basis. My solution to it is to make them repeat back what I just said. It usually works.

Anonymous

Re: Tired: I sympathize with Tired. I also notice I am a lot less tolerant when I am overtired/overwhelmed/stressed. Do you think some of the questions you receive are symptoms of how tired/overworked so many of us are? Do you think that’s even a helpful distinction (symptom versus root issue) to draw?

Anonymous 2

Absolutely, stress makes us less flexible. But to my mind expectations are an even bigger culprit.

When my kids were little it was easy to get overwhelmed. We were crabbiest, though, when we wanted to get something accomplished, even something trivial, beyond just keeping the kids alive for another day.

If we wanted them to go down for a nap, we could roll with it. If we wanted them to go down for a nap quickly because a game was starting that we wanted to watch, that’s when tempers got short. Think about packing for a trip when rush-hour traffic isn’t looming if you get a late start, versus packing when you know you have a small window for getting out while it’s clear. Completely different beast, right?

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