Anger and Interference – A Vicious Circle

My husband and I argue a lot about parenting. He says I interfere with his discipline. I keep telling him I am all for respecting limits and supporting limits, what I can’t support is his disrespectful, angry tone when he deals with the kids. They either tune him out or get really hurt by his cutting remarks. I know we shouldn’t disagree in front of the kids but I can’t stand by while he uses abusive messages. Help.You are caught in a vicious circle. When you interfere with your husband’s parenting, he loses his parental authority with the children. This leads them to act disrespectfully towards him. Their disrespect increases his frustration, and leads to his escalation into anger, to try to gain their respect. His anger provokes you to intervene once more. One part of the problem inevitably leads to the other part of the problem. So to break the cycle anyone in the family system needs to make a change. The change is most likely to stick if both parents are involved in an agreement to make changes. The ideal situation is that you agree not to interfere with one another’s parenting, and you agree not to speak to the children in angry, disrespectful manners, then you keep your agreements. However, either or both of you may slip, so you need to plan for how to handle it when that happens.

I encourage you to make your a plan together with your husband. If you are too emotional to discuss it calmly, I suggest first of all that you take a parenting course together, so that you can work out your discipline techniques in the context of new learning for both of you.

The following is a sample plan which might work if you both agree to it :

1. If your husband finds himself losing patience with the children because of their disrespect for his limits, he is to take a “time out” for himself to calm down, then return to make his point. He may choose to use that time out to speak with you and ask you to back him up.
2. If you back him up, you are to say “Listen to your father,” regardless of what he is telling the children, provided that he is not imposing abusive punishment.
3. If you overhear him raising his voice with the children, do not intervene at the time. If you become upset, remind yourself that the children’s attitude suggests that they are not afraid of their father, and that your intervening will just increase their disrespect. You may speak to your husband afterward when the children cannot overhear you, and ask him how he got “triggered,” and whether he needs any help.
4. If the children’s disrespect for their father is firmly established, you and your husband may decide to set limits and impose consequences together rather than one at a time, for a while.

If this situation is too emotional for either of you, I encourage you to seek professional help to mediate your dispute and work out a solution which leaves you both feeling empowered to parent in the ways you feel are right.