Disapproving Dad

What can a Mom do when it seems the Dad disapproves all the time of his daughter’s doings and very seldom has conversations with her other than to tell her what she should do or should have done differently? (He channels most of his input to parenting through the mother.)

This is a very difficult issue. A child’s self-esteem is a direct result of how her parents view her.

If one parent is constantly disapproving, she will learn to disapprove of herself, put herself down, and not trust herself. It is very damaging to the child emotionally. Also, a parent who doesn’t want to spend time with a child and shows no interest in her is giving the message that she isn’t a worthwhile person, and this can have long-term effects on her self-esteem and her ability to form relationships. I imagine your husband is passing on what he received as a child to another generation.

This is a serious problem. I suggest you go for counselling with your husband, and possibly with the whole family, to get some help in dealing with it. Look for a well-qualified counsellor who specializes in family issues. Many employers provide extended health coverage for counselling or psychologists. If you don’t have coverage, and can’t afford to pay privately, services are free at the Mental Health Centres, though there may be a bit of a wait.

If you think your husband may be afraid to go to counselling, you might try inviting him to attend a parenting course with you. In fact, I recommend a course whether or not you attend counselling. There are many worthwhile parenting courses available through community agencies. My own LIFE (Living in Families Effectively) courses are available on videotape and on audiotape, and in booklet form. But I don’t recommend just buying books or videos and trying to make your husband read or watch them. This just doesn’t work. It would feel like manipulation or pressure to him, and convey a judgmental attitude from you to him. When you initially invite your husband to attend a course or counselling, don’t coerce him on the basis that you’re right and he’s wrong, and you’re taking him to an expert who will tell him this. Who would want to attend anything if they think the expert will just put them down? And I guess that your husband may have self-esteem problems in any case, from his own upbringing. So just say that you think you both need help with resolving your disagreements about parenting.

Sometimes the parent who’s most involved in the parenting is actually part of the problem, and doesn’t know it. For example, your husband may feel very inadequate when he tries to relate to your daughter, because you’re always watching him like a hawk to see whether he’ll say something damaging to her. And you can’t help doing this. Families are systems – each member reacts to each other member in a characteristic way, and a family can easily become locked into an unhealthy pattern of relating. Mother as the expert and father as the disqualified outsider is a common pattern of our parents’ generation, and it happens in our generation as well. It’s possible that your husband just doesn’t have the “tools” to do a better job of parenting, and if he took a course to learn these “tools” and then you were willing to get out of his way, he might surprise you.

If he refuses to take a course with you, and continues to avoid and put down your daughter, ask yourself : Is this marriage worth the damage it is doing to your child? One negative parent can poison the atmosphere in a home, so that the child never has a safe place where she can just be herself and feel accepted. As a last resort, you may need to threaten to leave the marriage unless the family gets help.