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How can I help my husband cut our teenage daughter some slack?

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We have a wonderful 13-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son. My husband is very frustrated with our daughter's 'attitude', but when I listen to what he gets angry with, it is really his overreaction to her. Unfortunately, both of them mirror each other exactly with their frustrations, but neither one of them hears the other.

I understand what is happening and I am trying to bring both sides to each other. My daughter will listen and try to adjust, but not my husband - children should be seen and not heard - perfectionist.

Any suggestions? My son and I are left wondering what war is going to be fought tonight.

This question was submitted by 'Trish'

mark tyrrell

Mark says...

Hi Trish and thank you for writing in.

It does sound like your husband is exacting, perfectionistic, and, perhaps, has an intolerant attitude where your daughter is concerned. It can be so hard to see one's own behaviour.

Here's a thought experiment (not a practical suggestion). If you suddenly started behaving even more intolerantly toward your daughter, three times as intolerant as your husband, how might he react? Often when people are 'shown' their own behaviour by demonstration, they back down and adopt a more measured and appropriate response.

From what you say, it sounds like your daughter has at least tried to meet your husband halfway. He may have been raised in an environment in which parents had total power over children. But does he really want to be head of his own dictatorship? And anyway, that's not possible because you are not like that. So all that will happen is that resentment will build - perhaps within you as well as your daughter.

I think teenagers do need limits and boundaries so they can grow responsibly and happily. But too many boundaries stifle and subdue free expression or form a kind of grotesque overblown rebellious backlash, while too few boundaries can cause loss of respect for others and the self, emotional insecurity, and just as much of a different kind of resentment.

When he talks about your daughter's attitude, you might ask him how he would like her to be. If she is wilful sometimes, ask him whether he'd prefer she had no self-will at all. Would that serve her well later in life? In relationships when she's older? If she expresses her opinion, ask him if he'd prefer her to never speak up. If she disagrees, ask him if he wants her to say yes to everyone later in life.

Expand his context where you can. Just about any attitude, in a certain context, would actually be adaptive. Help him think more flexibly and question any fixed assumptions. He could also (but probably won't) read 'How to Overcome Perfectionism in Everyday Ways'.

If he's contrary, ask him - ahead of time - what he's going to argue about with your daughter tonight. He may 'rebel' himself toward your prediction by not arguing with her. We can't make him be reasonable, but you can certainly help loosen up his thinking a bit so he becomes less rigid where your daughter is concerned. He needs to see that 'tough but fair' is no good without the fair bit.

All best wishes and I hope things improve soon!

Mark

watch icon Published by Mark Tyrrell - September 21st, 2014 in

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