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Ask Dr. Meg: My Husband is Mean To Our Kids

Help. I’m afraid my husband is harming my children irrecoverably with his cruel words.
Last Updated
April 22, 2019
posted on
June 30, 2016
Minute Read

My husband is a good man at heart, but his go-to communication style with our children (daughter is 14, son is 12), is to shut them down when he is correcting them.

Dear Dr. Meg,

Thank you for your wonderful words of wisdom via your site and your books. Strong Mothers, Strong Sons changed the way I parent my own boy. In reading that book, I grew to understand even more the importance of building up the relationship between my children and their father, and of building him up in their eyes. I try to do that by not badmouthing him, giving him chances to shine with them, and by pointing out his good qualities.

But what do you advise me to do when they see behavior in him that is not good, and they are now old enough to recognize it, point it out to me, and ask me about it? 

My husband is a good man at heart, but his go-to communication style with our children (daughter is 14, son is 12), is to shut them down when he is correcting them.

As I was telling my daughter good night after one of these incidents, she was very upset. She said, “Mom, I am so angry. Dad is mean all of the time and then he has these bursts of niceness that confuse me. And then I feel bad for being mad at him.”

She went on to say that she couldn’t be herself around my husband, that he expects everyone to be perfect, and that he is mostly mean and thinks he’s always right.

When he gets angry with me, out of earshot of the children, he shuts me down immediately and then will sometimes escalate to cursing at me, telling me he hates being married to me, and that he will leave me as soon as the children are gone.

The next morning he might pout a bit, but he’ll go back to being his nicer self and won’t apologize for his outbursts. Even with that said, he is a good man deep down, but he is immature. He is a professional who cannot handle the stress of his job, but he feels threatened when I offer help.

Dr. Meg, what should I say to my children about their father?

Dear Mom,

You are in a difficult situation and one that I am sad to say many women find themselves in. Your husband has serious anger/rage issues, which probably stems from his childhood. I have known men like your husband and have some suggestions for you.

First, let’s look at his treatment of you. Yelling, telling you that he is not going to stay married once the children are gone and saying other cruel things without apology aren’t acceptable.

He’s bullying you. You can’t control his emotions but you can insist that he speak to you differently. Men bully until they are told to stop.

I recommend that you firmly tell your husband that you aren’t going to tolerate his cruel speech to you anymore. If he does this again, you will walk out of the house. You simply won’t stay in the room while he is abusive. The only reason that you should not do this is if you fear that he will become violent. If there is any chance that he will rage/hit or hurt you or the children if you confront him, then you need professional help here. Find a good counselor who can help you work with him.

It is important that you model to your children that you will not take abuse.

If you allow him to abuse you verbally in front of the children, then your daughter sees it as acceptable behavior toward a woman and your son learns to treat women this way. This is something that you really need to put a stop to.

As far as what to tell your children, you need to be honest, tell them that what they think and feel is accurate when it comes to their father.

They see his bad temper and if you downplay it, they feel that something is wrong with their assessment of it. Don’t let this happen. You can teach them that they can love their father very much and see his faults without disrespecting him. But the truth is, your husband’s temper will cause them to lose respect for him because he’s out of control. You can’t change this.

They have the right to be angry and hurt and must be taught that it’s OK to love someone and be angry at the same time.

Teaching them to respect him as their father is not the same as teaching them to accept his bad behavior. They can love the man but hate his behavior.

Now, onto your husband. Telling him to change his behavior because it is unacceptable in your home probably won’t work.

The best way to approach him is the following:

When he is in a good mood (on vacation, over the weekend, etc.), tell him that you want some time alone with him. Then, when you are both in good moods, tell him in a compassionate way that you love him very much but that you are worried about him.

His anger and irritability are eating him alive. Tell him that if he doesn’t get some kind of help, you’re worried he will get very sick. He may be depressed or he may have a bipolar mood disorder. Tell him in a firm but loving tone that he needs to at least see his doctor because his stress and anger will take a toll on his heart and his health.

Then, I recommend that you find a doctor who will address his anger and emotional issues. Your husband may be depressed. Often depression comes out in men as rage and there is a treatment for this. See if you can talk to his doctor before he goes in for a visit and if he will let you go to the visit too. Tell the doctor your concerns.

You and the children are hurting, but the truth is, your husband is hurting too. Be strong enough to help him but never make excuses for his bad behavior.

If he doesn’t get his anger under control, he’s going to end up all alone one day with you and the children not wanting anything to do with him. Don’t threaten him with this, but know it and do everything that you can now to help him from imploding in the future.

Dr. Meg Meeker, MD

Practicing pediatrician, parent, grandparent, coach, speaker, and author. Say hello @MegMeekerMD

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