Getting to School — Father-Son Conflicts

Q: I can greatly relate to the parent who complained about the difficulty of getting her teenage son out to school in the morning. My situation is a little different. I am often gone early in the morning, as I own a business and often have to set up events that are a distance away from our house. Sometimes I host events that go on late into the night. In such cases, I sleep in, and my husband is completely in charge of getting the children ready to leave to school.

My husband works in a local, relatively low-pressure job from 9 to 7 as a salesperson. He enjoys his interactions with customers and the products that he sells. I am clearly more of a workaholic, and he is much more laid back.

However, when it comes to getting our children up to go to school, my husband can get very frustrated when the kids dilly-dally and take their time. Their school is not around the corner, and they don’t have the luxury to be late. He isn’t so bad with the younger children, but he has a daily power struggle with our eldest child — our 12-year-old son. Our son likes to read (be it late at night or early in the morning) and finds it difficult to tear himself away from his books. Our son is “on the spectrum”; one report said he has Asperger’s Syndrome, another said he doesn’t. Whatever the case, our son is somewhat eccentric in his behaviors and would rather read than figure out how to communicate with someone (even if it were to help him!). Surprisingly enough, he does have three friends in his class and is quite loyal to them.

This is the common scenario in our house: My husband asks our son to get ready for school. After being ignored, or being responded to in a chutzpah’dik fashion, my husband pulls our son up and/or screams at him. Our son usually cries or curses under his breath when this happens. When I am around, I come in to try to make peace. My son definitely initiates this conflict by his behavior, but my husband needs to find another way to start the day. This cycle has become a daily occurrence. What can be done?

A: Though you say that your son is “on the spectrum,” one can see that a human relationship is of importance to him. Not every 12-year-old has three friends to whom he is loyal. This is the key to how mornings can improve in your home.

If your son spends much time reading, he probably spends little time with his father (other than taking orders from him about the next task desired to be done). Though your husband is laid back by nature, a more focused way of spending “fun” time with your eldest child is essential. One exercise I often utilize in family therapy is that of asking each parent to write down specific positive attributes for each of their children. This exercise itself is helpful, as a parent may find many positive attributes for one child and few for another. The parent can then imagine how the second child must feel about him/herself if the parent finds little that s/he can appreciate about him or her.

These recorded attributes need to reflect the parent’s value system and not just be platitudes. The parent then needs to keep this list and remember to verbalize these specific values. The relationship generally improves.

Ways to modify the daily destructive pattern can be worked out between father and son. However, if the foundation of this father/son relationship is based on how they value each other, the actual nuts-and-bolts of the morning schedule become less essential.

The major component of the daily schedule is a power struggle of two individuals who need to find another way to react and respond to one another. By spending pleasant time together and stressing the positive in your child, agreements and reward systems will be a natural outgrowth of an improved, ever-developing relationship.