Q: I can greatly relate to the letter published last week. It’s not just the Zoom challenge that I face, but family members’ general response to one another. My husband is having a hard time of it, as he isn’t working after many years of working. Without his minyan and shiur at shul, he seems quite lost. He tries to make a schedule for himself, and is helpful to me, but he feels very bad about his job/our present financial situation. He ends up losing patience with certain children more than others — clearly the ones who are very different than he is, are the ones who bother him the most. He can’t understand why this one behaves this way, etc. As if he’s never noticed it before? It’s as if he’s getting angry at certain children, but he’s really angry at himself.
Two of my older children have come to me and complained at the way he has been recently responding towards them, and I don’t know quite what to say to them. They usually had quite a good relationship with him. My husband is usually just snappy in his responses — not directly insulting. But he never acted this way — to such an extreme, at least.
Since we’re living in such a shaky time, it’s hard for me to be greatly positive or supportive.
As there is so much pain around all of us, it’s just hard to even find the right words to say. It’s hard to know if his business will restart after this, so I can’t reassure him about that, either.
He usually has a good sense of humor, and can take things in stride. This situation is a different one. I don’t want my children to come to disrespect their father, and have this problematic time period affect their relationship. Any ideas of how to approach this?
A: It’s hard to know how to respond, without knowing your husband’s general responses to “criticism.” Will he immediately get defensive, if you question how he speaks to your children? Will he blame you for not being much better?
It is probably best to start by communicating ways in which your husband has had a generally good relationship with these two children — giving concrete examples of this (as you say that they generally feel positive towards him). You can illustrate how it’s due to your husband’s positive attitude/actions. You can then say that you are wondering why things seem to be different lately. This needs to be asked in a non-judgmental fashion, desiring to know, rather than to blame.
If he begins to explain that it is due to his present stressful situation, you can then be empathetic and supportive, as you, too, have similar sentiments. Thinking of other ways of responding to these two children can then be discussed. Sometimes suggesting parenting techniques that have been effective for you can be helpful. For some, it can arouse feelings of competition. “Do you think you’re a better parent than me?” can be sensed. Again, it depends on the temperament of the spouse.
You can attempt to analyze the child’s behavior — be it chutzpahdig or stubborn, for example. Have compassion about the child’s particular challenges and be dan l’chaf zechus in order to have more patience for him/her. Optional ways for you to respond to this behavior can be problem–solved by both of you together, thinking of better ways to react when this type of behavior reoccurs.