My wife thinks I have "anger management issues" and need to be a better "role model" for our children. I guess you could say we don't see eye-to-eye when it comes to raising children. She lets the kids get away with murder, do whatever they want, the woman literally cannot say "no." If they haven't done their chores and they beg hard enough to go to the movies with friends, she'll let them. She gets physically ill if they give her a dirty look, and worries constantly if she's doing enough for them. If we say we're going to take away their computer privileges if they don't bring their grades up, she'll let them play on the computer when I'm at work. When I ask her why she does this, she'll say she feels guilty taking anything away from them. She leaves me no choice but to be the heavy. And this means sometimes I get angry, sometimes I yell. I wish I didn't have to be this way, but unless I slam my hand on the counter, nobody listens.
My wife insists I'm threatening and controlling. She can't see I get upset because I care. In her mind, reminding kids that we're the parents, giving them rules means I'm an ogre. The kids basically hate me and love her. Sometimes I wonder if she's right and they wouldn't all be happier if I wasn't in the picture.
-- OGRE DAD
First off, I want to thank you for writing and being honest. That takes guts. It's not easy to seek outside assistance, particularly for men, who are raised to value independence and autonomy. Ask Mom is a weekly feature in the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. If you have a question you'd like to submit to the panel, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Self-sufficiency is a useful quality, but in times of trouble, if we can't relax that stance, we won't be able to take in new information necessary to get us back on our feet. So the good news is, I am hopeful, not because the situation will be easy to fix, but because in opening yourself to help you you've taken a giant step to being a "role model" for your family.
In my field, whenever a guy comes to therapy, it's as if somewhere above an angel gets his wings. Men who can admit they don't have all the answers are an awe-inspiring bunch.
My impression is that you and your wife have fallen into the trap of good cop, bad cop. This might work in law enforcement, but it's pretty ineffective in families.
This happens with couples where together you make one good person, but separately you're imbalanced. In your case, your wife appears most comfortable in the role of nurturing to the point of indulgence, and you're in the role of disciplinarian to the point of parole officer. The two of you have gone to extremes.
Ideally, you could access a part of you that wants to nurture your kids and your wife could build tolerance for saying "no."
If you explain this to your wife she might say, "let's go to couples therapy and fix this shared problem." Or she might say, "hey, if you weren't so angry all the time none of this would happen." If the latter is true, I'd advise you to keep getting help for yourself, take a risk, talk to a counselor and find out ways to manage your own anger and frustration.
If you take the lead on examining yourself and the role you plan in the dynamics of your family, others just might be inspired to follow.
This week's column was written by Patrice Janda, MSW therapist with Cocoon Project SAFE. Cocoon Project SAFE serves Walla Walla parents of teens. For free consultation and support, call 1-877-339-4179.