Child Caring

Partner's temper worries mom, rightfully so

[This letter has been condensed and edited for punctuation. BFM]
I'm worried about my partner's attitude and temper towards our sons. Mostly everyday consists of my boys' dad winding them up, like when my 7 year old wants something he can't have. Instead of being an adult and saying a persistent NO, his dad says no but when my son reacts with the expected whine, it seems like his dad encourages it and debates and laughs at him. Then they start calling each other names, my son gets to the brink of frustration and cries, then his shouts at him to stop it.
I try to tell my partner to stop winding him up but he says 'he enjoys it and that's what dads do.' I don't believe this is right and can see my once bubbly happy 24/7 child turning angrier. Also he seems to say no to everything my son asks for.
....The other night we were having dinner. I finish mine and just pop to the other room when I can hear [my partner] going on: 'Eat your dinner.. eat your dinner,' getting annoyed...Then my son shouts "ouch!" and starts crying, I go to see what's wrong and dad says he's not eating... I ask my son what's wrong and he says nothing mum, later at bed time he tells me his dad flicked him on the forehead when he got annoyed!
I feel like I need to keep an eye on them all the time but when I say anything [to my partner], he thinks I'm too soft and keep undermining him when I think that's what he does to me! He does have a short temper and it angers him when someone gets upset, it's like [he] takes it as being all about him.
I really don't know what to do, I've tried telling him he's temper is not right, he either doesn't agree or admits to certain things depending on what mood he's in....I really don't know how common this is and how much longer I can live with it but he says he has a plan and will fight for kids if I wanted to split up :(

From: Marie, Medway, UK

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Dear Marie,
Your story saddens and worries me because it doesn't sound like a healthy situation for your children or, indeed, for you.
On the one hand, it's certainly understandable that parents sometimes lose their temper and, luckily, most children are resilient enough that they bounce back. However, when parental displays of temper become the norm rather than the exception, even the most resilient of children reach a wall that can affect how they view their world (is it a happy, safe place or a scary, unpredictable place?) and how they react to it, from becoming withdrawn and depressed to acting out themselves. Sounds like your son is teetering at that point.
Psychologist Kalman Hellman wisely writes that there are many reasons why a parent, often a dad, might lose his temper. The issue is, what happens afterwards? Can your partner apologize? A parent who apologizes doesn't look weak to a child, contrary to what many parents think. Maybe strategies from the he Anger Management Tool Box would help.
There are plenty of ways to get help with parenting skills. The problem sounds like your partner doesn't see there even is a problem. He needs to know how a parent's anger can affect a child. For instance:
* Children of angry parents tend to be more aggressive and less empathetic than children whose parents are able to manage their anger;
* Children of angry parents are more likely to experience delinquency and depression into adult life.
It also sounds like your partner has the upper hand in your relationship as well. Reading between the lines makes me wonder why that is and what is happening in your relationship with him. Are you abused, verbally or otherwise? My best advice to you is that you need more help than you can get from writing in to a parenting advice columnist.
I hope my answer will validate your instinct that this is not a good situation and will motivate you to seek professional counseling.