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Child Caring

NJ mom struggles with husband's abusive discipline

Hi Barbara,

I am the mother of a school-aged boy. His father and I are married,
and live in the same home. I work part-time and care for the child
most days before and after school until bedtime. On weekends we are
both present, although my husband has different hobbies that take him
away for entire days sometimes.

My child is intelligent, well-behaved (by my own assessment, and by
teachers/neighbors). He does tease his siblings and can make a
'wise-comment' (which I discuss with him and/or create consequences),
but isn't that fairly common?

The father is involved and I believe truly cares. However, for longer
than I care to remember now, I frequently strongly disagree with his
disciplinary methods. My question is about the long- term effect on my
child, and what I can do to mitigate? Or, maybe more children than I
realize grow up like this and I was lucky that in my own experiences
I never had to go through this.

I have thought about leaving with the child. However, I am concerned
that the transgressions may not be evaluated as enough to cut-off
shared custody and then the only thing that will change is that I am
not present to help. Many, many times, my husband [uses] time-outs,
consequences, etc, but then will suddenly just lose his temper. This
often comes in cycles. He blames me that he loses control [saying] I get him so angry by repeating things or 'yelling.' He rarely apologies and often his version and my
version of the story are different. He is extremely good at story
distortion and twisting, which raises my concern about what would
happen if we separated even further.

Grabbing my son by the arm harshly, and yelling in the face is common. I often see a situation where my son is trying to figure out how to be a
bit silly or rough-house with his Dad, who requires my son to
look at him very closely and directly in the eye while he is being yelled
at loudly. (The reason for the arm holding). He used to call my son
'violent' and said he liked to fight when he disagreed. I saw it as
normal development and reach for independence.

When these situations occur, they break my heart. I face up to my
husband and do everything I can to get them to stop. Often it works,
but sometimes, I am not quick enough. My husband states
that this is wrong, and that we need to present a united front, but
really, how can I approve of his type of 'discipline'? I often agree
that the behavior is wrong and that there needs to be a consequence
(which is what I use most times), or discussion but just totally
disagree with my husband's methods. These instances are never to the
point where I can prove that anything abusive has occurred, but I know
in my gut things are not right. My son is gentle and kind, and has
almost always behaved when spoken to. I try to tell my son that his
Dad's anger isn't about him and that his Dad has his own issues, but
I'm not sure what kind of message that sends either?

We are educated professionals. However, I really don't know which way
to turn with this. What are the potential consequences for my son as
he reaches adolescence? Is there anything I can do to help? Should I
stay out of it, or do I see my son in too kind of a light? And, no,
my husband has never been in a barfight, etc. or I would have run for
the hills. And, maybe I am overreacting by wanting to remove my son
from the situation?

From: J, New Jersey

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Dear J,

You're right on every count, including that your husband can be abusive and still love your children. What's more important, however, is that you're not over-reacting; what you describe falls under the category of emotional abuse.

You know your children depend on your to stand up for them. You know this is not what happens in every home. You know this is not healthy for your son or for anyone else in the family, for that matter. Even watching a sibling bear the brunt of a parent's explosions can have a long-lasting impact One of the sad facts of abusive parenting is its cyclical nature: your husband is likely repeating behaviors he saw in his parents. Without intervention, your son will likely repeat them himself.

Have you asked your husband to consider professional help for anger management? Can you get him to read what Dr. Phil has to say about this? What about a parenting workshop that you attend together?

J, I urge you to get some support, peer or professional, so you can figure out what you need to do. It seems like you have more than just the parenting issues to work out; you don't exactly sound happy in your marriage. Here's are some resources to get your started:

Parents Anonymous of NJ has a 24- hour Helpline. 1-800-The-Kids.

So does the New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline:1-800-572-SAFE.

Here are contacts at the NJ Department of Children and Family.

Click here for site that might help answer questions about custody.

Also, The National Parent Helpline

It's hard to take the first step. Good luck.