An Impatient Spouse
What is the best way for a wife to respond, when her husband is frustrated with their children?
By Dr. Ely Weinschneider
Dear Dr. Weinschneider,
I am writing in regard to an issue that has been bothering me for a long time. Although in general my husband is a caring father who loves our children deeply, I find that he has a very low threshold for tolerating all the noise and ruckus that inevitably comes along with having young and active children. As a result, he gets short tempered frequently with the kids and disciplines them in ways that I consider to be too harsh. It is not infrequent to hear him yelling at the kids and punishing them by sending them up to their rooms for what I deem to be minor infractions that are typical of children at their stage. An example would be that if two of the kids are fighting, instead of listening to both sides and hearing them out and offering advice, he will immediately assume that they are both at fault, and yell at both of them harshly for fighting and send them both up to their room. If I try defending my children or explaining that I don’t feel they deserve to be punished (as I think it is damaging for them to be punished for no reason), my husband gets even more irritated that I am not siding with him, which then creates friction between us. Can you advise me how to be a supportive wife when I strongly disagree with my husband’s chinuch approach?
Chachmas nashim bansa baisa, Shlomo Hamelech taught us that it take profound chachma- wisdom- and not just any ol’ chachma, but the chachmas nashim, the wisdom of women to build her (unique) home. It doesn’t happen on its’ own. Yes, a household can kinda-sorta just run on auto-pilot, but if we want to build a home that is special and wholesome, it takes a lot of wisdom and work.
Your dilemma is not unique, to some degree this is the delicate balance and healthy challenge in every single home. Meaning, everyone wants their spouse and their children to all be happy, but it’s nearly impossible to make everyone happy all the time.
In your question you are bringing to a head two huge, vast topics- shalom bayis and chinuch habanim. Both of these topics on their own can fill volumes- communication, boundaries, structure, patience, etc. While we cannot address all of the intricacies involved in a brief article, we will try present some ideas that can build a strong foundation and framework to better be able to navigate this challenge.
The truth is that the two topics of shalom bayis and chinuch are very tightly interwoven into one tapestry that we call “family life”, and your question demonstrates this point perfectly. Shalom bayis affects chinuch and vice versa.
There are two more main elements that are woven into this tapestry, and they are 1. Hashem, and 2. You.
It is very understandable, and all too easy, for you to feel that your hands are tied behind your back. But, for better or for worse, you are the person with this struggle, and we will focus on what you can do to make things different. This doesn’t at all mean that this is your problem and somehow this is all your fault (I hear too often- oy, if I was a better parent…. oh, if I was a better wife this wouldn’t be happening, etc.). Chas v’shalom.
On the contrary, we are suggesting that you are not the problem but the solution, you are the key to change.
On the contrary, we are suggesting that you are not the problem but the solution, you are the key to change. The first and most important part to change is for you to understand and believe that you can be proactive and affect change, and not just be reactive to the circumstances around you.
Let’s address some simple ideas- so simple that we tend to overlook them.
Shape the environment. Instead of waiting for chaos and mayhem to happen, and then spending your evenings putting out fires, let’s think about what can be done to ensure it doesn’t occur in the first place:
Feed them- kids are often coming home famished, wiped out, and wanting to “let loose” of the structure that they’ve been dealing with all day. They will likely eat anything they find on the kitchen table- (even if it’s healthy!). Try putting out cookies and milk, cut up fruit, something to hold them over until supper, and you may find that this alone can help the mood in the home shift in a positive direction.
Connect- If you are able to spend a few minutes talking to each kid, show interest in their day, share in their excitement, sit down and read them a book- it will help them feel calm and avoid the pattern of behavior that they have created.
Play- Again, kids need to let loose and be kids, but if you can shape how and where they let loose, it can be very healthy. If you aren’t actively involved in making sure their energy is directed into a healthy outlet, it can very well get ugly. If you can offer them playdough, a puzzle, a ball, etc. and be around to shape their play, the noise and conflict will significantly decrease in your home. (On a similar note, I always tell morahs and rabbeim that the most important subject they teach is recess. A great rebbi or morah knows that is the prime time that children are learning bein adam lchaveiro skills, and if they can coach them along in this area the children can further develop their emotional intelligence, which is key to being a mensch and having a successful life).
“Parents are people too!” (I plan on making that into a bumper sticker one day 😊)- I 100% guarantee that if you and your husband eat and drink better, sleep better, and overall improve your self-care, you will both have more patience for your children and enjoy them so much more. No, this is not going to solve the issue, but it absolutely will help.
Notice the positive. Whenever there is a patient and warm interaction that occurs between your husband and children, it is very worthwhile to find the right time and place to mention it to him (i.e. “It was so beautiful to see how our son/daughter ran to hug you and tell you about his/her day. You mean the world to them.”
Timing is everything. Don’t forgot- your husband loves your children deeply as well. He also wants things to run smoothly and to feel connected to his wife and children. It is important that you discuss chinuch issues, but how and when these conversations occur needs to be determined with care.
While guidance from books, a rov or a therapist can sometimes be helpful and should be encouraged, at the same time it is crucial that you respect and tap into your strengths as an aishes chayil, and appreciate the powerful impact that your love and wisdom has on your family.
Dr. Weinschneider is a Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Lakewood, NJ, and the Founder of The PINNY Institute. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for private appointments, speaking engagements or workshops.