You and your husband probably had an idea of the kind of parents you wanted to be. You could look to your own parents as examples. You might aim to do the exact opposite of your parents. Maybe you want to try something entirely new.
Every parent I’ve worked with has said something along the lines of “It’s so different from anything I expected.”
New and experienced parents have their patience and resilience tested.
But what if the unexpected strain in parenthood is your partner?
Do you ever look at him and think, “My husband is a disappointing father?”
Some disappointment is natural. No one is perfect when it comes to parenting, from the kid’s perspective or their partner’s. But if you find yourself frustrated, angry, or even giving up on your husband altogether, you need to address it.
You may hesitate to accuse your husband of being a bad parent. But what are the signs of a bad father?
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When we don’t feel heard, we tend to raise our voices. Unfortunately, yelling increases stress, not communication. Children are deeply impacted by yelling1 at home. You may notice your kids being more aggressive, withdrawing, or having temper tantrums.
In order to break your husband’s cycle of yelling, it’s important to stay calm2. Speak in a quiet voice so he has to stop yelling to understand you. Disengage. When you are both calm, use I-statements to communicate your feelings. If he is yelling at you in front of your children, tell him you will continue the conversation in private.
It’s important not to hide all conflict from your kids. They learn conflict resolution skills from watching the two of you. When the two of you are able to calmly work through disagreements, your children can learn to manage their emotions and behavior.
Meanness is one of the qualities of a bad father. Critical statements can negatively affect your children’s development. Children who are constantly criticized have difficulty identifying emotions3 in others. They tend to experience higher levels of anxiety, guilt, and shame.
Children need emotional safety to develop their independence4. As a mother, it’s important that you take the lead on building them up. Talk to your husband about being kinder moving forward. Encourage him to compliment your kids every day.
When you have children, it can be easy to fall into parenting double standards. Moms are often expected to do things dads get extra praise for. These double standards might extend into how you both treat your kids.
Double standards when it comes to gender can be emotionally damaging for a kid. Children as young as 18 months develop an understanding of their gender. But their gender does not determine their individual interests. They may feel insecure and ashamed if they think they’re doing things that kids like them “shouldn’t” be doing.
Countering those double standards can be as simple as focusing on family values. Foster virtues like respect and kindness in your home.
Jimmy Kimmel had a segment go viral when interviewed dads knew almost nothing about their kids. I wish I could say it’s rare for fathers to be so lost. But many men are not encouraged to be aware of all that goes into raising their kids.
Your husband may decline to engage with your kids’ school or doctors. This can put a lot of pressure on you. It can also teach your kids that he doesn’t care about them.
How do you teach him without writing a weekly newsletter? It’s good to have a list of important numbers. Invite your husband to learn your kids’ routines. Schedule conferences with your child’s teacher and pediatrician. Make sure he knows that these appointments are a priority
No one likes it when their kids are mad at them for being parents. However, it’s important to maintain the boundaries of parent and child.
If your husband’s relationship with your kids is all fun and games, that’s a problem. It puts you in the “bad guy” role. Your kids get information about your marriage that isn’t relevant to them. They can be confused about their role in the family.
It’s important to have clear agreements about house rules. Make a plan for what to do if something unexpected comes up. Make time for your adult friendships.
French comic artist Emma explores the frustration of being both parent and manager. Having to be the one with all of the answers is exhausting. You might feel a desperate need for your partner to step up.
It’s a myth that women are just better at parenting than men. Fathers are just not challenged to step up as much as mothers.
Schedule time to sit down as husband and wife to discuss your kids. Brainstorm solutions to problems together. Ask him questions. Avoid taking over. Create a collaborative effort.
You might feel like it’s easier to handle things yourself than to clean up behind him. You don’t want your kids to go without, so you make everything work. You might feel like a bad person if you blame him when you know he tries. But a partnership is not about being self-reliant.
When I work with clients, I talk a lot about Can’t vs. Won’t. There are important differences between the two. But the important thing to keep in mind is that your family can’t count on your husband.
Kids who don’t trust their parents are more prone to anxiety and depression. If your kids feel that they can’t rely on their father, they will come to you. This can keep them from developing a relationship with their father.
Give your husband more responsibilities. Have him follow up with your kids when he makes promises. Have him deal with consequences when he lets them down.
Some people think that consequences are too much for children to handle. But there’s a difference between discipline and abuse. Discipline is about teaching children long-term habits.
If your partner doesn’t discipline your child, he’s not helping them learn to think ahead. If he interferes with the way you discipline, he’s creating a confusing environment.
Work together to develop an understanding of natural and logical consequences. Discuss how discipline will improve your child’s well-being. Create a list of acceptable and unacceptable punishments. Explore ways to use reinforcement as discipline5.
He might think he’s being a good father by holding your kids to a higher standard. Unfortunately, being raised with too high standards may lead to adolescent insecurity, moving forward. Strict parenting also leaves little room for your child to develop their individuality as they grow.
An unintended side effect of those rigid expectations? They can make your kids better liars.
Have a conversation with your partner about what your house rules are trying to accomplish. Emphasize encouragement. Prioritize your children’s connection to you as parents, not perfect behavior.
A lot of men want their children to live their dreams. He may feel like a better father if he pushes your child to engage with his childhood interests. This is less about what your kid needs, and more about soothing your husband’s anxiety.
This keeps your child from finding their own way to their interests and friendships.
As a mom, you can facilitate better communication by encouraging your child to talk about their interests. Remind your partner that your family is not exactly like other families, and your children are unique as well.
Dr. Marsha Linehan, the creator of the DBT modality, defines addiction as “when you are unable to stop a behavior pattern or use of substances, despite negative consequences and despite your best efforts to stop.”
When most people hear the word addiction, they think of substances like alcohol or opiates. While quitting can be very difficult6 for a person with a substance use disorder, there are other types of addictions that may impact your family.
Gambling or impulsive spending. Video games. Pornography. Even sleeping. Anything can be an addictive behavior if it stops your partner from being a better dad. If it keeps him from communicating with your child, or interrupts his parenting, he needs to address it.
Recovering from any kind of addiction is a deeply personal experience. Some people resist working on their addiction because they don’t want their family to see them struggle. Some men feel like admitting they have an addiction means they can’t be a good husband.
As a mental health professional, I encourage people with addictions to find support groups. These relationships with others can encourage recovery, especially paired with formal treatment and counseling.
You can encourage your partner to avoid people and environments that trigger him. But trying to manage his addiction yourself can be bad for your marriage. Encourage him to seek specific help from a mentor, spiritual leader, recovery group, or therapist.
Dr. Lindsay C. Gibson wrote about development in her book, Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents. Adults raised by these parents report deep loneliness, a lack of self-confidence, and difficulty trusting their own instincts.
Adult children of EI Parents can react strongly to becoming parents. You might be desperate to be nothing like your parents. You may be resigned to making the same mistakes your parents did. Maybe you’re sensitive to criticism from other parents, even your spouse.
These feelings influence your marriage. They influence your relationship with being a parent. And they might explain why your husband has been a disappointing father.
There may be other reasons for the way your partner parents. Biological or medical issues may change his energy levels. We can resort to less-than-ideal parenting strategies when we’re tired, hungry, or in pain.
No one is immune to the environment we grow up in. Dominant views impact how we see ourselves as parents and our children as young people. If he was never encouraged to explore how to parent, he may resort to being aggressive to try to get his point across.
Fathers impact how children understand masculinity7, which is directly related to how your husband sees men. If your husband has strict views on masculinity, he may be hard on your son. He may intend to make your son tougher, but he doesn’t make himself emotionally safe.
Your husband may similarly pick on your daughter to encourage her to conform for her safety. Rigid rules around dress, body size, and interactions with boys may be his attempt to keep her from being hurt in the future.
Parenting is a very emotional process. We tend to avoid uncomfortable emotions, especially if we don’t know how to regulate them. Anger, guilt, and anxiety can lead people to act in ways that they hadn’t planned to.
Your partner may feel like he’s hurting his child if he makes them unhappy because that’s how he feels about his parents. As a result, he may avoid discipline or taking responsibility.
He may impose strict or arbitrary rules because he’s trying to protect your children from painful experiences. In his mind, if he can control their behavior, he can control how they experience the world.
Insecurity as a parent can lead to complete avoidance. The very act of learning to be a better father can lead to feelings of inadequacy. In response, he may avoid engaging with your children’s care, which can reinforce unpleasant feelings.
Don’t resort to any of the above behaviors! Make sure you’re not being mean. Avoid raising your voice. Try not to be too strict or too permissive. These are bad things for parents to do because they are bad communication strategies across the board.
Like any conflict, it’s important to stay calm and focused when discussing parenting expectations. Have a conversation about the specific needs of your family. Use I-statements to discuss how you feel without shaming him.
Consider couple counseling if you think having a third party to mediate these conversations would be helpful. A lot of people think counseling is only for when relationships are on their last leg. But professionals like me can help you make choices to prevent concerns from becoming big problems.
Give him more responsibilities. Commit to giving him full responsibility, even if he messes up or doesn’t keep a promise. Your relationship as husband and wife is a partnership. Don’t give him the option to not pull his weight.
Often, being critical is about protecting her from bullying and intimate partner violence. Being controlling and making her act a certain way may make your husband feel like he can keep her safe in the future.
This could also be about safety. He may be trying to protect his son from being bullied for being different or feminine. He may also be mean to his son as a response to how he was parented. Being mean may be the only way he feels he can be an effective parent.
Address the issue when both of you are calm. Make a plan for de-escalating those situations. Speak calmly and disengage. Identify where you can go to continue the conversation.
If you’re disappointed because your husband isn’t the dad you envisioned, that’s perfectly normal. It’s important for you to take an active role in facilitating your husband’s relationship with your kids. This will strengthen you as parents and partners.
Leave a comment and tell us what tips you have for parenting as a team.