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Dad Acts like a Drill Sergeant

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: My husband and I cannot decide on a mutual way of disciplining our three children. He is a Marine of 15 years and I am in nursing school full-time. I graduate in August and I have had to put a lot of things aside to study and make it through school including my family at times. His answer is to yell loudly like a "drill sergeant" at them for everything and I like to choose my battles. I say a lot of things about him in front my kids because his yelling makes me so uncomfortable. I sometimes call him an idiot etc. thinking it might make them feel better if I don't agree with what he is doing. I don't want his behavior to reflect on me and my discipline tactics, not that I am perfect.

My children are 3, 4, and 8 and I don't want to raise a school-shooter, if you know what I mean. I want my children to feel comfortable coming to me in any situation, knowing that I will be supportive without fear of what their dad may say. When he yells at them, he tells them they're bad or other things that would hurt my feelings if I were a child. No one ever talked or yelled at me that way. I don't understand where he is coming from!

A: Your family sounds like a battleground and your kids are the defenseless victims of the ongoing "war" between you and your husband. Your husband and you may differ in your parenting methods and especially your discipline strategies because of how you were both parented and because of the very different professional training that you have received. I predict that it will be difficult for you to raise healthy, well-adjusted kids if your present parenting/disciplining pattern continues. He blames them, shames them, bullies them and punishes them. You want to be the one that they can come to with any problem, the one who won't be like dad.

This isn't about who is the better parent or who loves the kids more. My guess is that your husband feels resentful toward you for neglecting your family as you pursued your career. I bet that he has felt overwhelmed for some time with more than his "fair share" of parenting the kids. Because he really doesn't know how to discipline in other ways, he falls back on his military, hard-nosed tactics and applies them to disciplining his kids. He needs help in learning other ways to discipline and to relate to his children. So do you. It's easy for you to play the "nice, kind mom" against his screaming, condemning drill sergeant. It hasn't helped matters that you have called him an idiot and worse in front of your kids. If you show him no respect, what example does that set for your kids? I'm not saying that you should go along with his punishing discipline techniques, but you damage your kids when you ridicule and condemn your husband in front of them.

I implore you to get some good family therapy and marriage counseling. The basis of this therapy will not be to prove you right and him wrong. It will be to get you both on the same page, as equal partners, in parenting and disciplining your kids. You will learn creative, successful discipline techniques that work. You will need to learn how to value and respect each other again or else all the wonderful discipline techniques in the world won't bring harmony to your family. I guarantee you that your kids will not feel safe and secure in your family until you and your husband make a dedicated effort to improve your marriage. Do this to save your marriage and do this to give your kids a chance for a decent childhood. Thanks for writing.

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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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