Dear Your Teen:
My daughter said something to upset her father. Instead of telling her why he was upset, he started yelling at her. He said, “You do not own anything in this house; your phone, the toilet, your room is all mine and I can take it away if I want.” I got very upset with my husband and told him that he should have handled differently which then led to a huge fight. What should I have done?
EXPERT | Dr. Ron Taffel
It’s always presumptuous to answer a question when I don’t know the people involved. So you must take this with a grain of salt. After all, you are the mother. You know your child and husband – and I do not. Nor have I heard the father’s perspective, which I am certain will differ somewhat from yours. Everyone has different perspectives when it comes to conflict between the child and parents.
Dealing With Parental Disagreements
Your scenario is a typical issue. Many fathers disagree or feel quietly hurt, but are hesitant to say much about it, except in an angry outburst. This is most apparent in the teen years when our kids can be so rejecting or dismissive. His choice of words were not good. But at least from this distance, it leads to questions you can ask yourself – to deepen your understanding of what might be happening:
- Are there subtle ways that your husband is left out of the equation during daily life?
- Does your daughter act subtly colder for longer with him than with you?
- Do the two of them share temperamental characteristics that can make for a butting of heads?
- Are there other good father-daughter relationships in your life that serve as models of love and mutual respect for your child?
Here’s What You Can Do to Make a Difference:
You can be a bridge, which means authentically honoring his different perspective. You can say in front of your daughter (before things escalate) that you understand where dad is coming from. This won’t hurt your teenager, but it may help your husband come out of his vindictive stance and negative communication.
During dinner, ask your husband about his day and talk about your day, rather than focusing on the child-centered questions we often use to grill our kids.
You can expect your daughter to show some interest in what her father does, how he feels, how his job or lack or employment, etc. affect him. Kids are better people when we expect them to understand us, not just focus on themselves.
When your teenage daughter’s friends come over, give your husband some information about them. This makes it possible for him to join in some of the kid repartee that can make the most secure of parents feel as if they’re not there.
Call a Therapist
And perhaps most importantly, is your family experiencing current financial concerns? The outburst seemed almost entirely about money and control. Money matters and sometimes money is the most difficult issue to deal with openly. If necessary, consider seeking help from a licensed therapist-counselor in your local mental health center. Most offer short-term counseling at sliding-scale fees.
Keep in mind that what we say during outbursts often contains the very thing not being addressed, the tough issue that is making everyone feel badly. Teens may be saboteurs in their souls, parents may say the most extreme, unrealistic things in the heat of the moment – but most of the time, parents want the best for their family and so do our teens.
And if things don’t get better, you may need someone else in the room to help figure out how to do this. Just make that call.