I have remarried and have a seven-year-old and five-year-old from my
first marriage. My husband has no children of his own. My seven-year-old
has a learning disability and cannot read or write. My husband thinks
he is just lazy. How do I get my husband to understand that encouragement
can do so much for a child?
ANSWER: Your husband is new to fatherhood
and you are right to take the lead in expressing your beliefs about
your son, as well as your overall views on child rearing. It is possible
that your spouse is reflecting his own upbringing, which may have
been long on criticism and short on emotional support or individual
Not having had children, your spouse may not have
given much thought to parenthood. It is likely that he has not experienced
two critical insights that are common to the process of becoming a
parent. The decision to have a child provides opportunity to 1) reflect
on our own childhood and 2) discover the ways your own child is different
from yourself. It is necessary to turn a critical eye toward your
own childhood in order to identify the kind of parent you want to
be. It is also natural to try to understand others by identifying
with them, before realizing that a child may indeed be uniquely equipped
with strengths, weaknesses and sensitivities that are unlike our own.
Now that he has taken on the responsibilities of
becoming a stepparent, it is your partner's job to identify how the
way he was raised affects how he is responding to his own stepchildren.
Give your husband the benefit of time and discussions about your own
process of becoming a parent.
Given that you have already developed your own child-rearing
philosophy and sensitivities to your individual children's needs,
you are definitely several steps ahead. Engage in discussions about
your beliefs and how you came to them. Share your perspective on what
you believe contributes to a child's self-esteem and on the particular
unique needs of each of your own children.
Ask your husband to reflect on his own relationship
with his parents and their child-rearing philosophy. Did they encourage
him? When he had difficulties did they make efforts to build his self-esteem
and confidence, or make judgments about his "laziness"? It is also
natural for your husband to experience some stirrings of jealousy
if he sees you giving your child what his parents did not give him.
This could result in his feeling critical towards your son, instead
I remember my own husband's journey as a stepparent.
He initially repeated patterns of parent-child interactions that he
had experienced growing up. (Remember that the concept of self-esteem
was not even a part of many of our parents' awareness in raising us!)
We had long (seemingly endless!) discussions of how to support a child's
self-esteem, and what the job of parenting entailed.
Over a period of eight years, my husband grew to
agree and implement many of these concepts, but not without initial
disbelief and resistance. After all, if it was good enough for him,
why did he have to change anything for this child? More significantly,
these discussions caused him to look more critically at his own upbringing
and make active choices about the kind of stepparent he wanted to
But growth often involves pain. Despite his deeply
loving and positive connections with his own parents, this reflection
on childhood brought up sadness that he did not get from his parents,
what I wanted him to give this young boy. He came to his own acceptance
that he could improve upon the last generation without stopping loving
them! Over the years, he grew into the most supportive and encouraging
stepfather I could have ever imagined or wanted for my children. Sometimes
a good thing just takes time!
Invite your husband to become a part of the solution,
instead of the problem. Your spouse's belief that your son is "lazy"
contributes only negative energy to the situation. Be willing to listen
to your husband's feelings, but insist that he consider a change in
his own attitude, if he expects to facilitate a change in his stepson.
If he wishes to motivate your child, encourage him to do so in a positive
manner, and to understand any special needs a child may have.
Creating strategies for success or creative ways
to pique your son's curiosity could result in greater effort to understand
concepts that might otherwise be difficult for your son to grasp.
Ask that your husband strive to accept your son's difficulties (and
differences from himself) and find ways to help him cope, rather than
criticize. You might discover that he can help your son develop much
needed determination, if he pushes just hard enough, and in the right
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