Q: My husband seems to be more interested in fixing the house and sitting down with a glass of wine each evening than interacting with our 8-year-old son. He's a good provider and a spiritual leader, but he doesn't initiate playing catch or family activities of any kind. I'm feeling resentful about this, because I grew up in a family that did all kinds of fun things together on the weekends. So what should we do?
Jim: Fatherhood is a very personal issue for me. My parents divorced when I was young, so I had very little contact with my biological dad. And my stepfather left when I was in fourth grade. The absence of a consistent father figure was devastating to me, as it is for so many kids.
I realize your own situation is different. It's encouraging that your husband is a good provider and spiritual leader. Perhaps he just needs some motivation to help him engage with your son. I'd recommend two books that might be helpful. The first is "The Seven Secrets of Effective Fathers," by my friend, Dr. Kenneth Canfield. It addresses practical matters such as protecting and providing for children (your husband seems to have a good handle on this), and also spending time with kids and getting to know them emotionally (an area that may be lacking in your household).
The second book is Tim Sanford's "Losing Control and Liking It." Sanford suggests that a father's most important role is not to control his children, but to (BEGIN ITALS)validate(END ITALS) them by spending time with them and affirming them.
If your husband wants more insights after reading these books, have him contact Focus on the Family for a wide range of great resources for dads.
Q: When my boys, ages 5 and 7 say, "That's not fair," I respond with, "It may not be equal, but it's fair." We've talked before about how they won't always get the same thing at the same time, but they will be treated fairly. I have no idea why it's worked, but the approach has been very successful for our family -- in fact, they now say it to each other. What do you think?
Juli: As one of six kids, you can imagine how many times I said or heard those words, "It's not fair!" Whether it's a larger slice of pizza, more presents under the tree, or a later bedtime, kids will sniff out any sign of inequity. My parents usually responded with a similar line: "We won't always treat you exactly the same, but we love each of you equally."
Although a key element of effective child rearing is consistency, parents must be flexible in applying the same principles to different kids at different times and in different situations. For example, while dishonesty should always be addressed as a serious offense, good parents must be sensitive to personality, motivation and age when deciding how to correct it.
Punishing two children exactly the same for a similar offense would be equal, but not fair. One child may be much more sensitive to parental disapproval and be devastated by a mild scolding while her strong-willed sibling needs a dramatic consequence to get the point across. Similarly, the exact same curfew for all teenagers would not be fair because some are capable of handling more freedom than others.
It takes a confident parent to stand up against the "It's not fair!" defense. Good for you for not only holding the line, but teaching your kids that your love for them can trump even their perception of not being treated fairly.
Dr. Juli Slattery is a licensed psychologist, co-host of Focus on the Family, author of several books, and a wife and mother of three.
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