Wondering about appropriate discipline

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

My husband is working on his verbal abuse issues. He is flat out mean to myself and my kids and can blow up instantly over something such as there not being any water bottles in the fridge for him. Right now, his newer thing is when the boys mess up (they are 15 and 12 years old) he make them rub his feet. I think this is just flat out weird. So, for instance, my 12 year old “owed him 10″ last night for leaving underwear on the bathroom floor. Please tell me I’m not crazy and that this form of punishment or discipline is wrong. I feel it’s degrading to my kids! It goes on daily.

A: It’s unclear to me what you mean by the statement that your husband is “working” on his verbal abuse issues. Is the foot rubbing a replacement for yelling and blaming? You also didn’t say whether the foot rubbing is done with a sense of humor, whether the kids object, or whether the kids are afraid. All would make a difference.

If your husband asks for foot rubs in a joking way and the kids see it as funny but a way he can make a point, it may be fine. On the other hand, if your husband intends to humiliate and the kids experience it that way, it’s not.

What concerns me as much, however, is that you and your husband are not on the same page about how to guide your boys. You said that he lumps you in with the kids when he is being mean. That suggests that the boys don’t see their two parents as partners who provide love and structure to help them grow. Instead, they see him as a tyrant and you as unable to either assert yourself or keep them safe. For that reason, I strongly urge you and your husband to consider some couples counseling. You don’t deserve to be mistreated any more than the kids do. I suspect that your husband would rather have the respect of his family instead of their fear but doesn’t know how to go about it.

The boys are just entering the teen years. At some point, they are likely to decide they’ve had enough of being yelled at and bossed and will start returning the behaviors. If the adults don’t find a way to be good partners and to treat each other, and the kids, with respect and decency, it could get pretty rough around your house. I hope you and your husband will act now so that you don’t find yourselves constantly embattled. Some therapy now could result in a much smoother transition for everyone as the kids transition into adulthood.

I wish you all well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 10 May 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Wondering about appropriate discipline. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 20, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/05/10/wondering-about-appropriate-discipline/