Dad and daughters make mother mad

CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?

January 01, 1995|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"I have friends who complain that their husbands don't spend enough time with their kids," says Jean, 39, an accountant and the mother of two teen-agers, Sally, 14, and Kim, 15. "For me, it's the opposite. Bob lavishes all his attention on the girls. It's as if I don't even exist."

Though Jean is delighted that Bob has a close relationship with his daughters, she thinks he's too indulgent. "When I say they dress like tramps, he defends them. When I complain that they're addicted to MTV he tells me to quit worrying. When I try to express concern that they're going to grow up spoiled and self-centered, he jumps into the argument, and I look like an ogre."

Recently, Jean was furious to discover that, without consulting her, Bob had purchased a TV for the girls' room. When she insisted they at least take on additional chores for the privilege of having their own TV, Bob initially agreed -- but failed to follow through and enforce her rules. "I desperately want to have a close relationship with my daughters," Jean says, "but somehow I always look like the bad guy."

Bob has a simple explanation. "Jean is too rigid," says the 48-year-old sound engineer for a radio station. "She's so uptight, I often feel I have to protect the kids from her martial law." Bob says Jean goes on a rampage if the girls' room isn't cleaned to perfection and has a fit about their clothes. "For Pete's sake, has she opened her eyes lately?" he asks. "All the kids dress like that."

Many of Jean's worries are unfounded, Bob insists: "They don't watch as much TV as she thinks they do. And I don't see why they have to scrub the floor like Cinderella." Recalling how his own father disappointed him time and again, he vows to always be there for his children. "I want to be a good husband," he says. "But does that mean I can't be a good father, too?"

Parents as partners

"These two are caught in a vicious circle," says Esther Rosenthal, a counselor in Belle Harbor, N.Y. "The more Jean says 'no' to Kim and Sally, the more Bob says 'yes.' "

And instead of trying to understand each other's point of view, they're arguing -- loudly. And they're doing it in front of their children, who, like all kids, are savvy enough to manipulate the situation to their own advantage.

Jean has a point: Parents have every right to have their emotional needs as a couple met, and that may mean setting priorities that have nothing to do with the children. To make up for his own emotionally barren childhood, Bob is giving everything to his daughters at the expense of his wife.

This couple's immediate problem -- disciplining teen-agers -- can bring out the worst in any parent. These guidelines will make it easier:

* Discuss differences: If you and your spouse have different child-rearing philosophies, discuss them, out of earshot of the children, and try to reach a compromise you can both live with.

Once a decision is made, stick with it and support each other. The job of enforcer rests with both parents.

* Expect teens to be moody, messy, short-tempered and secretive at times: And remind yourselves that this behavior probably has nothing to do with you. While you may be the target for their unhappiness, you're not the cause.

* Don't lecture or judge: Be there, listen, but don't lecture or judge if they come to you with a problem. Explain what you will tolerate and accept, listen while they express their feelings, then compromise.

* Punish according to the crime: If a punishment is in order, make sure you both agree to it and that it fits the crime. Consequences should be logical and fair. Grounding for a week may make sense; six 08nths doesn't.

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