Our son says we argue a lot and that annoys him. This came as a complete shocker’ – The Irish Times

A question

We have been happily married for 10 years. We are immigrants in Ireland, we have no family nearby. We have some family friends (from our community whom we meet and hang out with on the weekends) and we have three kids; The eldest is nine.

My husband and I are very happy in our marriage. We don’t have big conflicts, love affair, and agree on almost everything. We didn’t shout or shout at each other. There is no emotional or physical abuse. There are no financial problems. We have a very good system and we plan things together by agreement. We care about our children. Never neglect them. Always give them priority in life. Our children thrive in school – they are well mannered and confident children. In short, I wouldn’t change anything in my circumstances. We are highly respected in the community. We both have thriving careers and achieved a lot in career because I think we support each other a lot.

In the last two weeks, my eldest son has told me that his father and I argue a lot and that it makes him upset. This was a complete shock to me, because we argue so little, only about the little things like what to cook and what kind of furniture to buy. More than just arguments, it’s discussions, like a very ordinary couple. We never respected each other, nor did we say hurtful words to each other. My son’s words hurt me so much. Because he seems unhappy with what I think is ideal. He also said that he would never want to marry for this reason.

I think that’s because he hasn’t seen the bad side of the world, where people are more unhappy in their lives than we are. I feel that he is not exposed to husbands who have bad relationships. I spent my childhood seeing major differences between my parents. There were times when they didn’t talk to each other for months. My sister is in an abusive relationship, but my son rarely met them, we live in different countries. I also work closely with victims of domestic violence and have personally seen a lot of suffering in families. We are not close to that. I am shocked that my son thinks of us in this way. I tried to ask him to mark the time we argued and he felt so bad, he couldn’t explain further.

Please guide me on how to tell my child that we are a normal, happy family, and we have a lot of ups and downs. We are happier than most people around us. I have always practiced gratitude. It hurts to see him grow up thinking something wasn’t right, while his dad and I did our best.

Answer

Criticizing your children can hurt, especially when it feels unfounded or focused on something dear to you. However, it is important to take a step back and put things into context as you think how you might respond.

There are two perspectives that may help you understand your son’s criticisms. At the age of nine, he will likely enter puberty and adolescence. At this point in life, he can begin to think in more complex ways and look for values ​​and ideas outside the family.

Often, young adolescents become idealistic and criticize their parents and the culture of their families – this is a natural stage of development and an important one on the path to independence. Even if their criticism is unfounded, it is good if they can air it and discuss it with their parents. In addition, your son can be a very sensitive child. Although it may seem like trivial matters, he may be really annoyed by small disagreements with your spouse. Perhaps he finds conflict of any shape or form difficult to see. Again, it’s a good idea for him to be able to articulate and express these feelings so you can support him in understanding.

Avoid being defensive

To help your kid understand you, the first step is to avoid being defensive when he criticizes. You may be tempted to say, “How dare you say that,” but it would be best to respond calmly and respectfully. Perhaps with a bit of curiosity and asking some open questions: “In what way does that bother you?” or “What’s bothering you in particular?” Tell me more about how you feel. The goal is to attract him and listen to his thoughts and feelings. Remember, there may be other concerns on his mind which would be good for him to get off the shelf. Once you understand exactly what he is thinking and feeling, you will be able to choose the best way to respond.

Show your opinion

Once you listen, he will be more open to listening to you. Then you can provide your point of view and your opinion on what he said. For example, you could say something like, “I’m sorry you were upset, but I think you might have misunderstood things… Dad and I get along pretty well, and there are two little classes that don’t change that – it’s actually good to talk about what we disagree about.”

It might also be appropriate to share some of your hurt feelings: “It hurts a little when you say that, because we have a good marriage,” though be careful about making him feel guilty about sharing his feelings. Once you’ve shared your point of view, ask him, “What do you think?” You are trying to encourage open discussion and communication. This would be the best way to resolve things.

Finally, you mentioned in your question the challenges of your childhood and wondered if that explains some of the hurt you might be feeling. Your kid’s behavior may be causing you some unresolved issues. If so, you might consider getting some support around this by taking the time to talk with a friend or counselor.

Submit your question by filling in the form below, or by email health@irishtimes.com (with “John Sharry” in the subject line)

John Shari He is the clinical director of the Parents Plus Charity Society and an assistant professor in the UCD School of Psychology. We see www.solutiontalk.ie