Dear Thelma

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion -

My hus­band is an ab­sent father and I need him to change.

I AM a 48-year-old house­wife. For 15 years, I doted on my two boys aged 18 and 17, and daugh­ter aged 16. They are best friends and the four of us are very close.

My chil­dren are obe­di­ent and sel­dom fight.

I help them with their home­work, ferry them around and, cook and clean by my­self.

Be­cause I am so ef­fi­cient, my hus­band need not lift a fin­ger at home.

But he is an ab­sent father and re­fuses to take on re­spon­si­bil­i­ties or make de­ci­sions for the fam­ily.

He adores us and just en­joys the nicer parts of be­ing a father, like buy­ing toys and boast­ing about his chil­dren.

When it comes to dis­ci­plin­ing or im­por­tant is­sues, he leaves it to me.

Last Novem­ber, I no­ticed that my sons, who didn’t quar­rel, stopped talk­ing to each other.

My older son re­fused to tell me what hap­pened but from our con­ver­sa­tion I de­duced that the prob­lem was his younger brother tak­ing ad­van­tage of him, mak­ing him do all the house chores and be­ing in­con­sid­er­ate in shar­ing the WiFi.

Be­ing the old­est, he is re­spon­si­ble, but he re­sents that re­spon­si­bil­ity. And so, he wants to cut his younger brother out of his life.

When I ap­proached the younger one, he told me he didn’t know why the older brother was not talk­ing to him. The younger one is self-ab­sorbed and obliv­i­ous. Sadly, their father wants an easy and quick fix to all prob­lems. I have hinted to him to talk to the boys.

He said he would slap them and tell them to make up. I then stopped ask­ing him for fear that things would get worse.

My older son sees his father as lazy and his mother hav­ing to shoul­der ev­ery­thing at home.

Things are awk­ward now, should I keep nag­ging or let things be, and how should I act when we’re to­gether?

De­pressed mother

I agree that you can­not ig­nore this bat­tle. As par­ents, it is your job to make sure that your sons deal with this, or it may poi­son their re­la­tion­ship for the rest of their lives.

So first things first: your hus­band. Be­ing a par­ent is not an opt-in po­si­tion; it’s a duty.

As a father he has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to his chil­dren, and he can’t blow it off be­cause he doesn’t like to do un­pleas­ant things. It’s not ne­go­tiable so sit him down and tell him to man up. You are not a sin­gle par­ent.

Hav­ing said that, I sus­pect your hus­band is fright­ened of mak­ing a mis­take. Bring­ing up chil­dren is the most dif­fi­cult job on the planet. Part of him stand­ing at a dis­tance and ad­mir­ing is prob­a­bly founded in fear.

So af­ter you have read your dar­ling a stern lec­ture, com­fort him with the fact that this is­sue is about con­flict man­age­ment, a skill that he’s bound to have prac­ticed at work.

Con­flict man­age­ment is a six step process:

1. De­fine the is­sue.

2. Es­tab­lish a com­mon goal for all par­ties.

3. Dis­cuss ways to reach the com­mon goal.

4. De­ter­mine what bar­ri­ers must be over­come.

5. Agree on the ex­act steps that must be taken to get to the goal and de­cide who is re­spon­si­ble for what.

6. Agree on a time frame that in­cludes meet­ings where you as­sess progress.

Be­fore you go in, un­der­stand that you have two goals: you wan hus­band to take on more resp sibil­ity and you want your kids to make up. I there­fore sug­gest that your hus­band leads. Your hus­band needs to run this he gets used to step­ping up. So even if he isn’ ef­fi­cient as you, do ’t be tempted to step in and take over. Let him strug­gle and learn.

Now about your kids. Whe read your let­ter, it looked very much as if your younger boy is act­ing like your hus­band: do­ing things he likes, and blow­ing off ev­ery­thing else on his brother. But un­like you, the older boy is fed up and not tak­ing it any­more.

I sus­pect that when you and your hus­band start to talk, this is bound to spark some dis­cus­sion about your own re­la­tion­ship. Be nice to each other and take it slowly, okay?

As for your me­di­at­ing for your boys, this is tricky be­cause you are deal­ing with chil­dren who are on the cusp of be­com­ing adults. This is prob­a­bly their first se­ri­ous dis­agree­ment cen­tred on who they are and how they re­late to each other. Lit­tle kids tend to have fights that are set­tled by adults step­ping in and lay­ing down the law; your sons can only re­solve their is­sue by ne­go­ti­a­tion.

You and your hus­band have to act as me­di­a­tors. You and he are to be a solid front, gen­tle and lov­ing but guid­ing firmly.

Your daugh­ter can­not be in­volved as this is be­tween the boys only. Have her go out when you run this first meet­ing.

When you start defin­ing the iss , the boys need to each state their case.

Int apy, the vic­tim talks first, and dis­cusses ac­tions and emo­tions. The other par­ties then state their case and emo­tions. Ex­pect re­sent­ment to flare! Hope­fully blow­ing off some steam will help re­lease some of the frus­tra­tion.

While you go through the steps, keep your cool and take breaks. This is not go­ing to be easy but you have a foun­da­tion so you will even­tu­ally get through it. Just re­mem­ber that the ne­go­ti­ated agree­ment has to be em­braced whole­heart­edly by both par­ties, or it won’t hold.

Also, please take this into ac­count: we think of 18 as be­ing adult but this is in­ac­cu­rate. The front part of the brain, the bit as­so­ci­ated with emo­tional con­trol, doesn’t fully ma­ture un­til we are 24 to 26 years old. So the boys may look like adults, but you must re­mem­ber that they aren’t quite ca­pa­ble yet of con­trol­ling their emo­tions.

So go ently but firmly and make sure you and your hus­band lean in on is o e for mutu l up­port.

d luc .

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