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This is not my beautiful house
May 25, 2010 12:46 PM   Subscribe

I am really lucky. I have a beautiful house, a good job, a smart, talented kid, a devoted, responsible husband. My life, by all objective measures, does not suck. Except it kind of does. Marital woes question: Should I stay?

My husband and I have been married for almost 10 years and have an 8 yr old son. We moved from the city to the country 3 years ago, to an old farmhouse/money pit. The move was partly to be somewhat closer to my job where I had been commuting an hour each way, and partly to have more space for gardening and doing various outdoor things. The search took over a year because my husband wanted something that had aesthetic appeal, and I was looking for specific characteristics -- a barn, garden space, alternative heating options. I think we actually ended up making an impulsive decision because our house is awesome and meets most of the criteria, but it's a little too far away from everything. It's 12 miles to the nearest real town. We have very few neighbors. The move shortened my commute from an hour to 40 minutes, and lengthened his from 10 min to 35.

It felt like we'd moved to this great place but I could never be here. Also, I was worried about money because the house needs so much work and we stupidly bought at the top of the market. After living here for a year and a half I found a higher paying job that enabled me to work from home. Now, my husband goes to work, I put my son on the school bus, walk the dog, then go to my office. I'm home all the time, but with a rather time-consuming job that doesn't provide a lot of free time. Between getting the kid off to school, working, making dinner sometimes, taking the kid to extracurriculars, putting the kid to bed, and various mundane household crap, I feel like there's almost no time to have hobbies, friends, even get haircuts. Other parents in this community tend to be SAHMs who do a lot of community volunteering that seems like yet another impossible commitment to me. So, not a lot of support. Family is mostly out of state.

My husband is a nice guy, but has a short temper, and it seems to be only getting shorter. He comes from a family of yellers. He has no patience with our son, and alternates between hollering at him for minor infractions, losing control and hitting in anger, and giving long lectures in which he tries to logic the kid into complying with whatever desired behavior he's after at the moment. It's like he's making his son, and everyone around him responsible for his own wellbeing. I don't think the husband can get this through his head -- his idea seems to be that everyone around him is at fault for whatever poor behavior he displays.

I don't have the calmest temperment either, and have been struggling with depression related to isolation, social anxiety, etc., but I try to take into account the fact that THE KID IS ONLY 8 and isn't responsible for my reactions, even when I'm really pissed. My husband has been very understanding and supportive to me when I'm having obvious trouble, and if he flies off the handle at me or the kid he's usually very apologetic afterward. But. This is killing me, and it may be helping to turn our son into a yeller, whiner, poor sport and semi-jerk.

If I don't intervene I am complicit, but if I do intervene then I'm "undermining." I probably don't have the skills to know when/how to defuse at the right time. He's asked me to stop him, but I can't always figure out if/when I need to do it, because often he won't ask for help when he's in the moment.

This morning, an example: There was a discussion in which our son was being whiny and demanding and my husband was trying to lecture the kid, and insisting on eye contact. When the kid wouldn't look at him my husband grabbed his head and turned it, roughly, to look up, saying he needed to learn to look at people, at which point the kid burst into tears. All this was going on with the windows open while a painting crew was working on our house. I intervened at that point, took the kid aside, hugged him, said I knew he was tired and sad and angry, let him cry for a while. My husband went to work and the rest of the morning was ok, but now I'm just ill. I'd say this sort of thing happens at least 2-3 times a month, maybe more.

We've been in marriage counseling for YEARS, with some success, but not enough. It's hard for me to like my husband, much less feel like sleeping with him. Ever. I don't like exposing my child to this environment. I don't like living this way.

Of course, it's not always like this. There are long uneventful stretches. This sort of pattern comes and goes with varying levels of stress and sleep deprivation. We're under a lot of stress right now with house renovations, lots of very large checks to write, ailing parents, the whole gamut of mundane yet mildly incapacitating crap. I know he's stressed from the long commute and various frustrations, but it seems like he thinks his work and living situation is unchangeable. I make more money than he does, but he would never consider changing jobs to be closer to home, doing something more fun, or even taking time off to evaluate what he wants.

At times of great conflict, I've asked the husband to leave, but he always refuses. After working so hard to be here, I want to stay in the house. I dream of getting friendly roommates to help with taking care of it. I could probably swing the mortgage myself if I keep working, but I wish I could work less.

Should I give up on wanting to be here and just go, take the kid with me? Is this really clear-cut? Am I just being thick?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (97 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
If someone is violent to your child, it's perfectly right to leave.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:56 PM on May 25, 2010 [28 favorites]


I don't like exposing my child to this environment.

That probably isn't up to you. You should talk to a lawyer to see whether you are likely to get full custody.
posted by grouse at 12:58 PM on May 25, 2010


I am loathe to jump in with this type of advice on AskMeFi, but based on your description of the situation, it sounds to me like it might be time to think about leaving. For your sake, and especially for your kid's sake. In my family, my dad was always a yeller, and that got worse as he got older (more stressed about his work and more burnt out - he was a high school teacher) and also with his difficulties managing diabetes. Not as bad as your description of your husband, though. I think this had a *huge* impact on my youngest sister (10 years younger than me) and my mom, stressing mom out to the max being the go-between (she got the "undermining" accusation too, even when dad was being completely unreasonable), and giving her (my sister) some personality issues that are distinctly different than anything experienced by myself and my other two siblings. Sister has basically no relationship with my dad, and in fact says that she doesn't love him. The rest of us have to force her to be civil, at least for mom's sake. Only once my mom confessed to me that had she known how grumpy my dad was going to turn out to be (not entirely his fault, job, medical, etc., etc.), she might have had second thoughts about marrying him. They are still together (and I know she does love him, as do I), and things are better since he has retired and my sister has all but moved out (the rest of us have flown the coop), but do you really want to wait that long to see if things improve (10-15 years)? One other important difference is that my mom does have female friends that she sees regularly and can vent to about her crabby husband.
posted by purlgurly at 12:59 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, what a tough situation. I noticed that you admit rather freely that:

1. Your child is being abused by your husband
2. You are disgusted by your husband's behavior
3. Your husband won't fix his behavior and isn't taking responsibility for it

You also mention that there are "long, uneventful stretches." How long. Years? I'm guessing not.

I'm guessing your son is already reading your actions around moments when he's being abused as complicity on your part. That has got to be painful to hear, but it also marks you as an abuse victim yourself.

My suggestion is that you take steps to halt the abuse immediately. You are in the middle of the situation and are probably attuned to it to the point that it doesn't seem so bad to you.

Did the abuse come up in your counseling sessions? I don't mean to pry, but that could have some bearing here.

There will always be money problems, there will always be stress. But when abuse occurs, it is time to turn off the "ah, well it's just a stressful time" mental filter and get moving in a positive direction immediately.

Sending lots of positive thoughts your way -- hope this works out for you....
posted by circular at 1:00 PM on May 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


It seems pretty clear cut to me. Sure, it's not always like that, but it's going to be like that again, isn't it? You don't think his behavior is going to change, do you? He is abusing your son. Do you want your son growing up feeling like your inaction condoned his father's physical abuse? Because that's probably going to be an end result here if you don't do something to change this situation.
posted by something something at 1:00 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


It can be (that clear-cut). if you take yourself out of the equation, what is truly going to be best for your kid? It seems like getting your kid away from the potential for abuse is probably the best option. Since your husband won't leave, that means that you have to.
posted by cabingirl at 1:01 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


It sounds to me like you are very unhappy, but also that you have reason to be. I don't know anything more about this situation than what you've said, but if your husband is violent towards your child (or you) that is deeply problematic, and you mention hitting in anger which is unacceptable.

Having read this it sounds like you are deeply unhappy and in a harmful and negative situation both for you and for your son. If you want the advice of a stranger on the internet, I think that this situation is more harmful to you than leaving would be, and that you should speak both to a lawyer and a psychiatrist.

That having been said, I would like to repeat something my doctor once told me, which is "I don't think you should make a decision about quitting your job until you've stopped crying all the time". If you are coping with depression, that is a very difficult time to make a major life choice, so make sure that you speak with your doctor. It sounds like the situation is bad and based on what you've said I would recommend against staying in it, but do make sure that your perceptions aren't being filtered through depression because it can make things seem worse and more unbearable than they actually are.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:06 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is killing me, and it may be helping to turn our son into a yeller, whiner, poor sport and semi-jerk.

What it's turning your son into is an abused kid who is acting out in the ways that kids who are abused and unsupported by their environment do.

Presumably, this is enough to get you to retain a divorce lawyer and start making a plan to leave as safely as possible. The house cannot possibly be compelling enough to make you indifferent to the fact that your husband beats your child-- and I don't think you are indifferent, I think you're suffering from your husband's abuse as much as your son is, and will need both legal and therapuetic help to move past this and build a safe life for both of you.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:09 PM on May 25, 2010 [12 favorites]


a devoted, responsible husband

NO. No he's not. Part of being devoted and responsible is that you do not hit, you do not make others responsible for your feelings and actions. Your question is tinged with Stockholm Syndrome.

After working so hard to be here, I want to stay in the house

Your son will remember his father's behavior FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE. The material things you want do not matter.
posted by desjardins at 1:12 PM on May 25, 2010 [42 favorites]


The main thing you have to work out if you are going to leave is what the next chapter would be. Would you get full custody? Can you support yourself and your son without anything from your husband? Do you have ideas about where you would go?

My childhood was not dissimilar to what you describe, and the divorce made things worse, but there were a lot of specific factors that contributed to that. It may be the right thing in your case, so long as you have a realistic plan.
posted by mdn at 1:14 PM on May 25, 2010


Your husband hits your kid. This is not okay. Your husband is not a nice guy. He is a jerk and an abuser. Your kid is, at best, going to grow up hating the hell out of his dad. At worst, he'll learn that smacking and screaming at his kids is how parenting works, and that mom never stopped him. Even you don't like the man any more (and why would you?). And you claim there are "long" stretches, but do you know how the abuse cycle works? There's always quiet stretches in between explosions.

"his idea seems to be that everyone around him is at fault for whatever poor behavior he displays."

This is a horrendous BAD SIGN to have in a human being. It means that he's right, everyone else around him is wrong, and he's going to blame it all on you. He's already doing it on your kid, and I'm truly surprised that you're not mentioning how he treats you in the same or a similar way.

You ask him to leave and he refuses? You're gonna be the one who has to leave the house, sorry. At the very least, to get your kid away from this toxic environment and the smackings. As for keeping the house later, that's going to be something the lawyers and judges work out.

Sorry, but this is a DTMFA situation.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:16 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Someone is physically abusing your child. What more do you need to know?

Seriously. The house, it's location, the marriage, all of that; it tall takes second place to the fact that you know someone is laying their hands on your child. Is being in the house really worth more to you than your child's safety?

Get the kid to safety. That should be your first priority as a parent.
posted by Solomon at 1:20 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Have you told your husband that you're seriously thinking of divorce? That his behavior, particularly with regards to your son, has reached the point where you find it inexcusable and intolerable enough to leave? And if you have, has he taken you seriously?

People are capable of change, but they can't be forced into it. He has to recognize that his behavior has real and possibly irreversible consequences; that he doesn't have an unlimited number of chances. He has to believe that if he doesn't change his behavior, he's going to loose his family. And he has to want to avoid that badly enough that he'll go through the very difficult process of un-learning some pretty deeply ingrained modes of dealing with the people he loves. You might not be able to save your marriage, but you can at least save the relationship between your son and his father.

My father was a mess when I was a kid. Irresponsible with his time and his commitments, constantly spending money he didn't have, making huge purchases on things like cars and summer homes without checking with my mom at all, disappearing for days without telling anyone where he was going....just a mess. My parents fought constantly, and it was awful to deal with as a little girl.

My mother divorced him when I was eight. My sister and I visited him every other weekend, but I quickly learned that he had no real power over me -- that I would go home to mom in a day or two, and that if I didn't want to go back I didn't have to. He knew it, too, and because of that -- for the first time -- he really TRIED to be a father to my sister and I in a way he hadn't before. He understood how close he'd come to losing us entirely, and over the years he managed to sort himself out. He used to be a careless alcoholic, and now he's hardworking, responsible with his money and careful about how he treats his body. More importantly, I have a relationship with him. I'm not sure if that would have been true if he hadn't been shocked into getting his act together.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 1:23 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Watch out for denial as well:

I am really lucky.
You do have a lot of good things going for you, and remembering those things are going to get you through the bad times. However, you're also in a really unfortunate situation.

My life, by all objective measures, does not suck.
Again, true, but you do have a serious problem on your hands.

If I don't intervene I am complicit, but if I do intervene then I'm "undermining."
According to whom? Your husband?

You might want to have a look at this book.
posted by foxjacket at 1:23 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your husband is abusing your son. Regardless of your feelings, your first priority needs to be stopping that. Call the police if it happens again. Get your son into therapy to try and reduce the emotional damages already done.

The situation sounds terrible for you, but it sounds even worse for your son. Everything that happens to him now is going to help shape who he becomes.
posted by notnathan at 1:26 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


I grew up in a household much like the one you are describing, with a father who, to the outside world, seemed to have it all together, but would lose his temper with his family at the drop of a hat. He would come home in a bad mood and smash my toys for no reason. He used to threaten and scream at me because I couldn't add fractions well enough for him, and when I would get scared and cry he would yell some more or grab me and shake me. I was NINE the first time I seriously thought about killing myself to try and get away from him. Fucking Nine. Most nine year olds don't know what suicide is, let alone actually contemplate it.

My mother, thirty some years later, recently confessed to me that marrying my father was a huge mistake and she finally acknowledged she hated him , and that if she had known what he was like she never would have done it. It's great that she finally realized he's a monster, but it's three decades too late for me. I have trust and attachement problems that are never going to go away, and I can't even stomach the idea of marriage or kids because I'm terrified I'll end up being like my dad.

So, take the kid and go. I wish my mom had.
posted by dortmunder at 1:28 PM on May 25, 2010 [25 favorites]


Ok flat out re-read this a billion times if you have to. THIS is your definative answer why you need to LEAVE.

My husband is a nice guy, but has a short temper, and it seems to be only getting shorter. He comes from a family of yellers. He has no patience with our son, and alternates between hollering at him for minor infractions, losing control and hitting in anger.

1. get a few lawyers
2. get a domestic violence shelter
3. stay at the shelter *unless you have friends)
4. FILE A POLICE REPORT, especially at the moment of violence--even yelling--at your son. You NEED documentation of this. Trust me, taking and leaving w/out a report makes the case a tad big harder.
5. ask for full/primary custody w/ supervised visits (maybe). Seeing your husband is a violent dickhead, he shouldn't be alone with your child.

All of this will affect you child if you dont' leave NOW. Or at least take the clear steps outlined above.

It will affect how your child views relationships
How he will treat others, especially women
He will lose all respect for you if you stay
He will treat you like shit too
You wasted his life and yours. Get out.

While I"m not 100% in your situation of violence, it would take one attempt at even doing any of these things to our son for me to immediately call 911 and have him carted away in cuffs--and I would have zero regrets.

To me, EVERYONE gets thrown under the bus when it comes to the well being of your child. Husband, parents, don't matter.

Much love, support, hugs. I know it's hard to leave. Please get support via the domestic shelter therapist and support group. They can help you.

I'm so sorry your'e going through this. You know your husband is a shithead. Leave.
posted by stormpooper at 1:28 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


And by the way, "Nice guys" don't do this to their child. He's not a nice guy. Once you 100% fully believe that...you won.
posted by stormpooper at 1:30 PM on May 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


Well, as a kid who grew up in an abusive environment, I don't think I can step away from my own issues to adequately advise you on whether to leave your husband. I am curious why you guys have been in therapy for years and yet he hasn't learned better ways to cope with your son. Have you considered not a marriage counselor but a family counselor? Might be time to get your son in to talk about how he feels about things. He's old enough to articulate his feelings and engage on a level that a family counselor can guide.

But, here's where I suggest a drastic measure -- screw the country house. It's causing your family no end of stress. You have a job that brings in good money and let's you work from home. My advice is to move to wherever your husband's job is so that he doesn't have a commute. Buy or rent a condo or house. Rent or sell or foreclose on your country property. If you really want to keep it for your golden years, see if you can rent it at a loss, if necessary. Working from home gives you great advantages including popping down to the local coffee shop to gab with friends over a long latte in the middle of the day. If you can reduce your hours, do it. All the while, family counseling. I think you need to draw a line in the sand about the kind of life you want to live and make it your goal to get there. This all sounds bad for you, bad for your son and bad for your husband (though this does not excuse his wretched coping mechanism).

I don't know that you throw this guy to the curb just yet. He may be salvaged but, again, I don't know that I have the perspective given my own background. But, please don't let your house be a millstone around your neck.
posted by amanda at 1:32 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


And anon, feel free to mefi email me if you want.
posted by stormpooper at 1:40 PM on May 25, 2010


With all respect to the above respondents who do have the highest priority right, the safety of your child, I beg to differ a bit.

Men who do abusive things are not monsters. They are helpless and angry and do not know the appropriate way to deal with their anger and seek what they need. You said he comes from a family of yellers? To you and me, it's abusive, to him, it's how he grew up. People like that can change, but it takes someone to love him in the way he needs in order to change his hurtful behavior. Firmly, strongly, and compassionately. First thing is to reject his behavior, but not him.

Yes, you probably should lay down the law and phsyically leave if your husband's outbursts and physical aggression continue. And you should stay out until there is evidence of marked progress.

That said, your marriage may be broken, but it can and should be fixed. It is not disposable, especially where your child is concerned. One can stay married and faithful yet still say, "you cannot be with me as long as your behavior is inappropriate." I am fully prepared to do the same, if necessary, out of love for my wife and I hope to God that she does it to me rather than enable me to persist in some sort of self- or other- abusive state.

Sounds like the marriage counseling is not working. Dr. Steven Stosny has made his name in working specifically with abusers and angry men in families and relationships. I would refer him to that kind of work. Maybe make it a condition of your continued presence. I would also recommend al-anon to you and your son.

Peace be with you in this painful time. I hope you find the help and the strength to do what's best for all of you.
posted by cross_impact at 1:43 PM on May 25, 2010


When the kid wouldn't look at him my husband grabbed his head and turned it, roughly, to look up, saying he needed to learn to look at people, at which point the kid burst into tears. All this was going on with the windows open while a painting crew was working on our house.

Were you more upset that your husband grabbed your kid or that the painting crew could hear squabbling? I couldn't tell. It's time you took some action for yourself and your child. Pack your bags and take your kid with you for a week or two away from your husband and your house.
posted by Carol Anne at 1:46 PM on May 25, 2010


Seriously, guys?

I know the spanking argument is controversial, but I think it's a bit of a stretch to call this domestic violence. Bad parenting, probably, but I can't bring myself to call it outright abuse.

My advice? Find a new counselor and/or a therapist. Tell him everything you told us. If you have a sibling/parent that you can talk to to get some perspective, that might help as well.

Like Amanda said -- it might not quite be time to DTMFA, but it sounds like you need to DTMFH.
posted by schmod at 1:49 PM on May 25, 2010


I think you should separate immediately. Geez, you have the ideal situation: you telecommute, right?

Move in with your parents/best friend/sister, or by yourself if you can afford it, take the kid with you, and tell your husband that you're separated, at least for the time being.

Let him understand the seriousness of the situation, but see how you feel when you're away from him, with your kid. Will you miss him? Will you feel unimaginable relief?

I'm sorry that this may risk giving up on this particular house, at least for the short term, but forget it. There are other houses. Your kid is never going to be 8, 9, 10 years old again.

I'm so sorry about your situation. That's really sad, and I wish you the best. But, while the frequency and intensity of his abusive behavior vs. his loving behavior is unknown to me, I think you're married to an abuser.
posted by Philemon at 1:55 PM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


No one gets to abuse your child (or any child).

Until he can control himself, your husband needs to get out of the family home. You need to decide on the day he's leaving. Visit your local law enforcement, because it's likely you'll need to have some back up here. Pack your husband a bag. Book him a hotel. Kick his ass out. He has to leave because this is the home of your child and your child deserves a chance to continue his home/school life.

Get individual counselling. Continue family counselling and be absolutely honest about the physical abuse to your child.

Good luck to you and your family.
posted by 26.2 at 1:57 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


1. Divorce doesn't make things easier; it trades one set of problems for another set of equally mindfucking, draining issues. Especially when a child is involved -- you are tied to this man until Jr is 18. Whether you LIVE with him or not is the question. But if you think dvorce is a solution, it's not -- IT'S AN EXCHANGE.

2. You are allowing your husband to -- and I won't use the word abuse, because it's thrown around too much -- mistreat your child. What's happening to this kid? HE IS LOSING RESPECT AND LOVE FOR YOU BOTH. Once that's gone, it don't grow back. You have to be his hero and DO SOMETHING. I still blame my mother for the shit she allowed our father to do to us and her, and that was over 40 years ago. I don't even speak with my father, and he was similar to how you describe your husband.

Look at it this way: if a teacher treated your kid the way unhappy Hubby does, what would you do? WELL? Do it.

3. If your house burned down tonight while you were all out, would that make your decision easier? Because houses, unlike children, CAN BE REPLACED. Holy shit, even husbands can be replaced (after a sort). I moved my kid from home to home (but he remained in the same schools) throughout his young life, and he's a well-adjusted, empathic college sophomore. Houses are just shells.

I've been on both sides of this dilemma and speak from sad experience. You need to check your priorities; if it won't matter when you're on your deathbed -- and believe me, your kid will matter more than any house or ex-husband -- you need to ix-nay immediately.
posted by kidelo at 2:00 PM on May 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


schmod, I don't see the OP mention spanking. The OP does mention hitting in anger.
.

There may be reasonable people who advocate spanking, and use with good outcome, but I don't think that group overlaps with the group of people who hit others in anger.
posted by needs more cowbell at 2:05 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


You sound utterly miserable. Since your husband refuses to leave, take your son and get away, at least for a few days. Get a lawyer. Explore whether or not you have anything left in your marriage. Your husband is certainly not being much of a father to his son.

Talk to your lawyer about how you can work toward keeping the house (if you still want it) should you and your husband divorce.

But consider that the things that you wanted in that house, and how you can find them elsewhere in a less isolating situation. There not going to be any mistake more expensive than your husband's temper escalating while your resentment grows and your son grows up in a toxic environment. You all deserve better.
posted by desuetude at 2:09 PM on May 25, 2010


This is heartbreaking. Please take your son out of this situation and create a new, safe home for him. Get help for the both of you. Save yourself, then save him--your oxygen mask on first, then his.
posted by Elsie at 2:10 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Hitting out of anger is not the same as spanking. At all.

This is killing me, and it may be helping to turn our son into a yeller, whiner, poor sport and semi-jerk.
Consider also that it is turning your son into someone who hits out of anger. If you can't live with that, then don't.
posted by smalls at 2:11 PM on May 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


Marriage counselors can be wrong. Marriage counselors can be ineffective. If none of this has come up in counseling, ever, they aren't doing something right, they're letting you hide things. Or, they're taking sides. People go to counseling and think that the counselor is a demi-god but marriage counselors can truly be terrible and do real damage.

I went to counseling to save a failing marriage - only to have the therapist take my abusive husband's side and outright say that I was lying about the abuse. It was only a year or so later that I found out that we were the first couple she had ever worked with. She had never DONE this before, and what she did was wrong and I was urged to report it.

So don't think you're 'safe' and the marriage isn't 'too bad' because you're in counseling.

I think only you know the degree of abuse going on here. But this is not healthy for you or your son and you're letting a house get in the way of your son's wellbeing. It doesn't sound like you've had much of a marriage for a while now.
posted by micawber at 2:14 PM on May 25, 2010


I don't need to say it, it's already been said in this thread:

Your son will remember his father's behavior FOR THE REST OF HIS LIFE. The material things you want do not matter.

and

Your husband is abusing your son. Regardless of your feelings, your first priority needs to be stopping that. Call the police if it happens again. Get your son into therapy to try and reduce the emotional damages already done.

and

And by the way, "Nice guys" don't do this to their child. He's not a nice guy. Once you 100% fully believe that...you won.

and

No one gets to abuse your child (or any child).

This is about your son. Your husband is abusing him. You are complicit every moment you are not removing him immediately from the presence of an abuser. Take him and yourself away.

I am curious why you guys have been in therapy for years and yet he hasn't learned better ways to cope with your son.

Me too. I don't get how, if you have been honest with your therapist, the therapist hasn't already been advocating strongly for the kid and removing the husband from the equation temporarily or whatever. Something seems missing here.

Men who do abusive things are not monsters. They are helpless and angry and do not know the appropriate way to deal with their anger and seek what they need. You said he comes from a family of yellers? To you and me, it's abusive, to him, it's how he grew up. People like that can change, but it takes someone to love him in the way he needs in order to change his hurtful behavior. Firmly, strongly, and compassionately. First thing is to reject his behavior, but not him.

Yeah, sure, that's all true and thoughtful and whatnot but GET THE KID AWAY from the guy who thinks it's okay to physically and apparently verbally abuse him. It's not just the hitting (although that would be enough): this guy is creating an entire environment of fear. Abuse is so much more insidious than just getting hit. It's about trust being broken--the trust between both him and his father as well as between you and him. He already may be a bit fucked for life, please start helping him now.
posted by dubitable at 2:21 PM on May 25, 2010


The child is not being abused. Cmon. His dad moved his head. We all grew up with parents that spanked us when we did wrong. Not abuse.
posted by lakerk at 2:25 PM on May 25, 2010


This is killing me, and it may be helping to turn our son into a yeller, whiner, poor sport and semi-jerk.

Consider also that it is turning your son into someone who hits out of anger. If you can't live with that, then don't.


Yes, regardless of how you make it happen (divorce, super effective intervention, etc.) the "hitting in anger" of a CHILD has to stop. If it helps you understand how serious this is: three of the nicest, most screwed up and miserable guys in relationships I ever met were "smacked around" as kids. Two of them would actually ask people to hit them when they felt guilty about something they had done. That is some seriously screwed up shit. Bonus misery points: two of them are still very angry (think, seething expressed rage) at mom[/women] for not stepping in and stopping it, even in the case where the mom DID end it and leave the guy by the time the kid was 7.

This is NOT to say that every guy who got yelled at and hit as a kid grows up to be a passive aggressive basket case...especially with the help of therapy, support, etc. But do you want your son to have to deal with that on his plate? Life is tough enough as it is.
posted by availablelight at 2:25 PM on May 25, 2010


The child is not being abused. Cmon. His dad moved his head. We all grew up with parents that spanked us when we did wrong. Not abuse.

You're wrong.
posted by dubitable at 2:30 PM on May 25, 2010 [11 favorites]


It's already been said upthread, but "hitting in anger" isn't spanking.
posted by availablelight at 2:32 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


My wife and I don't hit our children. However, we have a lot of differences in the ways we believe our children should be raised, and not all of them have been resolved. Yet, through couples' therapy, we've got it figured out, and it's been a fantastic year since we got into the groove of it.

So, you say: "If I don't intervene I am complicit, but if I do intervene then I'm "undermining.""

You can't intervene, because you are indeed undermining his parenting. It's a question of timing; if he says X and you step in and say Y, no matter what X and Y are, you're undermining his parental authority, and you should not do this.

But, he cannot hit your son. Period. That needs to stop, immediately. If he can't or won't stop, then your husband is abusing your son and you need to take the appropriate steps, and you're right that standing by isn't going to help.

Yet, you have completely missed the third option. It's okay, my wife and I did, too. I'll try to keep it simple, because it is, but it makes things so much better.

Sit down together, with or without counseling. Tell him, in no uncertain terms, that he has to stop hitting. Period. Also tell him, in no uncertain terms, that you understand how frustrated he is, and that you need to stop undermining his authority.

Then, agree on this: beyond the deal-breaker of physical violence, which should never be acceptable, it doesn't matter that you don't agree. That's it, really. If he starts disciplining your son first, and he's not physically hitting him, you support your husband's choices so that you're presenting a united front to your child. You can always talk about it afterwards -- "you're lecturing him, and I don't think that works" -- but don't do it in front of your son, and do it calmly later (not just after it happened), and accept that even though you don't agree with him, you may be wrong.

And, of course, the opposite is also true: if you start disciplining your son first, he has to support your choices so that you're presenting a united front to your child. He can always talk about it with you afterwards, but not in front of your son, and only after things have calmed down. He also has to accept that, although he may not agree with your choices, he may be wrong.

So, there it is. You'd be surprised how well this works, if you both commit to it and follow through on it. It lowers the frustration threshold for everyone involved, and sometimes it reveals how things we don't think will work actually do, perhaps with some changes.

My wife, in particular, hated my lecturing the kids, but she'd step in during the lecture and undermine my parental authority, plus it made me not want to change. So, she waited until after to talk about it with me, and I worked to make my messages short and simple, and -- surprise! -- much more effective.

Similarly, she hated me saying things like "If you don't do X by the time I count to three, you'll lose F" -- and over time, she's realized that it works really, really well (if they're ignoring me, I just say "one!" and they scurry to do it, because they realize I mean it) and I've changed the consequences to be more closely tied to the crime (it turned out it was the disconnected nature of the crime/consequences that she didn't like.)

This is ultimately about trust; you have to trust each other to be acting in the best interest of your child, and each other. Him hitting your son is not, obviously, and that must stop now. But other things, like you thinking he lectures too much -- let him try those methods and, through direct feedback from your son and discussion with you after the fact, you'll both learn what works and what doesn't.

And ultimately, what works is this: consistency. So stop the hitting and become a united front (as far as your son can tell) for the other stuff, even when you don't agree.
posted by davejay at 2:36 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Whether this is abuse or not, is hard to tell from a single description of events, and, sure, every parent can have a bad day or snap and handle their kid a little too roughly. It's hard to know from the post about the frequency or intensity of this guy's temper tantrums.

But everything I read in this description tells me that he's past the line. This is evidently a very intelligent, accomplished, goal-oriented woman writing this post, and yet in her characterization of her ability to communicate with her husband, she comes off as mute or ineffective. Like she's been somewhat cowed by this guy's temper and is on eggshells all the time. She's got her stuff together in every way except that she lives with the Incredible Hulk.

Many people, in my view, are way too hung up about "preserving marriage." You don't sound like that, thank goodness, but some people think that once you make those vows, you have to bend over backward to continue living with an asshole. I think that's baloney, and the idea of finding another person you can really spend your whole life with happily is unrealistic, but maybe that's just me.

Move on. You have a job, from the sounds of it, that would let you live anywhere at all. the school year is about over, so it's a perfect time. All I'm saying is, at the very least, separate, and see how you feel, see how he reacts, and see how your kid feels about. Defuse the situation. Create some time for reflection, for everybody.

By the way, what the hell is eating this guy anyway? He lives in the country, in a dream house he helped pick, he's got a wife paying a lot of the bills, he's got one kid -- not three, not six, not ten. What, he didn't grow up playing for the Yankees after all? He needs some perspective.

Seriously, if this situation causes him stress, I'd hate to be around him if anything really stressful did happen! Think about that. You want to grow old with a guy like that?
posted by Philemon at 2:40 PM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


I feel I have to jump in and defend your husband a little.

Reading this thread, its a little disturbing how quickly it turns in to a catalogue of serious abuse.
I'm not condoning what he did, but it sounds to me that he is frustrated. He was totally wrong to do what he did, and if that becomes a pattern then you have to deal with that quickly.

He sounds as frustrated as you, and unable to communicate this. Men are crap like that sometimes.

All the people calling him an asshole, and DTMFA already are insulting you. He wasn't always like this right? Your relationship and circumstances have changed in 10 years. You are both responsible for your relationship.

Talk. Talk. Talk. And more talk. Counselling isnt working obviously. You could find another one (and throw money down the pit if you really need to) but you have to figure out how to talk to him.

Until you've tried that some more, and until then, you already know what to do.

Still apalled by some of the hate in this thread.
posted by daveyt at 2:51 PM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


I grew up like your son is growing up now. So let me paint a picture of what your son might be have to deal with 16 years from now.

I spent (and still spend) a huge amount of time and energy re-learning social skills, specifically related to intimate relationships. It's not just dating, but intimate relationships of all kinds (close friendships). Meaning, what is and isn't okay for someone to do to you when they are angry? I have no good compass for that. Is it okay for someone whom you love (or who claims to love you) to violate your personal space or be violent towards you? Well, I know in part of my head what is right, but how I was raised has a huge effect on how I see the world and how interactions between people who love each other should go.

I also associate love/affection with violence and fear. Awesome. You think it's hard for a normal person to date? Try dating with the expectation--complete, 100% certainty--that the person you are dating will be cruel to you. How can you tell they will be cruel? Because it seems like they love you and they're nice to you, and to you, love and cruelty are like water and wet. Get one, you'll get the other.

Falling in love with someone--knowing, deep down, that they will abuse you once you care about each other--is terrifying. And I still have an intense desire to please the person in order to prevent them from abusing me. So it's a bizarre cycle where I withdraw completely out of fear, and then slather them with sycophantic agreeableness, regardless of my true feelings.

As you can imagine, this makes sex really fun (and by fun I mean a field full of emotional landmines).

I have gotten over a lot of this stuff but not enough for me to say that I have a normal ability to date or make friends. I am decent at it, sure, but it's emotionally very tough for me and a bit of a roller coaster for the other people involved.

So, yeah, to me it's obvious to get your son the hell out of there if that's an option. Your husband is affecting your child's future in a very real and very negative way.

And I see that he's nice enough to you, but not to your son who presumably can't fight back. Nice.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:52 PM on May 25, 2010 [23 favorites]


Physically forcing someone to look at you is a serious message of physical and psychological dominance. It may not be "abuse" per se, but it's treating your child like an animal or a prisoner - something you have the right to physically control, not only their movements but also their emotive expressions (eye contact). Coupled with the hitting out of anger - yeah, this is a bad situation.
posted by yarly at 2:54 PM on May 25, 2010 [6 favorites]


He's asked me to stop him,

And to pull this out specifically--he is claiming to be unable to stop himself from being violent towards your son.

Listen to what he is telling you. He thinks he is out of control. Are you willing to put your son in the hands of someone who can't control their own violent behavior?

(And yeah, hitting in anger is violent, especially since your husband is out of control)

And I see that he's nice enough to you, but not to your son who presumably can't fight back. Nice.

Sorry for this. It was out of line and I misread your post a little bit. I hope he is not treating you this poorly as well.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 2:56 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


And--last comment, I swear--this doesn't necessarily mean your husband is a bad person. He might just not be able to handle children. Not everyone is cut out to be a full-time parent, for various reasons, including the way that they were raised (you say his family are "yellers"). That might be the case with your husband.

Either way, I hope that you find the strength to really examine the situation and do whatever you determine is best. Asking about it, and removing the silence surrounding his behavior, is a great first step.

Best of luck.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:00 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I was NINE the first time I seriously thought about killing myself to try and get away from him. Fucking Nine. "

Oh yeah, this too. Do you really want this for your son?
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 3:07 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Not saying you've gotten to this point AT ALL, but you may want to read some Mefite responses in this thread about living in a house with the impending threat of explosive anger and violence. Those intervals of "non-eventfulness" sound really, really familiar to me. And the way the fuse is getting shorter does too, ugh. This environment is almost certainly damaging your kid psychologically, with wounds that may take a lifetime to repair. The social and physical isolation of your domestic setting probably isn't helping much either.
posted by ifjuly at 3:08 PM on May 25, 2010


From a MeFite who would prefer to remain anonymous:
Your husband is my father. The incident in which your husband grabbed your son's head and twisted it toward him to enforce eye contact happened to me twenty ago almost exactly as you have described it.

My father is otherwise a good man, but his quick temper, unreasonable expectations, and occasional losses of control left long-lasting effects. Growing up in an environment of continual but not always predictable threat from a person you are supposed to consider a protector is hard. As adults, we kids have anxiety disorders and depressive episodes. One additionally has OCD, and another qualifies for a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder.

On most evenings things were pretty peaceful, but we nevertheless always shared the unspoken constant knowledge that at any time, within minutes, an arbitrary misstep could leave one of us sobbing with fear, or pain, or anger. The click of our father's key in the door when he got home from work each day used to trigger mini-surges of adrenaline. We were continually hypervigilant to any signs of irritability. My mother learned to give us significant looks and whispers of warning whenever there was a chance he might be in a bad mood. We found reasons to vanish to quiet corners of the house every evening.

We stopped bringing home schoolwork if there were bad grades on it. We learned to avoid sharing our problems or mistakes with our parents because there was a risk that telling my father would lead only to frustration or fear. We learned not to express preferences, feelings, likes, or dislikes in his presence in case he took them personally and used them against us. He could not handle signs of whining, crying, fear, anger, or resentment from us and took them as a serious affront, especially if he were at all the cause of them. Any of those were a good way to stoke his frustration. We learned not to express emotions if possible in his presence, because it was safest to be smooth, blank, smiling and instantly compliant.

Tears had to be shut off as soon as possible: in later years, if one of us were being yelled at or slapped you could sometimes hear choking noises as we desperately tried to strangle back any signs of displeasure.

As we got older, my father's episodes very gradually escalated in frequency and intensity. They became more physical and eventually violent. A handful of times after especially bad ones, my mother packed a small bag and ordered the kids out of the house and into the car. We always drove for a few hours in the dark until my father finally called my mom's phone and we turned around, drove home, and silently crawled into bed.

Although my father never believed himself to be the one originally in the wrong for any of these episodes, I think he did usually regret them afterwards. Then and now, his intentions were ultimately good ones, but he did not have the maturity and self-awareness that make a skilled father, and he had a near-inability to control himself once his temper ignited. My mother was like you, a somewhat anxious and not always effective source of protection, but our culture forbade divorce, besides which no one we knew would have considered my father abusive since fathers were supposed to be feared.

I don't know if you should leave right now or if your husband first needs an ultimatum (if delivering one would not endanger your safety; I can't tell if you are in a traditionally abusive situation or not). The bottom line for me is that I used to dream about getting out of the household, but the prospect that my father would have custody of us on weekends without my mother's semi-protective presence kept me from wishing for a divorce.

I think if you do nothing else, you need to consider therapy for your son. He needs to know as early as possible that your husband's behavior towards his wife and children is wrong and that there is a safe place where he can get any woes off his chest.
posted by jessamyn at 3:10 PM on May 25, 2010 [39 favorites]


It seems clear cut to me that this is unacceptable and you need to get your son and yourself out of this situation. But if you want to talk to trained experts about whether this is child abuse and get support and advice about what to do about it, you might try 1-800-4-A-CHILD, the Childhelp Child Abuse Hotline. (It's not clear how much he's actually taking things out on you, but the Domestic Violence Hotline number is 1-800-799-SAFE.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 3:16 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, if the other 40+ comments have not convinced you, please ask yourself this: if it were a stranger doing this to your son, would you allow him to be around that person?
posted by desjardins at 3:35 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


I feel I have to jump in and defend your husband a little.

Why? I don't understand the posters here who feel like they have some obligation to defend the abuser. I'm not--and I think most people are not--saying the abuser isn't someone with feelings, problems, reasons for being an abuser. In reality, it's almost definitely the case that the abuser was abused as well. It (seriously) sucks to be them; they need therapy. Etc. I know I'm being a bit glib here but I don't have a ton of sympathy for an abuser until I hear about how hard of an effort they are making to fix themselves.

However, the fact is that the number one priority in this situation needs to be removing the child--who has no defense from abuse other than what the caregiving adults in their life provide them--from the presence of the abuser. The reason for this is that this kid is being profoundly affected by what he is experiencing right now, affected in ways that will last the rest of his life, and the sooner the kid is removed from this situation, the sooner they have a chance to heal and be fixed and live happily ever after.

If the father can fix himself and be a part of the kid's life, great! But the priority is saving the kid.

And if you want to debate whether the father is actually an abuser or not, based on the description given by the OP, well, I won't debate with you: you're just wrong.
posted by dubitable at 3:40 PM on May 25, 2010 [8 favorites]


As someone who grew up with a mother who would frequently lose her temper and hit me... PLEASE get your child out of this situation as soon as possible. At the very least intervene and tell your child that what he's doing is wrong and inappropriate and do not let him touch like that.

Even if the physical aspect of it is not technically considered "abusive" because it doesn't leave marks or whatever. This is seriously damaging your child emotionally. I am still struggling with the effects of seeing my mother completely lose control like that. I probably will struggle with that for the rest of my life. A part of me will always resent her for treating me that way. And I wished to God at the time that my Dad would've come home and protected me from her.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 3:58 PM on May 25, 2010


The anonymous comment posted by Jessamyn is pretty much spot on. It's a lot more detailed than mine, but it's a pretty accurate description of my childhood, and probably a lot of other people's childhood's as well. Living in perpetual fear is not good for kids, to put it mildly. Take care of your son. Please.
posted by dortmunder at 4:06 PM on May 25, 2010


Is your son often happy? Is he spending most of his only childhood being sad or angry?
posted by amtho at 4:13 PM on May 25, 2010


What you describe sounds like grounds for leaving if you think you should leave, but I had a couple thoughts:

We've been in marriage counseling for YEARS, with some success, but not enough.

What kind of marriage counselor listens to two adults discussing the situation you describe and finds no way to provide steps for significant progress for the family? Have you tried finding a different therapist?

Also, given that your husband has acknowledged that he gets out of control with his anger, has he pursued either individual therapy or some type of anger problem support group? Whether it's abusive or just being a lousy spouse and parent, if he's going to remain a part of your life and your son's life, he needs a plan for managing his anger that relies on work he does and progress he makes in controlling himself rather than asking you to "stop him" and moving on to the next blow up. Asking you to "stop him" pretty much puts the consequences of his outbursts on you. He needs to get to a place where he can acknowledge that he is the source of his problems and his awful treatment of you and your child before he can change his behavior. And it is absolutely unacceptable behavior: definitely awful parenting, definitely a reason to leave--but not necessarily behavior that can't be changed if he's willing to confront it.

I've seen people with anger issues get worse, and I've seen people with anger issues learn to manage their anger (through hard, hard work). The above suggestions aren't to say that you should necessarily wait around for your husband to improve, just to say that there might be solutions if he's willing to do the work of changing his behavior.
posted by Meg_Murry at 4:16 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Please draw a line in the sand.

Please. For your son's sake.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:23 PM on May 25, 2010


My mom is like your husband. I would not say my mom is an abusive parent, because if that's the case, most parents before, say, the 70s or 80s were abusing their kids. However, I would not say that growing up in that environment was pleasant. I have a lot of anxiety issues as a result and so does my sister, though we're still productive members of society. My mom has hormonal problems that I think made her act the way she did, and she's definitely changed a lot. She's not a monster, but it would have been nice if someone, like my dad, had stood up to her and made her go to therapy or do something to change her anger issues and attitude. Maybe your husband has some kind of underlying problem that exacerbates his anger issues?
You weren't very clear on the extent of violence when he "hits." My mom spanked us, but it was never hard enough to leave a mark, or hurt for more than a few seconds, but it was very emotionally jarring and made us very fearful. If he is violent enough that you are in fear for your safety GET OUT NOW. If not, you HAVE TO STAND UP TO HIM. You are an adult with an equal stake in this, and you need to be that adult and defend yourself and most importantly, your kid. Tell him his behavior is 100% unacceptable and that you won't allow him to hit or manhandle the kid anymore. I would see a lawyer, frankly, just to see what your options will be if you do need to leave and try to get custody. I would DEFINITELY find a new counselor, a family counselor, not a marriage counselor who seems not to have addressed these issues.
posted by ishotjr at 4:36 PM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


Yes, regardless of how you make it happen (divorce, super effective intervention, etc.) the "hitting in anger" of a CHILD has to stop. If it helps you understand how serious this is: three of the nicest, most screwed up and miserable guys in relationships I ever met were "smacked around" as kids. Two of them would actually ask people to hit them when they felt guilty about something they had done.

One of my best friends hits himself in the face when he feels like that. He is several years' sober now but with three trips to rehab under his belt. He and I have discussed how we both, having grown up with violent fathers, ended up almost more angry with our mothers for doing nothing to stop it. My mother felt terrible in later years and apologized at least once, and I now see that she was too scared to do anything. Your husband sounds so much like my father, it's not even funny. And yes, my father was abused himself, and I do feel sorry for him. But I also feel sad that my two sisters and I have NO kids, and are not likely to have any, and have explicitly said that's because my parents made having kids look so horrible.
posted by BibiRose at 4:41 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Between getting the kid off to school, working, making dinner sometimes, taking the kid to extracurriculars, putting the kid to bed, and various mundane household crap, I feel like there's almost no time to have hobbies, friends, even get haircuts.

Other people have already addressed the abuse angle, and I do agree that he sounds like a bad person to have around a young boy since he can't control his temper. Parenting requires patience. But something that might be worth thinking about is how you refer to your son in your post... more than anything else, you refer to him as "the kid," to the point where I was wondering while reading it if he's your husband's child and not yours (though I know that's not the case). And in the above paragraph, you describe taking your son everywhere and putting him to bed, but nowhere do you mention any kind of active parenting role you take with him. It sounds like your short-tempered husband is doing all the parenting aside from basic transportation.

It might simply be because that wasn't the point of your question, but I was struck by the disconnect there seems to be between you and your son here.

None of what I'm saying is meant to be an excuse for your husband's behavior or to blame you for what's happening. But it may be helpful to approach things from this angle: think of what you can do to be a better parent to your son. That may mean looking for a better marriage/family counselor, it may mean directly speaking with your husband about what you can do differently when things get bad (since it doesn't sound like he's actually abusive towards you?), or it may mean getting a divorce.

And although you say you don't want to leave the house, it sounds like you hate pretty much everything about living there and are similarly unwilling to consider changing jobs or do anything else for yourself in order to help your own sanity. But you even make more money than your husband. It sounds like you probably have more potential control here than you think you do.
posted by wondermouse at 4:41 PM on May 25, 2010


Wow. Where do I even begin? Well, much like dortmunder, I lost my will to live at the age of ten. I remember that all I wanted was to fall asleep and never wake up. After coming home from school, I went straight to my room, drew the curtains and cried myself to sleep. I fantasized about ending it. I was fucking TEN.

In our house, both parents were controlling, short-tempered and unpredictable. My mom would fly into screaming rages and hit us. My dad didn't hit, but his temper was brutal and he would turn on us in a heartbeat. When we tried to defend ourselves, my mom often took his side in an effort to placate him and she would put the burden of the blame on us. It was her way of deflecting his wrath, fooling us (and perhaps herself) into believing that she had control of the situation, and trying to convince us (and perhaps herself) that this was normal.

I recognize your husband's behavior in my parents. My parents made a point of never letting me forget any mistake I ever made, because no matter how trivial, it was proof of the deep, shameful weaknesses in my character. If I wasn't constantly vigilant of my flaws I'd wind up a massive failure in life. They reiterated this to us over and over again in countless lectures. And if they lost their composure and screamed or hit or threw things, it was always our fault... afterall, if we weren't such ungrateful worthless brats they would have no reason to be angry, right? Crying or showing signs of distress would only enrage them more. Why couldn't we see that they were only doing this for our own good? Why were we making them out to be the bad guy when they were clearly doing us a favor? How stupid and ungrateful could we possibly be?

Does any of that sound familiar?

Well, we had a nice house with a huge yard in the perfect family neighborhood. My negative memories of that house far outweigh the positive ones. I didn't feel safe there. I still don't. I know that the picture of angels I tacked up on the kitchen door hides the hole where my dad put his fist through it. Almost every room of the house contains dozens of painful memories. You and your husband might forget most of it (as my parents claim to have forgotten), but your son won't. And he won't remember this great house that was purchased at the top of the market, he'll remember how his dad made him feel scared and worthless while you stood by and witnessed his pain and did nothing. He won't stay childlike forever. He'll grow up. He'll realize that this... this is NOT normal. That he was deceived and betrayed by you both. He might one day be able to forgive you and your husband, but he may never respect either of you ever again.

You said it yourself that your husband's temper is already getting shorter. The relationship between your son and his father will only continue to deteriorate. Don't let the relationship between YOU and your son become a casualty of that. At least my sister and I had each other. If it wasn't for her, I don't know... but you're all he has. And right now, he loves you. LOVES YOU, trusts you, believes in you more than anyone else on this whole damn planet. Don't ruin that for him by standing idly by when he needs you most.

Your time is running out.
posted by keep it under cover at 5:33 PM on May 25, 2010 [19 favorites]


This is what jumps out at me: “don't have the calmest temperament either, and have been struggling with depression related to isolation, social anxiety, etc., but I try to take into account the fact that THE KID IS ONLY 8 and isn't responsible for my reactions, even when I'm really pissed.” Do you say this to keep from making your spouse look like a monster, or because you also have anger issues?

I’m guessing the latter (like others, I wondered if you were more worried about the paint crew overhearing than any insult to your child) and either way it’s obvious that whatever therapy you two are in is not helping either of you.

Get more therapy, find someone else to help you, and remember all the very good advice you have here about the house being something that could burn down tomorrow.

Nothing you say has me convinced that the two of you can’t work on the marriage and your relationship with your son – but it will be work. Really hard work.

You seem to be changing things like jobs and houses and commute times, when you should just be changing.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:34 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I grew up with two bone-deep certainties: my father loved me, and he scared me. The love was real but so was the fear. Having those two emotions so deeply intertwined is… not so helpful in life.

Don’t do this to your son.
posted by dogrose at 5:38 PM on May 25, 2010 [12 favorites]


Lesser Shrew does bring up a very good point, if you yourself really do have depression, social anxiety, and you struggle to maintain your temper with your son also. Please examine how you are as a mother, and not just how your husband is as a father.

My dad was probably worse than your husband is. He died before I was 10. He wasn't physically abusive, but he was mentally ill and he was not fit to be a parent. But my mom was awesome. She was just awesome. I had no idea how awesome a mother she was until I was in college, when it started to hit me just how many sacrifices she made in her own life and career just to make sure my brother and I had as good a childhood as we could have, given the circumstances. I admire her so much now. And she says being a mother is the best thing she's ever done, something she's really proud to say.

Think of that when you think of how much you really need to stay in your "money pit" house. It sounds like such a burden, that place. Think of what life would be like if you guys cut your losses on your house and moved to a smaller place. Think of how much space and stuff you guys really need. Right now, it sounds like your son is really suffering, and in the end your child needs much more direct love and attention than your house does.
posted by wondermouse at 6:16 PM on May 25, 2010


This is killing me, and it may be helping to turn our son into a yeller, whiner, poor sport and semi-jerk.

There was a discussion in which our son was being whiny and demanding and my husband was trying to lecture the kid, and insisting on eye contact. When the kid wouldn't look at him my husband grabbed his head and turned it, roughly, to look up, saying he needed to learn to look at people, at which point the kid burst into tears. All this was going on with the windows open while a painting crew was working on our house. I intervened at that point, took the kid aside, hugged him, said I knew he was tired and sad and angry, let him cry for a while.

I'm part of the minority that thinks this doesn't constitute abuse. I saw 10 year old boy punch his mother hard and angrily in the arm last week on the metro platform and I was waiting for his dad to give him a good hard smack for daring to do that, but after the mother recovered from the shock and told the father, the father didn't do anything about it.

He's not coming home drunk looking for an excuse to smack you and your kid around. You spend forever in marriage counseling but this issue never came up?

You should all go to family therapy instead of marriage counseling. Your husband sounds like he's struggling. In your description, you talk all about yourself and whether you should leave and how awful he is, but if he didn't want to be there with you guys, he'd come home at midnight citing work at the office and leave before the kid is up. He seems like he's trying and failing, and losing his temper is wrong, but it doesn't mean he's a horrible person.

In some cultures, you get hit with a switch or whipped. It doesn't make you want to kill yourself. I got slapped a number of times as a child who got on my mother's last nerves. I'm a happy and productive person.
posted by anniecat at 6:22 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


If this isn't abuse, then what do you call it? The OP writes that her husband is "losing control and hitting in anger". If you lost control and hit your spouse/kid/dog in anger, that would be... what? Okay? Just a spanking?
posted by smalls at 6:40 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


It can't be said enough that striking a child in anger is NOT the same as spanking. I was spanked as a child, but I was never, ever struck by either of my parents in anger. I was never afraid of my parents, because I never felt for a second that they were not in control of themselves and the situation. I remember on several occasions watching them walk away until they were calm enough to deal with the situation.

To me, there is a huge difference between a rationally understandable penalty that I expected and having a trusted parent lash out at you. The physical abuse part of this discussion is important, because it clearly crosses very clear line, but ultimately beside the point. Uncontrollable anger is far more frightening than physical punishment, and a bad, bad example to set for a child. I don't know the man in question, but from what the OP is written, I wouldn't let him take care of my cat, much less my kid.
posted by _cave at 6:43 PM on May 25, 2010 [5 favorites]


In some cultures, you get hit with a switch or whipped. It doesn't make you want to kill yourself. I got slapped a number of times as a child who got on my mother's last nerves.

And in "my culture" it was also normal to hit. And that was used as an excuse to let abusers abuse, and didn't really do what it was said to; it just instilled fear and made me lose trust in those I needed to trust the most.

But all of your rationalizing aside, this is clearly abuse because of the description the OP gives: "hitting in anger." This is also clearly abuse:

When the kid wouldn't look at him my husband grabbed his head and turned it, roughly, to look up, saying he needed to learn to look at people, at which point the kid burst into tears.

Maybe you don't get it, but I get it immediately. It feels exactly the same as what I went through. That kid is scared.

And as far as this:

I'm a happy and productive person.

So am I, and I'm not about to kill myself--frankly, that was flippant and unnecessary on your part.

But despite the fact that I'm happy and productive, some things are much harder than they need to be. It didn't have to be that way and it doesn't have to be that way for this kid.
posted by dubitable at 6:59 PM on May 25, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm part of the minority that thinks this doesn't constitute abuse. I saw 10 year old boy punch his mother hard and angrily in the arm last week on the metro platform and I was waiting for his dad to give him a good hard smack for daring to do that, but after the mother recovered from the shock and told the father, the father didn't do anything about it.

Also, seriously, this is a really stupid example. Obviously this kid has some problems and the parents have problems with discipline. It's probably been that way for a while. But with good parenting--the sort that I've watched some of my friends provide--a number of things are clear to me:

-They dealt with hitting as not acceptable very early on with their children.
-They never needed any sort of "eye-for-an-eye" punishment--which is what you're advocating--to get the kid to stop hitting.

I mean, think about it, your kid hits so you hit them back? WTF?
posted by dubitable at 7:04 PM on May 25, 2010 [1 favorite]


Based upon the hysteria in this thread, I can say with absolute certainty that every single person I grew up with was "abused" based upon the definitions we're using here.

Does that make it OK? No. However, your husband is still human, and seems to want to improve himself, and based upon the way the rest of us turned out, your kid won't be shell shocked for the rest of his life.

Re: my earlier comment: The word choices in the original question were vague on several levels. I maintain that the descriptions used are mostly consistent with spanking, as they occurred when the boy was acting out. I'm also wary of the asker's statement that "I don't have the calmest temperment either," and lack of elaboration. If she's instigating/starting these fights and arguments, she's partly to blame, and it could come back to bite her in divorce proceedings.

The entire family needs to find a new therapist, and work on sorting these issues out before the arguments start. Shouting back is no way to calm an angry person, and I doubt even the worst marriage counselor on the planet would disagree with me on that.
posted by schmod at 7:10 PM on May 25, 2010 [3 favorites]


Don't underestimate the power and the pain of verbal abuse either. The house isn't worth as much as what your gut feelings are telling you. Please consider the options and weigh what's best for you and your son.
posted by Wuggie Norple at 7:11 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am not going to jump on the DTMFA bandwagon because I see a lot of potential pitfalls there. There is zero part of me that believes a court is going to mandate supervised-visits-only between this child and his father in the current circumstances, and the notion of leaving this child vulnerable to a shared custody arrangement where he's alone more often with a struggling father seems less than optimal to me.

However, I am going to jump on the "physical abuse stops now" bandwagon.

I call bullshit on this thing where you're supposed to stop your husband from hitting your kid. Your husband is supposed to stop himself from hitting your kid, because he is an adult. Relying on you to stop him makes it your fault when he hits your kid, and that is some very fucked up gaslighting there.

If he doesn't have the skills to do that, than it is his job as the fucking parent to go out and get those skills. Therapy, anger management classes, whatever it takes. If the current (and long standing) strategies are not working, then your family urgently needs new ones.

No physical violence is not a negotiable. The rule is that no adult lays a hand on a child in anger. Your kid seems to be the one carrying all of the consequences when that rule is broken.

You really, seriously need better and immediate professional help for your whole family. Your husband needs someone who's going to actively equip him with coping skills, you need a wake up call and a break, and your kid needs safe boundaries he can understand.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:17 PM on May 25, 2010 [9 favorites]


And I hate to double post, but I feel like there is a compromise between DTMFA and do nothing. You might want to think about is perhaps planning a month long vacation to Grandma's with kid in tow, or a visit with some other trusted relative or friend. Rent a short term apartment or hotel, plan things for your kid so that he's occupied, and chill out for a while away from the stress. It's summer now, and he's out of school or should be soon. Have a talk with friends, defuse the stress, and let things settle a bit emotionally so that you have time to think over your next step. This can also be framed as a way to save your husband some stress. Just my attempt at advice that's actionable.
posted by _cave at 7:32 PM on May 25, 2010


anniecat: In some cultures, you get hit with a switch or whipped. It doesn't make you want to kill yourself. I got slapped a number of times as a child who got on my mother's last nerves. I'm a happy and productive person.

Also known as, "I'll give you something to cry about!"

My father, his siblings, and their mother were beaten mercilessly and randomly by my father's stepdad, until one of the boys got old enough to hold a shotgun on him. My father swore he'd never treat his wife or kids that way, and he never did, and that is admirable.

But the fact that Dad never did anything other than spank and (very rarely) slap us meant, in his context, that the merciless and random screaming and destruction and threatened violence was nothing.

That's not how I or my brother or my mother experienced it or remember it, despite the productive happiness each of us has achieved.
posted by dogrose at 7:39 PM on May 25, 2010


I got slapped a number of times as a child who got on my mother's last nerves. I'm a happy and productive person.

Were you constantly being berated for "minor infractions"? That part disturbs me more than the scene described. Constant yelling for next-to-nothing makes a child feel generally worthless and burdensome. Plus I wonder if the "eye contact" thing is that the son is afraid to look at his father. Plus the physical discipline came not because their son was hitting his mother, but because he was ... whining? At age 8? They all do.

OP, I also felt that this question is very bizarrely phrased, given that your husband is berating and yelling and hitting. This is about how much you like your house and how many haircuts you get? Not about "the kid," as you call him?

Get your head in the game. He's your son and a whole human being for whom you're responsible.
posted by palliser at 8:04 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


Re: your reluctance to leave the house:

It sounds as though, at the moment, you love the potential for the house more than the house itself. It will be wonderful after you fix it up, but you don't have time for that now. You won't lose much if you left the house now and moved somewhere else.

If you do decide to move, alone without your husband, talk with a lawyer or financial adviser first to make sure you won't be on the hook if you have a shared mortgage.
posted by amtho at 8:17 PM on May 25, 2010


I saw 10 year old boy punch his mother hard and angrily in the arm last week on the metro platform and I was waiting for his dad to give him a good hard smack for daring to do that, but after the mother recovered from the shock and told the father, the father didn't do anything about it.

He's not coming home drunk looking for an excuse to smack you and your kid around.


What the hell? Seriously, spell it out for me because I don't see the logic. I don't see what the kid on the metro platform has in common with OP's son. Are you saying that kids who hit in anger deserve for their parents to reciprocate? What about parents who hit in anger, should the kid learn to punch them back? Was OP's son punching his father? Hmmm, nope, the only one doing the hitting in OP's family is the father. What is your point? That it's not abuse until the father is smacking the kid with one hand and holding a bottle of whiskey in the other?

And by the way, I'm one of those people who grew up with a father who often came home drunk looking for a fight. Other times he was just in a bad mood, looking for a fight. Let me tell you, there was not a lot of difference. In both cases, he was irrational, unpredictable, and terrifying. Like _cave here so eloquently expressed, getting sternly scolded or spanked is NOTHING like having to tip-toe around your parents because you never knew what tiny inconsequential thing would set them off, and one wrong step would get you screamed at and smacked or hit. There is a helluva difference between understanding that there will be consequences for misbehaving, and living in constant fear and self-loathing.

In some cultures, you get hit with a switch or whipped. It doesn't make you want to kill yourself. I got slapped a number of times as a child who got on my mother's last nerves. I'm a happy and productive person.

Are you Chinese? I am. "The culture" is a pathetic excuse. In my case, it DID make me want to kill myself, but thanks for the vast generalization and for informing me that the darkest days of my life never happened.

I am a happy and productive person now, but it has taken many painful and lonely years to put myself back together. Those who haven't been through it may not understand the scope of the psychological damage that this kind of parenting can cause. But like dubitable said, those who have been through it, we know. If you don't know, that's great. I'm glad for you. You probably don't mean to be flippant. But I'm telling you that your words hurt. Comments in that tone of your and schmod's posts just add to the pain and loneliness that abused children suffer. Believe me, I've been told that I'm just exaggerating, that I need to suck it up and get over it, that EVERYBODY's parents did stuff like that so stop the pity party, etc. The same shit my parents had been feeding me my whole life. Words like yours used to cause me to doubt myself but now that I'm a grown woman, I KNOW, and I know it when I see it. And while nothing you say to me will convince me otherwise, your flippant words could be very harmful to a child who is experiencing abuse. Please be more careful.
posted by keep it under cover at 8:39 PM on May 25, 2010 [10 favorites]


Your kid's eight. I see this happening at home with my eight-year-old brother and it breaks my heart to watch him growing up the same way I did. Mom gets on Skype and says "Little Brother didn't get a perfect score on his math test because he's a lazy, horrible creature," and the amount of venom she injects into those words is unbelievable. And his strangled yell of protest and the flash of hurt on his little face if he happens to be walking by ...

And here's the thing. I know, instinctively and otherwise, that Mom loves him. But at this point, he really doesn't. He hears the venom in her voice and thinks, "Mom hates me." I have honestly had to have discussions with him to tell him that although she gets really angry with him all the time, she really does love him.

No eight-year-old should have to live in fear of his parent's anger or wonder whether he's loved. At the same time, I wouldn't necessarily advise straight-up leaving. My mom has gotten better. She used to make us older kids kneel for unnecessary amounts of time and hit us. I remember her throwing me against the wall once. Most of all, I remember the crushingly low self-esteem she gave me, to the point where I thought nothing I did could ever be good enough - for her or for anyone. I remember aching at how unfair it all was, and how any other family would be happy to have a kid like me, a quiet reader who made good grades. But somehow here I was all wrong.

It took me quite a long time to realize that my mom loved me, and that she was as hard on me as she was because she saw potential in me and didn't want me to miss out. I do classify her as abusive, especially towards my father. But just because she's abusive does not mean I don't love her, and at this point doesn't mean I'm cutting her off. I'm sure there's more at play there, just like there is with your husband, and I strongly believe that people can change. I've told my little siblings to cover their heads and yell, "Mom, you're scaring me!" when she terrifies them, because I think she'd stop if she realizes what's happening.

Now, whether or not you should leave. If your husband didn't agree that this is a problem that he needs to fix, I'd say yes without reserve. But he's done that.

If I don't intervene I am complicit, but if I do intervene then I'm "undermining." I probably don't have the skills to know when/how to defuse at the right time. He's asked me to stop him, but I can't always figure out if/when I need to do it, because often he won't ask for help when he's in the moment.

Talk to him about this in a non-stressful moment. Yes, he needs to change, but he's not going to be golden immediately, and assuming you guys stay together you are going to be a part of that change. My mom pulled the "undermining" card on my dad all the time - except she didn't want to be stopped.

Change therapists. Set clear boundaries - have him know that verbal and physical abuse of your kid will not be tolerated. Set criteria and deadlines for changing his abusive behavior, and have him know you and the kid are leaving if they're not met. Mean it. A month-long break like _cave suggested might drive the reality of this home to him.

But there's also more at play with you, and a lot of it seems to be circulating around the house and your jobs. Talk to him about this.

I make more money than he does, but he would never consider changing jobs to be closer to home, doing something more fun, or even taking time off to evaluate what he wants.

Why? Also, someone with isolation-related depression living 12 miles from the nearest town, with not a lot of neighbors, not up for community volunteering (it seems impossible?), and working from home?

It sounds like your current situation is untenable, and that both you and your husband need to stop feeling like rats in a maze and change things if you want to make this work. Dump the house and find some real therapists. All of you are clearly suffering.

Of course, if you do not love your husband (and from your question it's doubtful) and have no actual burning desire to make this work, please leave sooner rather than later, i.e. making a lackluster attempt at fixing things and damaging your son even more in the process.
posted by Devika at 9:20 PM on May 25, 2010


I'm from a culture where corporal punishment is okay, too, but I really don't think this behavior falls under the blanket of "corporal punishment": "He has no patience with our son, and alternates between hollering at him for minor infractions, losing control and hitting in anger, and giving long lectures in which he tries to logic the kid into complying with whatever desired behavior he's after at the moment."

This sounds like a person routinely taking out his frustrations on his kid. This is unfair and wrong. This seems especially likely since the OP says the outbursts are correlated with stress and sleep deprivation. The father's response to minor issues are way out of proportion to the problem, and too frequent to be excused as a one time, parenting-is-hard-and-life-is-hard kind of thing. Sometimes my parents would have bad days and lose their tempers more easily; even so I can't remember ever being yelled at and hit for no real reason. As far as I can remember I deserved what I got. If my parents thought they went over the line they would apologize. I was always aware that my parents would do their best to be fair to me, and that was why I did not suffer any lasting damage from being hit. I don't see much evidence of fairness here, just a kid being jerked around by his father's moods. As shown by the experience of many here, this lack of fairness and boundaries will hurt the kid's ability to trust people and value himself if it continues.

OP...you don't seem to love your husband anymore, he's mean to your son, he won't/can't control his temper...at the very least see a family therapist, and seriously work on ways to remove stress from your life. And man, your life sounds so stressful. A job that leaves you barely any time to do chores, endless renovations that suck up your free time, money, privacy, and patience, you're isolated and have no one to talk to, a husband who seems to feel trapped and takes it out on everyone....wow. The only thing here that seems clear cut to me is that the house is not worth all this stress. You could alleviate a lot of this stress by leaving the house and finding somewhere better to live...I don't get why the house seems like it's worth all this misery to you and your son.
posted by millions of peaches at 9:25 PM on May 25, 2010 [2 favorites]


I can't comment about the abuse debate but you guys are clearly stressed to the max and the house is confusing the issue. You seem lonely. The desire to live with room mates sounds like a need for community - very understandable given your work situation. It's very stressful to deal with all this stuff without a support network.

Is there any way you could take your son away for an inexpensive break? Maybe with grandparents or friends to just go eat nice food and have fun on a beach for a week/end? You need to be around stable people who care about you too - therapists and counsellors are great and all but sometimes it's good to just hang out with people who love you and enjoy your company without sexual/romantic obligation. It might help you gain some perspective on what your options might be.
posted by freya_lamb at 2:36 AM on May 26, 2010


Those who believe that this type of physical violence is not really abuse because it's not "severe" enough fail to consider the fact that abusive behavior tends to escalate over time. How long will it be before you feel like you and your son are in serious danger from your husband? You don't want to wait long enough to find out.
posted by spinto at 6:46 AM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've been reading all your descriptions of the abuse you suffered at the hands of your parents, and I see a glaring difference between my experience of being slapped as a child and yours. I wasn't raised in the US, and there's some weird difference culturally that makes me now realize that your angry parents were cruel in a way that's pretty chilling and one I just don't relate to. My parents didn't treat us like punching bags the way it seems you guys were. They weren't mentally ill or crazy or out of control the way it seems like your families were.

We were in a really solid family, a happy family and we loved each other. I guess that made all the difference because it just sounds like abusive parents you guys are talking about are the kind with severe mental illness and deep problems rather than normal frustrations.

I guess the difference is whether you have a solid family unit with parents who have authority and are also benevolent when you are very young, and the OP does not. She has one foot out the door, no support from extended family, no neighbors, no community and so maybe she and her son should just leave. Absent those things, it doesn't seem like there's any chance for the OP's family.
posted by anniecat at 8:12 AM on May 26, 2010


[few comments removed - if you want to take side arguments to email, please feel free to and consider that your own personal situation may or may not be generalizable to others']
posted by jessamyn at 8:33 AM on May 26, 2010


Whether you stay in this relationship or not, represent your kid as consequently as possible. Do it officially, in front of the kid and your partner. Show your kid with your actions that you are on his side. The parents should be a united front business has its' place, but this isn't it.
posted by okokok at 9:19 AM on May 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I am so, so sorry. This is heartbreaking. You sound tough, though. Fight for your lovely house and your son and possibly your marriage. Sometimes you have to cut your losses.
posted by ShadePlant at 10:57 AM on May 26, 2010


From the OP:
A lot of things you've said have hit home, including the speculation that my husband is doing more of the day-to-day parenting, that I might also have anger issues (probably), the wide consensus that we should ditch the house, the suggestion to set an ultimatum. Some of you have said that what's happening is abuse, some have disagreed. Obviously both people contribute to the dynamic in abusive relationships. Sometimes I think I'm the abuser/neglecter. I hit the dog. I'm probably less demonstrative and supportive than is ideal, and easily fixated on whatever project is at hand, to the exclusion of the needs of my family (ex: the house). Often I run away by turning inward, the "stonewalling" that is supposed to be one insidious form of abuse practiced by men. Sit at the computer. Dig in the garden. Drive away without saying anything. Ignore everyone. I love my son more than anything, and I tell him so, but I probably could be better at showing it.

I don't know if I love my husband anymore. I like him, I appreciate his sense of humor, I appreciate the stuff he does around the house and for the family, but I've built up a pretty big wall of resentment and frustration, and am having a hard time imagining the other side of it. Even in therapy, he is very unwilling to show any emotional vulnerability, which makes it hard for me to have any empathy for him. Sometimes I think that his being supportive when I have my own emotional issues just makes him feel more in control. I find it kind of mindblowing that he was willing to holler and smack our son around without any awareness that he was being witnessed by other people (meaning, not just me). I probably should have taken the anger/abuse issues more seriously, because they actually surfaced before we got married, but not long after we moved in together, big shock there. I have set ultimatums before, in therapy, and they usually work for a while, and then some kind of stressor happens and everything is back to crap.

As to selling the house, this is a tough real estate market and it could take a LONG time. We would without a doubt take a bath on the price. Besides having to give up on staying here, where I want to stay, and I've been toiling away at the vegetable gardens (something I find deeply gratifying) and the renovations, the additional stress of trying to sell, changing schools, and moving has the potential to make everything worse.

My husband knows we have a problem. I told him this morning that the abusive behavior has to stop, and he made a noncommital agreeing grunt. I need more than that. While we've had it out in therapy before, the problem just keeps submerging and coming back. I've been staring at the domestic abuse hotline website for a while now. I think of the shelters and services as being for the women who have to hide black eyes and bruises, who get death threats and restraining orders, not for some comfortable middle class working mom with a grumpy husband.
posted by jessamyn at 10:57 AM on May 26, 2010


Thanks for letting us hear from you again.

I probably should have taken the anger/abuse issues more seriously, because they actually surfaced before we got married, but not long after we moved in together, big shock there.

If there is a long-existant pattern on this going on and it pre-dates your son, than I think that changes the lay of the land. I'm not going to start yelling "OMG GET TO A SHELTER!" or anything, but I think you should just admit that this marriage is not healthy, for you or your son, and file for seperation so you're not all living together.

I have set ultimatums before, in therapy, and they usually work for a while, and then some kind of stressor happens and everything is back to crap.


Yeah no big shock there either. If he's not actively pursuing mechanisms for change - anger management, personal therapy, group therapy - on his own initiative, than a promise to change in the face of an ultimatum is not only meaningless, it's lazy. It's the path of least resistance because it means the least change. It's worthless.

Seperation can lead to reconcilliation or divorce; I'd let his actions rather than your wishes, finanaces or real estate attachments lead there.

I would also point out that you know you are not coping very well and you need to take some initiative to deal with that reality too. Some personal therapy and some dedication to learning about better parenting skills would probably make life with your son much better, especially in a stressful transition to being a single-parent household. This is going to get harder before it gets better, and you need to proactively suit up for that.

And I also just want to say: don't hit the dog. I'm not going to make a big deal about this but please step back and look at the overall picture of how your dysfunctional your household is, from top to bottom and touching every member.

Seperate, step back, and start over because this isn't working for any of you.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:24 AM on May 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Look, in the larger frame of issues that you present here, the price of your house or how much you like to garden seems, to this internet stranger, like it should be the absolute least of your priorities. I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but to me you come across as extremely self-centered when you talk about how much you don't want to leave your dream house after describing an angry husband who likes to smack your son around.

FACT: your son's welfare should come first in this discussion. You are there, you are an adult, and you can see what is going on. The question isn't what works for you. The question is what's best for him.

Is being treated this way the best thing for your son? If not, then you are his freaking mother. Sack up and act like it. You don't have to be perfect, God knows that no other parent is. But you damned well ought to be trying everything that you can to make sure that your son isn't suffering because of your action or inaction. Stop talking, stop avoiding, and do something. If a new therapist works, get a therapist. If packing your husband's bags and reserving him a room in a nearby hotel works, then do it. I suspect that leaving the house would be the the quickest and cleanest way to make it clear that you will no longer tolerate this behavior and get your son out of a toxic environment, but again, this is a decision that you have to make.

Sorry if this is harsh. This is a rough situation. I really don't know how else to respond to the scenario that you describe, however.
posted by _cave at 11:56 AM on May 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


We would without a doubt take a bath on the price.

What is the price of a happy childhood? I am not being glib. What will it take for you to see that losing your vegetable garden (or even going bankrupt) should be #26,417 on your priority list right now? You may never get to the point of death threats and restraining orders, and your son's life will still be deeply affected. Not to mention YOUR life, which doesn't seem happy at all.

P.S. "Well, I'm a jerk too sometimes" is not a defense of HIS behavior. Your response still reeks of Stockholm Syndrome. He's not a "grumpy husband," he's an abusive father. Grumpy husbands sulk when you don't want to watch football with them. They say "FINE, I'll get my own beer." And that's the extent of it. They don't yell and hit and throw things.
posted by desjardins at 12:16 PM on May 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


You mentioned that you like to turn inward. A lot of your latest update sounds to me like avoidance behavior is very natural for you.

I mean, gardening is great as a stress reliever, sure, but your comments about selling the house and all these things that will take a long time and bury you financially seem like they're really just statements that are protecting you from taking action that might be painful, embarrassing, or even totally incorrect.

I say that not to blame or criticize, just to float the observation that avoidance behavior is your enemy in this case. The longer this goes on, the more complicit you look with just about anything that goes wrong.

That may not motivate you to take any action at all, but I think it's worth weighing.

You will probably never, ever find a solution to this problem that perfectly fits you and your needs. Whatever break or cut you make is going to have a ragged edge somewhere.

Perfection or the ideal (financial / relationship / educatoin / whatever) situation is not an ingredient you can afford to wait for. It will never come. Effort and motion are the only ingredients that you can count on to bring you some sort of positive effect here. A good chunk of that effort and motion will feel wrong or awkward or difficult at first. You haven't been here before.

So, I hope AskMe is not just helping you avoid something terribly important by giving you a million different ideas to get lost in. Please remember that when this thread is done, you still haven't done a thing if you haven't budged the status quo. (Sorry if that stings at all...you're in the toughest spot)
posted by circular at 12:17 PM on May 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't get the house pile-on. She has acknowledged the consensus for giving up the house and the reasons for that consensus.

It's easy to be sort of romantic about this from afar and say "flee! flee to your new life, leaving behind the albatross! Sacrifice all except your very life (and that too, if it comes to it) for your child!"

But it is not petty or inconsistent with the prioritization of her child's welfare for anonymous to give serious consideration to her financial stability, her own emotional well-being, and further disruptions of her child's daily routine. The answer may still be that she needs to leave the house, but let's not pretend this is as easy to accomplish on the ground as it is on a message board.
posted by desuetude at 12:21 PM on May 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


There are a lot of steps that can be taken short of selling the house.

Right now the priority is ending the culture of anger in your home. Your husband needs his attention gotten. Something-perhaps a trial separation, perhaps a sitdown in front of a counselor where you tell him that THIS IS NOT ACCEPTABLE AND THIS IS WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF IT HAPPENS AGAIN is in order.

Please do not ignore this just because it doesn't happen every day. That's called the cycle of abuse. I don't want to place a value on how bad or how minor this abuse is but the thing is it can and will escalate, and meanwhile your son is growing up in this mindscrew. I have personally watched a couple go thru something similar-their son is just a bit older-and the effect on him is monstrous. He hates. HATES. his father. And he is heading into his teen years with deep anger issues of his own. Don't be that family.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:30 PM on May 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


I agree, selling the house isn't the best idea right now, but how many of these renovations can be put aside for later? Yes, some of them are necessary repairs, but are all of them? If anything it seems like having to pay for and manage the renovations is adding even more stress.

Please call the hotline and see what they have to say about what's happening in your family. Sure, from the outside you might look like the perfect family with the perfect house, and sure you might look like a "comfortable middle class working mom with a grumpy husband", but....you're in the middle of it, and you know this isn't the whole story.
posted by millions of peaches at 1:06 PM on May 26, 2010


I just wanted to pop back in and thank everyone who's posted about their childhood experiences here. I didn't have the world's best upbringing, and there are certain aspects of my own parenting that mimic my father's (undeniably flawed, in retrospect) techniques. Reading your experiences as children has helped me reconnect with some of those feelings I had back then, and I suddenly realize there are a lot of things I should be doing differently with my own children. So, again, thank you.
posted by davejay at 3:19 PM on May 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


I've been staring at the domestic abuse hotline website for a while now. I think of the shelters and services as being for the women who have to hide black eyes and bruises, who get death threats and restraining orders, not for some comfortable middle class working mom with a grumpy husband.

Hitting your kid equals a brush off "grumpy husband"? Sorry it's more than a grumpy husband.

The market is tough, the stress, the "beautiful house", perhaps your own partaking in abuse/issues---all make leaving, etc. really tough. But this is your child. Does he deserve to get yelled at and hit? He's 8--which seems to bother you enough to mention it a few times.

I grew up in an explosive household. My mom didn't leave. At 8 it all became too much and I was depressed, withdrawn and suicidal. My 8th grade trip was forever known to be the day Stormpooper made a (feable) attempt at suicide on that class trip.

Your kid deserves better.

Call that shelter. It's not for black eyed women with no where to go. I am in a similar financial boat as you--I make more. Yet my husband acted like a total emotionally abusive ass WITHOUT any physical violence. I called. I got educated. I got over the shame. Why? I needed to know that if need be, I CAN go to that place without shame for the betterment of our son.

The next time he hits or is verbally violent with your son--call the police. His noncommittal grunt shows you he knows there are zero serious ramifications for his actions because none ever happened. Getting hauled off away by the cops in cuffs and you FILING a report and sticking with it is sometimes the best reality check an abuser can get. My mom never did it to my dad and guess what? They're married over 50 years, my mom is dying of cancer and she's STILL getting abused. Nice huh? I've witnessed this for 38 years too. I can't call because at 75, where are they both going to go? But I regret not calling when I was a teen. It may have helped, it may not. But at least I would have had some impact/reality check to my dad to knock it off.

My friends/family tell me to leave my husband and yes, the selling of the house, where will we go, how will this affect our son is in my mind 24/7 and it IS hard. But my husband has never hit me nor my child (he's just a dick to me). But you know, his verbal b.s. has made me lawyer shop, has made me call a shelter, has made me take a serious look at the what can I affords, and it has made me look at myself to say 1.) why did/am I putting up with this? 2) why did I choose someone like him? 3) how can I have this be the best outcome for our son and for myself.

Stop redirecting blame. Take ownership since your husband cannot. And by god let your son have have a happy, normal life. Stop making excuses. Your son didn't ask nor deserves any of this. Stay in the house if you want.

And as a silly FYI, Tina Turner left Ike with only her name and a few cents in her pocket. Her career wasn't great. And there are many other women who do it too.

You have the financial means to do it (although it will take a big ding), what are you waiting for?
posted by stormpooper at 6:36 AM on May 27, 2010 [3 favorites]


For crying out loud.. Don't hit the dog. You should never hit your dog OR your kid. Your son is turning into "a yeller, whiner, poor sport and semi-jerk" because this is the example his parents set for him. You know that.

I am sorry you don't love your husband anymore. I am very sorry he is abusive. Consider the possibility that you do get a divorce and end up with custody of your son and you stay in that house, working your job that keeps you so busy that you don't even have time to get a haircut when you aren't toiling in your garden: would you be willing and able to set a better example for your child? Will you ever have time for him? Are you willing to make personal sacrifices to give him a better life and ultimately help him become a better person?

Therapy will never help you unless you allow it to. It just becomes one more thing to throw money at. No more stonewalling, ignoring, and digging in the garden as a means of avoiding your family. Your son needs a positive home environment. If you think he's a whiner and a jerk now at age 8, imagine how he'll be as a teenager.
posted by wondermouse at 6:01 PM on May 27, 2010 [4 favorites]


I've been staring at the domestic abuse hotline website for a while now. I think of the shelters and services as being for the women who have to hide black eyes and bruises, who get death threats and restraining orders, not for some comfortable middle class working mom with a grumpy husband.

Call the domestic abuse hotline. They've dealt with lots of lucky comfy middle-class women with grumpy abusive husbands, and they'll direct you to whatever resources are available.

Honestly, my concern is for your son. He deserves better than an explosive dad and a checked-out mom.

Even in therapy, he is very unwilling to show any emotional vulnerability, which makes it hard for me to have any empathy for him. Sometimes I think that his being supportive when I have my own emotional issues just makes him feel more in control.

Is that why you wish he'd show more emotional vulnerability—so you'd be more in control? Maybe you're thinking of it as a binary strong/weak thing when it's actually more like a dovetail joint.

I don't know if I love my husband anymore. I like him, I appreciate his sense of humor, I appreciate the stuff he does around the house and for the family, but I've built up a pretty big wall of resentment and frustration, and am having a hard time imagining the other side of it.

It's not up to your imagination. It's up to what you and he decide to do, once you're both actually talking to each other, instead of issuing or ignoring ultimatums.

If he won't or can't talk to you, that's one thing. But it doesn't sound like you've been completely honest with him or your therapist, or possibly yourself.
posted by dogrose at 10:28 PM on May 27, 2010


I don't have the calmest temperment either, and have been struggling with depression related to isolation, social anxiety, etc., but I try to take into account the fact that THE KID IS ONLY 8 and isn't responsible for my reactions, even when I'm really pissed.

and

I hit the dog.

Your child and your dog are also not responsible for your happiness either. I am getting the feeling that they are an outlet for the frustration that you (?) and your husband are feeling. They are helpless in this. You and your husband are not.

I think you and your husband need to re-evaluate what you guys want. Clearly, the house is not the answer and it is not making you happy. That is okay, part of life is finding out what makes you happy. However, it sounds like the stress of the situation is making it hard for you (and your husband) to figure out what makes you happy and even worse, being a team together to work it out. While toiling away at the gardens may be gratifying, at this point, it sounds like it's more of a stress reliever than anything else.

Selling the house may set your financial position back temporarily, but it will be better than living in this constant stress. There are other options too, such as renting the house out and your family moving to another house, getting another job, get a part-time job, etc. Yes, it will create stress but it is temporary. You have the ability to make other changes or adjustments as needed.

A lot of the answers above talks about your first priority being your child and I want to elaborate on it from another angle. Your husband reminds me a lot of my dad. He never hit me but he used to lecture and pressure me so much about what I did wrong and how I could have done better. Looking back now, I realized a lot of it was due to my dad's own, internal frustration with his own life and he thought by making me reach my full potential, it will somehow make his life better. It didn't. I grew up and realized no matter what I do, he'll never be happy or satisfied... unless he makes his own peace with his life.

Only his actions can bring him the changes to make him happy. No matter what his children do or did, it wouldn't be enough. And one day, your son will grow up and realize the same. He will be old enough to get out of the household, but where will you be? Your husband? Will you guys be any happier?
posted by vocpanda at 11:24 AM on May 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the update. I think, again, that a trial separation, even a brief one, might be helpful here. Take your kid and stay with a friend, your parents, a sibling, a hotel, for a week. See how it makes you feel to be away from your husband. See how he feels. See how your son feels. Reevaluate.

It doesn't sound like your husband takes this issue seriously. You seem unwilling to really challenge him to change.

But at this point, you need to talk to a professional. At the least, read up on this stuff. Read a book called "The Gift of Fear." It will educate you about abusive relationships, what the warning signs are, how they can escalate, and what your options are. Good luck to you.
posted by Philemon at 2:28 PM on May 28, 2010


The long-term effects of abuse are inestimable. No one can or will protect your son better than you can and should. Helen M. Luke said that when we don't know what to do we should just do the next thing you can feel with all your heart. Whether you stay or leave you can do the next thing in standing up for your son each and every time he is mistreated. Likely your husband wishes his mother had as much for him.
posted by Pamelayne at 1:35 PM on May 30, 2010


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