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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rough, angry speech to our son

I have a problem with my wife's rough speech.  So often when she talks to our son, she speaks roughly and makes it into scolding or some sort of confrontation.  Claude often doesn't answer her until she has spoken several times, getting angrier each time, and this makes it worse.  The more she shouts and gets angry, the less he wants to respond.  I really don't like this, never in my own childhood was there any shouting or rough speech, I don't want it in my house now, but I don't know how to prevent it.  I think probably my wife experienced it at home with her parents.  She seems to find it quite normal.

There is another, related problem, too: when she speaks to Claude, Rose uses her own dialect, which Claude understands and speaks fluently but I do not, and I have not been capable of learning it, or even hearing it enough to distinguish the words. I don't like her having an argument with Claude in my hearing in a language I don't understand, and I have told Rose this several times but she takes no notice.   My spirits sink low if I hear this rough speech with Claude starting.  She does speak English to me, but is not fully comfortable with it, I have to pick my words carefully if I want to make sure she is understanding me.

I am not a dominant man and tend to withdraw if things are not going right between us.  
Any useful suggestions?


  1. Malcolm,

    It's understandable that you would be frustrated about this. Angry speech with kids or teenagers is rarely effective anyway.

    Maybe you should think ahead of time what would be the best way of handling the situation and maybe discuss it with her. That way if it starts again you will know exactly what to do.


  2. Daddy is the same way, often not realizing that he is actually sounding like the boys: picking fights and not leaving arguments alone, or yelling about minor things and making comments that can be taken as critical or hurtful. It's harder to do as a sub ('tho as parents, we are very equal), but I started taking him aside and very nicely pointing out how he's contributing to arguments or maybe the ways he could have phrased things differently. I know I have to curtail this while they are younger (oldest is 11) because as teens, they are going to react to him even worse otherwise! It has taken awhile, but slowly I see the little changes. I can't stnad a bunch of yelling and mean language in the house either, and it never helps anything. I guess I'm just saying that maybe if you keep on helping her to see how she could be doing better, and making a huge point of modeling ways to interact with your son that obviously are more effective than her ways, maybe you'll start to see the changes. When Daddy sees that I get better responses than he does, first he gets offended, then he beats himself up, then he decides to try it my way. :)

  3. Yes, thank you Serenity and Little Butterfly.

    I am really reluctant to start talking about it with Rose, as that often starts her on another argument, she is very defensive and her immediate reaction to any criticism is either to try to justify herself or to remain silent. Rose's mother was very fond of scolding, and I think Rose has got the idea that it's the way to go. Too, although it may seem from my writing that I am articulate and coherent, my speech is not like that, but hesitant, jumbled and ineffective. Faced with the necessity of saying something useful, I feel paralysed. It takes me ages to work out what to say.

    But I have found that if I set an example, with almost anything really, she often follows it after a while. Not immediately, but in a week or two I may see some difference that I like.

    Another difficulty which I did mention in my post is that I don't know what she has been saying to Claude because it has not been in English! So I can hardly point out how to phrase it more amicably.

    I do in fact make a point of speaking kindly to Claude, even if he is for the millionth time neglecting to do his little jobs properly. I don't want him to look back on his time living with us with regrets or bad memories. I have had teenage children before, my eldest son was born in 1959 and four more children after him so I am not a novice at it, but arguments between mother and child are something new to me.

  4. Oooh, I am just like you with the writing vs speaking thing! I did note your trouble with the language barrier. I almost said something like "I wouldn't have any idea how to handle that, except to say that my sister in law is Chinese and has told me that she makes a point to speak in whatever language those around her are most comfortable in, because she says that otherwise, it is being very rude." but it felt like my comment was running too long as it was!

    Sending lots of good vibes your direction. I hope you can start to make some headway on this! It's cool that you already have "dad experience" though.

  5. Having had to deal with communication probems with my middle son i would agree with serenity that "Angry speech with kids or teenagers is rarely effective "
    Infact i don't think that it is useful to anyone.
    If someone speaks in an angry tone of voice to my middle one , he switches off and ignores them, a whisper works every time over a shout.
    As for the language barrier the only knowledge that i have of this was at my oldest sons boarding school that he attended ... It was an issue for him, as alot of the young men spoke Cantonese and as he didnt he felt an outsider. (even though they were meant to speak English they didnt) He overcame this problem by learning some of the language himself with one of the house mothers so he could at least understand smatterings of it and be understood back. ( he also learnt some words that didnt come in the queens language as well.......but least said about them the better) The boys respected him more for his learning and things were not so bad.
    Maybe your son would help you to learn more of their language and she would like this..........and she may learn more English.
    Even if she doesnt you still might be able to pick out what the upset is about.
    i hope this is of some use Sir to you and the barrier is sorted soon

  6. I have a 19 year old son. I too have always found that speaking harshly yields very poor results.

    Having read your post and all the comments, I'm going to suggest speaking with your son. Perhaps you and he can talk about the arguments with his mom, and how he feels about that. Perhaps he can consider if his behavior sets her off. Perhaps he can explain to her that he doesn't like the way she yells at him. Perhaps he can explain to you what is being said in a typical argument (since you don't speak the language).

    I also know that confrontation is difficult for most people, and especially when dealing with someone who will just yell over top of you instead of quietly discussing. That smacks of bullying, or least and aggressiveness aimed at getting one's own way rather than being open. It strikes me as a defensive tactic.

    I doubt I've been helpful. But I certainly wish you the best in improving the situation, for your son's sake!


  7. Tapestry: Thank you, I think you probably have been helpful. I will talk with Claude and see what he has to say. He could definitely improve his response rate, and Rose could improve her tone of voice.

    As a matter of fact, interchanges between the two of them, so far, have been ok and friendly since I posted that rant.

    Saffy and Little Butterfly: The language barrier. I definitely am not able to learn much of the local language as increasing deafness prevents me from hearing the words, even if spoken clearly and slowly. Anyway, it seems to me disrespectful not to speak English when I am listening, since Claude has a very good command of English and Rose can manage OK, so I am going to make it a rule that English must be spoken when I can hear the conversation! I am very bad at enforcing rules as I hate hate nagging but sometimes it has to be done.

    And Saffy, I am not surprised that the boys in your son's school spoke Cantonese, here there are signs all over the school campus that say "THIS AN ENGLISH SPEAKING CAMPUS" but can you imagine the children all speaking English all the time when it's never spoken at home??? I don't think so. (Even the report card is in Filipino, that's a third language.)

  8. Maybe you could write down the things you want to discuss with your wife before you start the discussion. I do that sometimes when I have a lot of things I want to talk to her about so I don't forget anything. Just a few notes to remind you what you wanted to discuss can do wonders for the memory.
    As far as the language, it is rude to not speak English in front of you when she is discussing something with your son. You will have to put your foot down and just keep to it until she remembers.

  9. Coming to this conversation a little late, but i can't help recommending yet another book (can You tell I'm an academic?): _Screamfree Parenting_ by Hal Runkel. It's not just a bunch of pat parenting advice (which i hate), it's also a fairly lucid analysis of *why* we scream at our children (and each other).
    If it helps to know, you're not alone in observing this sort of thing in a spouse. i, however, am also prone to yelling (though less so than my spouse), so i have to be on-guard against it in myself also.

  10. OK kytten, I'll look into Screamfree Parenting, thanks for the suggestion.

    Since I posted that rant, I haven't heard any more rough speech; I did complain bitterly when it last happened, and it seems my complaints have been heard.

  11. Before DD we used to "trade peeves" so to speak. He would tell me something he'd like to see stop, and I'd tell him something i'd like as well. Perhaps you cam say that you would like the interactions to be in English, so that you can be more of a parenting team, and in exchange she might ask something of you.


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