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Troubled Father-Son Relationship


I am struggling with how to help my husband and our 15-year-old son have a more positive relationship. Our son is very immature and has difficulty fitting in and making friends. He struggles in school, not because he can't learn, but because he lacks motivation. I am a high school teacher, so I understand setting expectations and consequences. But I also feel that it’s my duty as a parent to support and encourage our son. My husband does not see it this way. To him, the situation is very "black and white": As long as our son does not live up to my husband’s expectations, my husband will not support or encourage him. In fact, he barely speaks to our son at all. When he does, he is critical and almost abusive in what he says.

I really have no idea what a healthy father-son relationship looks like, but I know this is not it. I do not know how to address this without making my husband angry and defensive, and possibly making the situation worse. I love them both and I still believe we can have a happy, functional family. But I’m at a loss on how to fix their broken relationship.



Raising children is tough enough. It becomes even more difficult when two parents have different expectations for their children and different parenting approaches for dealing with problem behaviors.  That’s why it’s important for dads and moms to find a middle ground, so their kids see that they support each other in their discipline and will stand strong together when it comes to setting expectations and delivering consequences.

In your situation, it sounds like your husband is so frustrated by your son’s lack of motivation that he’s become more focused on hurting your son than parenting him. It is sometimes difficult for people to accept criticism, even if it is constructive. But if the criticism comes with abusive or hurtful words, it can really have ​a negative impact – especially if the person on the receiving end is a child whose brain is still developing and who needs unconditional love.

This is not to say that your son’s negative behaviors should be ignored. But there are more positive ways you and your husband can address them. For example, you and your husband might try to:

  • Figure out what does motivate your son.

  • Talk to your son’s teachers to see if there are classmates he connects with who could become his friends.

  • Every day, praise your son for at least four positive behaviors he does. Kids need at least a 4:1 ratio of praise to criticism.

  • Identify the two biggest issues that are causing turmoil in your home and together come up with a plan for resolving them.

  • Have your son undergo a complete physical exam and a mental health evaluation so you can determine if there is a physical or mental health reason for his behaviors. These also can help rule out possible reasons for his struggles.

  • Agree to let some little things slide in order to focus on the “must-address” issues.

Also, think about getting a counselor involved to help you work through your family relationship challenges. If you constantly try to be the mediator between your husband and your son, it will force you to take sides and put you at odds with your son, your husband or both of them. It also may be helpful to just put the issues aside a few times a week and enjoy doing something together as a family, like going out to eat, taking in a movie or playing a board game.