Q: I’m a single mother with a 13-year-old son. His father, whom he sees infrequently, has PTSD from battle experiences. My son has anger toward his father, but I can’t get him to talk about it. It comes out of him in the form of a lot of disrespect directed toward me. What should I do about this?
A: I assume that by “this” you mean your son’s supposed anger concerning his father. If I’m right, then you’re focusing on the wrong issue. The problem is the disrespect and hostility your son directs toward you.
In the first place, you’re playing amateur psychologist. You’re engaging in pure speculation (which is, by the way, all a psychologist is doing when he claims to know what causes a person to behave in a certain manner). Your theory concerning his disrespect gives your son a free pass to behave as abusively toward you as he pleases. On the other hand, if you happen to be right about the source of your son’s “anger,” the question becomes “so what?”
Since when did less than perfect family situations entitle children to misbehave? My parents divorced when I was 3. I had no relationship to speak of with my father until I was 9, after which I only saw him once a year for two weeks. In the interim, I missed my dad, was fairly frustrated at not seeing him and wanted to jump ship and go live with him. Nonetheless, I behaved respectfully toward my mother because she would not have tolerated less.
You’re doing what today’s parents have been “trained” to do by the media and the mental health professions: You’re trying to understand your son’s misbehavior. In so doing, you are not acting when he misbehaves. Because you do nothing to stop it, your son keeps on disrespecting you. Despite your good intentions, you have become your own worst enemy.
If I had disrespected my mother, she would not have tried to understand me. She would have punished me. “Mom, I claim immunity due to unresolved divorce and visitation issues” would have fallen on deaf ears. That was discipline before the Age of Parenting Babble, and children were better off for it.
When you stop regarding your son as a victim who is entitled to dump on you and begin acting worthy of respect, your son will begin treating you with respect. Toward that worthy goal, I’d suggest that the next time he blows up at you or treats you like a doormat, you say something along the following lines: “Well, isn’t that interesting! Equally interesting to you, I’m sure, is the fact that you will not go anywhere except school and church for the next two weeks, during which you will receive neither friend nor phone call. And every single time you act disrespectfully toward me during the next two weeks will add yet another week to your — what shall we call it? — I know! How about therapy?!”
Your son needs to learn that women are not dumping grounds for male anger—a lesson only a woman can teach.