Relationship Connection: Should I tell my son-in-law to stop yelling at his kids?

Question

We have a wonderful son-in-law that we love very much. Our concern is that he yells at his children, not in just a loud voice but in a THUNDERING voice that even scares my husband and me. It is a learned habit from his father. I think it is so ingrained in him that doesn’t realize he even is yelling.

It is something we didn’t see until they had their children. Our daughter is concerned and they have discussed it and I know he is trying to change but it just seems like the slightest irritation sets him off.

To me this is bullying and my fear is that it could turn physical. I don’t want my grandchildren to grow up thinking this is normal and how they should treat their own children. Is there hope and help for him to change this habit?

Answer

I have no doubt this is very unsettling for you and your husband to see your son-in-law overreacting to his children and overwhelming everyone with his intensity. I also agree with you that his yelling isn’t the best way to interact with his children. Addressing this with him, though, isn’t as straightforward as telling him to “knock it off.” Chances are, he’s developed these reflexes over time and may not even think there is a problem.

First, if you’re seriously worried about your children being abused through his aggression, you need to level with your daughter and let her know how serious this is. She may be so used to his intensity or feel torn between choosing her husband and protecting her children that she may not make any decision out of emotional paralysis. This is a difficult judgment call to make with yelling and intensity. If safety is a concern, don’t wait and see what happens. Talk to your daughter and let her know she needs to be more protective of her children.

This doesn’t mean that she needs to automatically call child protective services. It means that she needs to set some clear boundaries with her husband and make it clear that he cannot interact with the children in this way anymore. She needs to encourage him to get help if it’s something he can’t see as a problem or control. This is something that needs to come from her as the wife and mother. If she has approached you with her concerns, turn her back to the marriage and encourage her to speak clearly to him about these expectations.

I think it’s important to be patient and follow your daughter’s lead as she works with him as a co-parent and partner to learn how to parent. Sometimes grandparents forget their own learning curve with their children years ago when they had to figure out how to raise their children by trial and error. Even though you have gained hard-earned wisdom from years of raising your own children, your daughter and son-in-law also deserve a chance to learn from their mistakes.

If your daughter feels the situation is serious enough to reach for help, then continue to encourage her to be strong and set clear expectations with her husband to treat the children with more respect.

If you step in and get in the middle of their marriage, it will only create more defensiveness and make it more difficult for him to focus on doing the right thing. Instead, he’ll be more likely to protect himself and focus less on creating a healthy family environment.

If you have a close relationship with him, you can even visit with him privately and share with him your observations about his frustrations as a dad. You might open up about your own mistakes and struggles when you were parents of small children. Let him know he’s not alone and that he can count on you to help him succeed as a father. This will only work if you have a close relationship with him that has already been built on mutual respect and trust. If you don’t have that kind of relationship, it will backfire and he will only feel judgment and disrespect.

As grandparents, you can offer to take the children more often and give them an experience of being loved and disciplined with respect and sensitivity. You can help alleviate the pressure their parents may feel and you can develop relationships with them that will help them build more resilience.

If the grandchildren aren’t in serious danger, trust that their parents will continue to improve as you counsel with your daughter and give them room to learn and grow as parents. It’s painful to watch them make mistakes and struggle as new parents. However, they are ultimately responsible for the climate they create in their family. You’ve had your chance to raise your daughter and all you can do is trust that she will take what she learned in her family and advocate for a healthy environment for their children.

Stay connected!

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Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. The opinions stated in this article are solely his and not those of St. George News.

Have a relationship question for Geoff to answer? Submit to:

Email: geoff@lovingmarriage.com

Twitter: @geoffsteurer

Facebook: facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2014, all rights reserved.

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10 Comments

  • JOSH DALTON (INCOGNEGRO) September 24, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    YES! HE NEEDS TO STOP YELLING! HE WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO LIVE WITH A WOMAN UNLESS HE DOES!

  • Herd September 24, 2014 at 6:18 pm

    Just don’t shoot them like that guy in Parowan

  • billy September 25, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Yelling doesn’t accomplish anything. You can discipline children without yelling. My wife would probably hit our son in law over the head with a frying pan if he was doing that.

  • PEEKAY September 25, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    You are right yelling doesn’t accomplish anything but I am puzzled by your comment. Yelling is wrong, but hitting some one with a frying pan is constructive?

  • Koolaid September 25, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Knock some sense into them by slapping the crap out of them to get your point across. Ain’t that how those early Dixie settlers controlled their women?

  • billy September 25, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Hey I am from the south. Women will pick up anything to hit you. Haha. Ask my momma.

  • Bobber September 25, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    When the women and children misbehave we head straight to the barn to retrieve the horsewhip.

  • Dana September 26, 2014 at 6:06 am

    Call child protective services. Forget the bs about talking to him about his behavior. He KNOWS he is being a jacka**. What are you and your daughter waiting for? Are you going to wait until it escalates into hitting? Beatings? You already know the answer so don’t waste anymore time with this namby pamby ‘therapist.’

    • PEEKAY September 26, 2014 at 11:51 am

      You want to give the person with anger issues less to live for and make his life harder? Brilliant plan. You have more of a chance of escalating the problem into physical violence than helping anyone. Do you actually think you take things away he’s just going to lay down and say “You Win”. People like you create people like him.

  • Koolaid September 26, 2014 at 8:14 am

    Go tell his bishop

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