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My friend is making the same mistakes with his daughter that my father made with me...should I tell him?

(20 Posts)
MrsMerryHenry Mon 17-Aug-09 15:26:19

I had a crap father. Okay, there are far worse dads around, but mine was controlling, erratic, and self-absorbed. He demanded absolute obedience no matter what. He rarely engaged with us, we really were meant to be seen and not heard. He was a bully. There was no room for us to be ourselves; he effectively crushed our individuality, which had lasting ramifications - not least for my poor older bro, who is still suffering today.

A friend of mine has a 3 yo DD; they've just spent the weekend with us. Both DH and I agree that DF (friend) was far too harsh with her - he also demanded absolute obedience (following on from a convo several months back about the same issue, where I told him that this approach would lead to more and more conflict - so he already knows some of my thoughts on the matter). He is not entirely like my dad, he is also great fun and plays silly games, making her giggle non-stop. He also cares greatly about the detail - making sure he provides everything she needs, and berating himself when he forgets little things.

However, I noticed that he would make one demand after another in quick succession, punctuating his words with 'Don't make me angry' and 'Don't piss me off' (a classically controlling and manipulative communication style IMO and IME). Eventually the poor girl was clearly confused about 'which Daddy' to expect - the fun Daddy or the heavy-handed Daddy (well, that's my interpretation) and would cry - but not bursting into loud, uncontrolled tears as you'd normally see in a toddler. She would try really hard to control her tears - IMO a classic indication that she's not been reassured that her feelings are acceptable. When she cried he physically separated himself from her, and in fact my DH and I both independently went to her aid, astonished that our friend could be so callous with a 3 yo.

My DF is probably the most inflexible, stubborn-headed person I know, and sometimes I wonder why we're still friends! But we do care about each other a great deal and despite our massive differences the friendship just sort of works.
So. Do I leave things as they are, knowing that there's the possibility that their relationship will deteriorate, as did mine with my own father...knowing that in 20 years time she may possibly also hate my DF as much as I hated my own father? Or do I tell him my concerns, citing my own experience, and risk losing our friendship altogether? On the one hand I would find it very hard to witness this heavy-handedness on an ongoing basis, but on the other hand I know with almost total certainty that if I am honest with him he take it as an insult, ignore my words, and cut off contact. As my father would have done.

In some ways although it would hurt very deeply to end the friendship, I might be able to look on it in the long term as a worthwhile sacrifice if as a result of doing so he changed his behaviour towards his DD. If. That's a huge 'if' and right now I can't see it happening.

I also think that if I keep schtum perhaps in future I can be there for her in some useful way.

Then I ask myself whether I should mention my concerns to his partner, who is far more reasonable than he is.

By the way, for anyone who's thinking: 'father issues' on my part, don't worry - that stuff is well and truly sorted and I am so thankful that I dealt with all that stuff and fully forgave him before he died.

I'd really, really value your thoughts on this.

jabberwocky Mon 17-Aug-09 15:31:25

Oh dear, you know he's most likely not going to change whether you talk to him or not. I think you have hit upon a good point re: being there for her as you have been in the same position.

Since you are dear friends perhaps you can intervene in a light-hearted manner at least when they are in your home. As in when she is getting confused you could say "My goodness, I'm not sure what he wants first either!" and then give her a reassuring smile.

geordieminx Mon 17-Aug-09 15:31:40

Is he likely to change if you did say something to him?

You say that you have discussed some of this before - di it have any affect?

He parents in a way in which he thinks is right (not saying that it is), he's unlikely to stop this.

Imagine if the shoe was on the other foot and he told you that he didnt think your parenting style was correct and that you should change to become more like him... you'd tell him to wind his neck in, and completely disregard woouldnt you?

Its a sad situation, and I agree that he isnt doing himself or his daughter any favours, but its a tricky one. Where is the mum in all this?

colditz Mon 17-Aug-09 15:33:32

talk to his partner. Explain where you're coming from with this, it probably concerns her too.

Poor little girl.

FWIW I rage and demand obedience from my kids but they generally carry on arsing about, as they don't find me and my tantrums REMOTELY disturbing. It's only when I threaten to ie switch a dvd off, or take the Wii away, that I get the compliance I could scream about all day with no results!

muffle Mon 17-Aug-09 15:38:59

I had a crap dad too and I think you should tell him. There's a chance he may change and if so it's worth it. If he won't change, he'll probably just brush it off rather than get worse, so I'd do it.

You don't have to make it sound like straightforward criticism, you can bring your feelings into it and if you like you can present yourself as a teeny bit overemotional, if that will soften the blow. Eg "You know X, it does break my heart to see your DD trying not to cry like that and not knowing when you are going to be scary, that reminds me of myself as a child and I really wish you could be a bit softer on her. You do know I ended up hating my dad don't you?"

That way if he wants to just put it down to you being irrational and hysterical he can. However I do think that even if he rejects it, it will sink in at some level and he may think about what you've said.

MrsMerryHenry Mon 17-Aug-09 15:40:49

Jabber - yup. He won't change. Nor did my dad. I can definitely come up with some light-hearted ways to support her - I spent many years doing this for my younger bro, so I should dust off those old ideas! Smart thinking.

Geordie - it's a personality thing. The way I treat people matters to me in a very different way - DF and I have had various debates in which he made it clear that he separates feelings from debates in a way that I don't. So if someone said this to me I would give it a great deal of consideration. In fact, DH and I have specifically asked DS's godparents - none of whom have kids themselves - to let us know if they feel we are out of line in our parenting.

As for the mum, I have felt in the past (before they had kids) that he was unkind towards her in the way he spoke, ridiculing her ideas so that she'd shut up/ he'd get his own way. He has also said to me pretty much in the following words, that she is insecure because she has the same 'emotion' thing going on that I apparently do (he sounds like a tit in print, but he really is lovely in many ways!). Basically he doesn't respect any way of doing life that is not his way. OMG the parallels between him and my father are unbelievable. Why are we still friends??!

I know DF and his partner love each other a great deal, so there's clearly something more there, but to be honest I would say that at times he verbally browbeats her into getting his own way.

muffle Mon 17-Aug-09 15:41:20

I would hope I'd listen if someone told me something about my parenting style reminded them of a parent they hated. It would matter to me, actually more than if they were telling me some parenting rules out of a book. because they would know what they wee talking about. Even if I was upset at the time, it would stay with me. And I suspect it might actually strike a chord with this man because it might be that he had a similarly difficult parent.

Roomfor2 Mon 17-Aug-09 15:43:03

I agree it would be good if you could talk to him, but it might not be easy. Only you know if he would be receptive or offended.

MrsMerryHenry Mon 17-Aug-09 15:45:19

Muffle - I think you're right about emphasising the 'I ended up hating my dad' side, definitely. I don't know what his father was like, I never met him, but putting the pieces together I think perhaps my friend had a similarly erratic relationship with him and is repeating his own family history.

Colditz - you're right, it does concern the mother, and I'm sure she's already aware and similarly concerned. Perhaps having a bit of backup might help give her even more courage - although one snag is that they live abroad. Still, I can always plan a trip to see them in the next few months...

MaggieBeauLeo Mon 17-Aug-09 15:45:19

he sounds a nightmare, and you can see it, and his daughter will see it. I bet you anything he thinks he's a really reasonable guy surrounded by incompetents. Good luck. It's probably going to go down like a lead balloon, you're brave to try and I hope he listens to you.

TheDMOfficeIsFullOfImmigrants Mon 17-Aug-09 16:15:39

Maggie, I wouldn't describe him as a 'nightmare', it's impossible to portray the fullness of a person's character in words, however the bullishness and see-saw parenting style is definitely a problem.

"he thinks he's a really reasonable guy surrounded by incompetents" - am wondering whether you know this guy?! In this respect and others he's also just like another friend of DH's, who I really have very little time for. However my DF has far more redeeming qualities than DH's friend. DH and I have been struck this weekend by how similar the two men are, as the other guy stayed with us last weekend.

TheDMOfficeIsFullOfImmigrants Mon 17-Aug-09 16:16:05

Oh yes, this is my new name. grin

MaggieBeauLeo Mon 17-Aug-09 16:36:49

funny screen name! I was with a very controlling man for years, and even when he wasn't actually trying to control me (at the very beginning) he did have that aura of 'oh-do-I-have-to-do-everything-myself???' about him, iykwim.

everybody has made themselves unquotable... fek I'm going to end up in the dailymail cos there's nobody left with a suitable screename!

I'm going to change mine to AnnaPastermoaningminny.

mrsboogie Mon 17-Aug-09 18:21:07

You know he won't change if you approach him on your usual terms, you know the wife is browbeaten (I would say bullied into submission)so the only solution is to present your case to him to him in what he would see as an unemotional manner - what would he do if he felt he had to intervene in a similar fashion? what's his "way"?

TheDMOfficeIsFullOfImmigrants Mon 17-Aug-09 20:39:46

Perhaps you're right, mrsboogie. I certainly need to find out what she thinks first, otherwise if they are both in agreement over this particular parenting style it could be an even more tricky convo than I'm expecting. Presenting my experience with my father in a straightforward way, stating the facts of the impact he had on the way I regarded him, might be a way forward. I also think I should plan to just make a small point to start with and then see whether he chooses to find out more at a later date.

Honestly, he's a very bright guy and were he as in tune with himself as he believes he is, he should be able to work this out for himself very easily. DH and I have relied on self-examination to discover what's gone wrong in our parenting; it's the best way IMO to create a solution and it always works. I think this indicates that he's genuinely afraid of this level of vulnerability and has got used to covering it up by being Mr Strong Is Always Right.

jabberwocky Mon 17-Aug-09 21:34:55

Since you are such good friend perhaps there may be an opening where you can discuss your childhood and the impact it had and see if it turns on any lightbulbs.

TheDMOfficeIsFullOfImmigrants Wed 19-Aug-09 22:06:06

Yes, I'm thinking the same, jabber.

edam Wed 19-Aug-09 22:16:33

jabber sounds about right.

But I'm wondering about your friendship. Do you think you were drawn to him because he shares unpleasant character traits with your father - even if he makes up for it in other ways?

TheDMOfficeIsFullOfImmigrants Thu 20-Aug-09 13:11:26

Edam - I've already asked myself the same question, and the answer is no. As I said earlier, I've dealt with my father issues and so they don't have a hold on the way I conduct my life. My friend and I clicked because we made each other laugh and we then discovered that we shared a lot of interests. Personality-wise we're completely different, but we still share the same interests and a similar sideways look at life.

edam Thu 20-Aug-09 14:36:27

Fair enough.

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