Criticism and Roughness In Relationship With Child

Question: “I have noticed my sister’s husband being to rough with their 18 month old and with her as well. He lost his job last month and she makes so many excuses for his behavior. I myself came from an abusive marriage and am very aware of his inappropriate behavior. She hasn’t had that level of awareness that i am at now. With out being to responsible for her and her decision to stay with him what can i do to help? I don’t want to upset her but I can’t stand to watch her go through what I just got out of?”

Answer: I appreciate the question you posted. The behaviors you talked about are often difficult to talk about because of the nebulous nature of them. For example, your brother-in-law’s roughness you mentioned can be explained/rationalized by him as ‘having a hard day’ or ‘I am just so stressed out’. The reality of it is, most adults get short and irritated with their children. Now, in this case we are talking about an 18 month old child that is likely just learned to walk and is possibly speaking in “mama” and “dada” terms. The child is living in an egocentric world, a world in which this child sees herself in the center. The difficulty with this man’s stress and critical nature is that he is also the center of his world. So the climate is one of a selfish demanding adult in the presence of an egocentric needy demanding child. The child’s behaviors are normal for that age and your brother-in-laws behaviors are maladaptive and damaging. When you say ‘rough’ I am not quite clear what that means. If he is in fact rough as you say his wife needs to give him that feedback and guide him to get help. Help with his anger, upset, and stress. His getting help will help curb and stop the irritation with the child and with his wife.  Granted, she may be fearful to speak, as she is in an abusive marriage, but she really needs to protect her child. If he is physically abusing or neglecting the child you are obligated to report him to Child Protective Services. Find out more about abuse of children at this link.

Ideally, his wife (not you) would express the pattern of thinking and behavior she is seeing he has with the child. You mentioned she can’t fully see it at this point, so your informing her of the patterns that you see can help open her eyes and help her see the patterns you observe. Remember, you have been in an abusive relationship, so ensure you are not projecting or superimposing your own history on to her life or reality but instead use it to educate her to what you see. I recommend you have your sister read an article on emotional abuse called “The Invisible Heartbreaker” and how it operates in families, at this link.

I’d also empower her to be assertive and start to tolerating healthy behavior from him. Your sister will teach her husband how to treat her but what she tolerates. Again, she is indirectly and subconsciously teaching or telling him how and what to say to her by what she is willing to put up with. Her learning to be assertive and begin to own her own experience is key element. Here is a guide that she needs to start reading and working through.

Pray for guidance on how to teach her, on how to look for windows into her learning so that our sister can actually ‘hear’ you.