Advice column by Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC.
Tim White, PhD, LPC, NCC offers advice on family planning and parenting, LGBT issues, disability issues, education and work issues, relationships, ethics and "unusual" social issues. Send questions to Tim for future columns through his website.
I'm a man, 40s, married for 14 years with a 6 year old son. I hope you can help me settle a dispute with my wife. I believe she's too indulgent with our son. She refuses to spank, and against my better judgment I agreed to that. She constantly hugs and cuddles him and always brings him into our bed where he hogs all the covers and sometimes has accidents. I have been reading about child-rearing and some experts say that a father should be emotionally distant because a mother should be providing affection, and that the way to teach children to survive in the world is to keep a healthy distance and not be so touchy-feely with children, especially boys. It feels to me like this is accurate but these days no one wants to "man up" and love their children at arm's length. I want to be the best father I can be, but how do you know what is the right way? — Fatherly Love
Hi Fatherly Love,
Are you talking about your human son or your dog? I could not quite tell as I read your letter. In the 60's, Diana Baumrind introduced three parenting styles based on her research with preschoolers: authoritarian which is too strict, permissive, which is not strict enough and authoritative parenting, which provides support and security while still allowing children to learn and grow effectively in order to become self-sufficient. A fourth style called uninvolved parenting was later added to describe parents who are generally less responsive to a child's needs, make few if any demands of children and are often indifferent or even neglectful.
Ever since, there have been cretins who claim and promote the uninvolved style as if it were a badge of honor. They may even cite an insignificant amount of questionable research in support of their foolishness. If you are shopping for a magical parenting style, go with authoritative. You may have noticed that it is the only one of the four choices which does not represent an extreme. It will allow you to pair structure with security, focus with fun and, because I love alliteration, challenges with choices that are age-appropriate. It works because it requires more effort from the parent than the child, as it should be.
You do not have to establish a family bed, although there is nothing wrong with that, but turning your son away from the safest haven he knows when he may be frightened by a nightmare or noises or an upset tummy is cruel. Whatever you are reading, if it has a separate approach for girls vs. boys, throw it away or delete it immediately. There is no difference and any opinion to the contrary is nonsense and probably some variation of outdated, disproven theories. Pair structure and limits with exploration and a wide safety net, but most of all pour on the love, love, love and affection all day, every day. Listen to yourself when you suggest shunning your child to make him tough; it sounds ridiculous, but also like abuse. That is nothing more than rejection and it has never worked. Don't buy into whatever quackery you have recently encountered. Instead, love your son with all your heart and express it as often as possible.
America the Berated
I am a woman, 30's working in an office. My Eastern European coworker goes on and on about how America is awful. From right-wing politics to religion to slavery to Native American genocide, she's like the "Encyclopedia of All the Ways in Which America Sucks." Her "Typical American..." comments usually set off the eye rolls and start clearing the room, but she is oblivious and keeps going. I know my country is not perfect, but did we do anything right? Incidentally, she had to flee her country due to ethnic cleansing and tyranny, but of course the culture and the food and the language and everything else were so superior that she feels like she is living "in a cultural wasteland." How do we shut her up? — America the Berated
I recommend starting a policy of pledging allegiance to the United States flag every morning, placing little flags on all the desks, slapping a big framed portrait of Uncle Sam on the wall and leaving any lunchtime cheeseburgers open in full view, but only for your amusement. It will not fix your Debby Downer coworker. That is because she likely complains to her compatriots about the Mother Land, and complains at restaurants, department stores, the DMV, in queue anywhere, and at holiday get-togethers. Her negativity is likely not directed only at the U.S.A. She is unhappy, and if her background is as traumatic as it sounds, for good reason. So try to go easy on her if you can, but let her know that as much as you enjoy hearing about her homeland, you are also fond of your own and aware of its shortcomings. So, instead of simply running it down, especially by discussing politics, which is typically frowned upon in the workplace, she should vote and volunteer and commit to helping make the change she desires, and keep the blind rants to herself.
Cooling off for Casual
I'm a woman in my mid-20s. I have to break up with a “buddy” after sharing 2 years of mind-blowing sex where he gets an "A plus," but he's definitely flunking personality. He usually lets me know when he wants me to pack up and get out, expects sex at every meeting, is 100% absent emotionally, etc. I'd never go out with him but we were friends and dateless one night and it just happened and kept happening but I have met a new guy who's everything I have been looking for all these years. New guy wants to be monogamous and I agree, but how do I get rid of Mr. Go-To who keeps calling and makes me feel obligated? — Cooling off for Casual
Hi Cooling off for Casual,
I truly appreciate being able to cite a film, especially a popular one, to illustrate my response. If you have not seen Bridesmaids, I highly recommend it. The relationship between Kristen Wiig and Jon Hamm may help remind you of the only reason you even bother to hang out with your boy toy; pure lust. You helped each other satisfy a mutual need and now your feelings are no longer mutual. Fortunately, it sounds like any feelings you had for him never moved above the waistline. He also does not sound emotionally invested, or even polite, so you do not have to take your time and be gentle.
It sounds like he may be calling because he has never been officially notified that he is fired. Just ring him up and tell him you are now in a serious relationship with a grown-up so you are no longer going to meet him for play dates. You could thank him for the sex if you feel so inclined, and even offer to be friends if you even care to be around him at all. If you are not feeling any of that, simply say goodbye. "No strings" means never having to say you are sorry. If for some reason he has difficulty with your decision, refer him to get help here and let him go already. Focus on your new relationship and I wish you both the best.
Editor’s Note: The opinions offered in this blog are the author's alone. Tim White, and any experts he may consult and/or quote in responses to letters, will never provide medical or psychological advice, diagnoses, treatment, or counseling of any kind. General advice, opinions, and suggestions may be offered with no obligation on the part of readers to accept or act upon the content published within this column. Anyone in immediate crisis and/or mental/physical distress should call 911 or related resources of assistance.
Photo by Fotolia/Ana Blazic Pavlovic