Hi Dr. Singer,
We have a growing problem in our family that I believe, is going to ruin relationships. We have a son who is a Sophomore in High School. My husband intensely wants my son to play football and because of that, my son joined the football team. Now, he confides in me that he is miserable and does not want to be playing football and that he never wanted to play football. He told me he did it just because his Dad wanted him to. I have tried to talk to my husband about it, but my husband is a prior football player himself and will not hear of his son being any different than he was. I feel that this is going to permanently damage the relationship between my husband and son and I have tried to communicate this to my husband, but he seems to have tunnel vision about this. He thinks that the relationship will be fine. What do you think about this situation? S.S.
I agree with you that the relationship may be at stake here and it is time to do something about it. I see a lot of parents every year who tell their child what he or she will do activity-wise, instead of asking what the child really likes to do. I am a believer that a child should do some form of activity, but it needs to be an activity that the child can feel good about, enjoy and look forward to. If it hasn’t happened yet, I believe that your son will start to resent his father greatly if he continues to play this sport he hates so much. This is not his father’s life, it is his. Once that resentment starts to build, you may start to see acting out on your son’s part and even worse yet, I have seen kids grow up to become adults who never talk to parents again over things like this.
My immediate recommendation to you is to get in for some family counseling. Your son needs to communicate how he feels to your husband in a safe, protected place, where he can feel that people will back him up. I know you have tried to be the “go-between” to protect your son and try to have him heard, but my gut feeling from what you have said, is that your husband will not hear this from anyone within your family. I think you need a neutral 3rd party to really get it across to him. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it will be as easy as 1,2,3. I think it will take some convincing, but I do think he needs to know how your son feels from your son, not you.
I would also caution you about trying to do this without a neutral person to mediate this for you. It sounds very highly emotionally charged for the whole family and that can escalate quickly. So, I am not advising you to sit down in your family room and do this on your own. When done with a counselor, the counselor can keep control of the situation and balance it.
If your husband refuses to go to counseling, I guess I would tell you to make sure he knows that the teenagers who become the most defiant and aggravating are the ones who have felt unheard and not cared about. The ones who are angry. This most certainly fits that potential. If nothing else works to get him to go to counseling, try to appeal to his sense of his own peace. Ask him to imagine what it will feel like when all this pent up anger, in your son, starts to come his way. I can tell you that I have head lots of awful stories about that very moment and the parents who I hear it from are in no way, at peace or happy at all. Think of it this way: if your son spends his life feeling insecure, angry and in turmoil because he was forced into something, like all teenagers, he will see to it that the person causing this pain for him will also feel insecure, angry and in turmoil. Trust me, it’s better to not go there.
You didn’t mention whether your son had an alternative interest. I would encourage you to make part of the counseling the development of your son’s other interests. Things he can get involved in that are more his thing. He needs to feel important for his choices (as long as they are healthy, good choices.) He needs to feel supported and like people are proud of him for him and his choices. Right now, he is living your husband’s life. He needs to live his own. You already know that. Now it’s time to make his Dad know and understand it and do the right thing.
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