This is not my idea of how a father should be treated
PROBLEM: I’ve just come back from my family holiday in Spain feeling angry and used. I do not like the sun, and spending time lying around on deck chairs is my idea of hell. But again this year my wishes were dismissed and we did the usual thing of “keep the peace” and my annual two-week holiday was spent appeasing three teenage children.
As the father, I am the only person in the family who is actually earning; my wife is at home and she has always had the stance that the rearing of children is her full-time occupation. I support this position, but they are all mid-to-late teens now, and I am feeling more and more like the provider of money and nothing else in this family.
This year, I said that we should separate out the family holiday, with the kids going to summer camps while my wife and I could go somewhere where we could sightsee and visit interesting places. There was huge protest, and in the end I gave in. After spending a huge amount of money I did not enjoy a single second. Everywhere we went was the choice of the children, and if we didn’t agree there would be such huge arguments that it would not be worth it.
I feel that my only worth is to provide money, and it was a relief to go back to work. This is not my idea of how a father should be treated. When I was growing up, the children did what they were told and were not asked for their opinion. I think the pendulum has spun too far in the other direction.
ADVICE: There seem to be two problems here: a perceived lack of respect for you and what you do for the family; and a lack of negotiation and assertiveness skills. There is a positive aspect to this: you have the money to spend on a family holiday abroad, and the teenagers still want to go with you.
This will probably only last a few more years at most, so there is still the chance to enjoy watching them develop into adults while also trying to figure out how best to influence them.
There is an opportunity here to demonstrate to your children, and to yourself, how to operate from a position of mutual respect and not always take the easy option of “anything for a quiet life” (although on occasions that tack is perfectly acceptable too).
What are the children learning from you about fairness and meeting the needs of the whole group? Do you think they are benefiting from having a father who is feeling “angry and used”? No doubt you are acting from a place that is full of resentment and defensiveness, and it is unlikely they will approach you and ask how they can help.
Perhaps you and your wife could first have a discussion about the qualities your children need to learn to help them to become self-sufficient adults. Then you might talk about how these qualities might be practised in your home. For example, you could decide that “following your word” is a skill and a quality that will be good for everyone both in work and personal relationships, and you could then begin by practising this yourself.
If you say no, then follow it through to its conclusion: very quickly you will refine your words and only say no if you really mean it. This will take some time to develop into a habit, so patience and perseverance are needed.
Then you might look at developing negotiating skills with your children: family meetings can be called where you all put what you want on the agenda. A good idea is to start by questioning and listening. This means that the children feel you really understand where they are coming from, but do not leave the meeting until they have also fully heard and understood where you are coming from.
It is good if everyone goes away and thinks about the situation before coming back for another discussion. Out of this usually comes something new that is not either party’s solution. A solution that has inclusive aspects for everyone is the best one. An annual rota could be organised that alternates between parents’ and teenagers’ holiday priorities. Either way, the solution must be reasonable and agreed upon. If this takes many meetings, then so be it. You will find that taking charge and negotiating will increase your confidence and garner respect from your children.