Ask Sahaj: My husband yells about how my daughter is a ‘bad mom’


Dear Sahaj: I have been married to my second husband for 21 years. We both have children from our first marriages. We have a happy, loving and respectful marriage except for one infrequent but volatile issue. On a couple of occasions he has become very angry when my daughter allowed her middle and high school age children to miss a few school days for a family trip. She always notifies the school and asks for assignments, and all three are excellent students.

My daughter is a conscientious mom, and otherwise has a good relationship with my husband. We usually find out about their vacations through Facebook. His reaction is to yell about what a bad mother she is, insist that I tell her how wrong she is and basically order her never to do this again. He says that his own mother would have done just that. He has always had very strong opinions, shared by his parents, on how important education is, and how it is unacceptable to miss school, except for illness.

He can usually see the gray areas in life, but he insists this is right vs. wrong. I agree with him that education is very important, but I think occasional exceptions for family travel are reasonable. He has a temper, is not flexible and can get really upset when things go wrong, but normally calms down after 20 minutes or so. He does not use insults or name-calling, walks away and does not hold a grudge afterward, which I appreciate.

He says that his family dealt with problems by arguing and yelling, and I know he is trying, mostly successfully, not to repeat that pattern. I do not like confrontation; my reaction has been to say quietly that it is her decision and then not engage further. Should I say more in the moment, e.g., that I would never tell him how to deal with his adult children, or that he and I have no authority to tell my daughter what to do? It bothers me when he accuses my daughter of being an unfit mother, and I regret that I have not defended her.- Frustrated Spouse

Frustrated Spouse: Regardless of how occasional these outbursts are, your husband’s reaction is explosive, and you need to have a larger conversation about it.

It may not be productive to talk to him in the moment, but you also do not have to silently sit through his anger or yelling. Maybe it’s not name-calling, but yelling at you for 20 minutes is not healthy, and clearly, he still has work to do on how he manages his emotions.

You are allowed to determine what you need when he gets angry. Maybe it’s having a code word that signals he needs to step away, or maybe it’s calmly telling him, “I’m not going to have a conversation with you about this when you’re yelling” and walking away. Decide what you are willing to accept and communicate it. No matter how self-aware he is of his past, or how easily he can move on after his emotional outburst, I imagine this still takes a toll on you.

Additionally, talking after he has calmed down will be important. Avoid making it a tit-for-tat (i.e. “I don’t tell you how to deal with your children”) because that will likely lead him to be defensive and could make the conversation unproductive.

Broach the conversation with a focus on your feelings as his partner. This allows you to explain how this makes you feel rather than debating who is right in how they parent. After all, the issue is less about parenting and more about communication. You want to move away from blame, use I-statements, and focus solely on what is between the two of you. This may sound like, “When you criticize my daughter, I feel like you are criticizing me as a parent.”

You’ll also want to explicitly address the difference in parenting styles you have. You could say something like, “It seems like we differ on our parenting approach. I value giving my daughter her independence to make choices on how she raises her kids. I understand that might be different from how you were raised. How can we agree to disagree and handle these differences?”

It’s possible your perspectives on your daughter’s parenting style will always differ. So it’s important that you both recognize there may not be a way to “solve” this, while having explicit, agreed upon rules on communication and emotional expression. This may require a firm boundary that your daughter’s parenting isn’t up for discussion.

You say you don’t like confrontation but your husband’s emotional outbursts are already one. Does your tendency to stay quiet through these outbursts indicate past experiences you should process? How was conflict resolution modeled to you growing up? You’re not responsible for doing the work for your husband, but by not addressing his behavior you lose an opportunity to build a bridge, and collaborate with him to navigate a recurring issue in your relationship.

I’ll also ask the questions you’re likely avoiding to keep the peace: How do his reactions make you feel? Are there other similar behaviors of his that also concern you? Does this criticism happen with anyone else? What do you need from your husband for this issue to feel resolved to you?

Advocating for yourself in the relationship doesn’t challenge your happy marriage, but rather it creates room for you in it. You can love your husband, and you can set boundaries around what you’re willing to tolerate from him.

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Sahaj Kaur Kohli. Photo Twitter @SahajKohli

Sahaj Kaur Kohli is a mental health professional and the creator of Brown Girl Therapy and Culturally Enough, communities focused on people with bicultural identities and immigrant parents. You can submit questions here:



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