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Dear Emuna: Overachiever Dad, Laidback Son
Dear Emuna

Dear Emuna: Overachiever Dad, Laidback Son

My husband is totally down on our son and it's affecting our marriage.


Dear Emuna,

I have a 14 year-old son who is not very motivated to succeed at school. This is very hard on my husband who is the classic overachiever. He is always pushing our son to do his homework, fighting with him over his grades, and in other ways expressing his negative feelings and frustration. Needless to say, this is creating a very tense atmosphere in our home and affecting my relationship with my husband. I’m not sure how to improve the situation.

Loving Wife AND Mother

Dear Wife and Mom,

Without the benefit of any other information, I am going to judge your husband favorably and assume that he loves your son and wants what’s best for him. And that he is up against some issues that he doesn’t understand or doesn’t know how to resolve.

It seems clear that your son is a different personality type than your husband. It is difficult for a highly motivated parent to come to terms with a more laidback child. Your husband needs to recognize that just as his drive to succeed is an innate part of his personality, your son’s attitude is an innate part of his. That is not going to change and should be accepted and not judged.

Since some level of accomplishment at school is necessary in order to graduate, your son might benefit from some external incentive. We are never too old for bribes. The price just gets higher! Pick a few areas to work on and reward him for success on those papers, projects or behaviors.

What keeps our children connected to us is not our authority but our love.

All parents need to understand one important idea that my teacher taught me. The age of blind obedience to parental authority is long over. “All you have is your personal relationship.” This doesn’t mean there are no rules. It means that what keeps our children connected to us is not our authority but our love, our relationship. This takes on an even greater level of importance when our children enter the treacherous waters of adolescence. Gently point out to your husband that it is NOT worth damaging his relationship with his son (which he is definitely doing) over homework. Hire tutors if necessary but take homework out of the parent-child interaction. School eventually ends. You want the relationship to last.

Each of our children is unique – with their own strengths and weaknesses, some similar to us and some very different. One of the biggest parenting challenges is to recognize, appreciate and support what’s special about each of our children, even when we don’t understand it, even when don’t relate to it, even when they are very dissimilar to us. We may even learn something from them in the process.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

My husband has a priority in his life that separates our family in many ways – gambling. He plays poker over 16 hours per week. What is the correct way to handle this?

Poker Widow

Dear Poker Widow,

I beg to differ. Your husband doesn’t have a “priority” that separates your family in many ways; he has an illness. He has a gambling addiction. He needs help and he should get it quickly before he loses money your family can’t afford to lose, gets involved with the wrong type of people or, God forbid, does serious damage to his relationship with you and the children.

-- Emuna

Dear Emuna,

I am having my first child soon. I am also a full time university student (in Israel). I am having a difficult time negotiating with myself about how to handle impending parenthood. On one side, I know that having a degree will help me feel accomplished and that it would provide me with opportunities that I would not have otherwise. However, I want to be a full time mom. I do not think my husband and I can cope with only one income and I do not want to go "stir-crazy" staying at home all the time, yet I cannot imagine handing my child over to a babysitter for a few hours while I go off to study. Basically, I need help on how to reconcile the two things I want without having to sacrifice being a good mom or getting a degree (and a better job later).


Dear Conflicted,

Welcome to the club! What you are describing is the dilemma that confronts almost every woman today (please see my recent article on the book Torn) and there are no magic answers. Everyone needs to find their own balance. The only advice I can offer you is to just sit back and relax. You won’t be able to resolve this issue before your child is born. You can’t possibly anticipate how you are going to feel (physically and emotionally), what your energy level will be or what kind of new options will present themselves. It certainly can’t hurt to finish your degree but if that seems difficult after you give birth, then perhaps you can take some time off and the school may be accommodating; many are. Just enjoy your new child. Think creatively, speak to your friends and you will eventually find your way. And probably be just as tormented as the rest of us…

-- Emuna

July 9, 2011

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) Richard Marcus, August 14, 2012 2:15 AM

Yor kids time is coming....

When your son sees the girl or woman who will drive him crazy with love for the rest of his life, you will be amazed at how quickly he will shape up and ship out on all his immature ideas. Until then, let him fly and as long as he doesn't materially hurt himself, leave him alone to go his own way even though you believe - and probably do - know better. Once he meets the right person, he'll grow up. Just wait and you will see. I know it's hard to believe, but he won't have his 14-year-old-mentality for the rest of his life! Take a deep breath, and pray she'll come along soon!!

(3) shaul, July 25, 2011 4:08 PM

messed up answer

Emunah, Here is the answer I would expect Dear wife and mother, You sighed your letter very properly, and in the correct order, first wife, then mother. Yes, your maternal instincts are trying to protect your child on the expense of your relationship. Let's fast forward: in ten years time, after your son will leave the nest, will you two be wounded vultures or loving doves? You set the stage, and the track you chose. Talk it out with your spouse (and if necessary with an agreed counselor) till you have an agreed strategy. And put together a common plan, and make sure you have one consistent front towards your son. Children are expert at manipulating and playing one parent against the other. Your husband is your first commitment. It is likely that the clash between your son and spouse is not because of dissimilarity, often similar types clash on small differences.The similarities and the common ground. are the basis for working together, and for affection. There may be an underling emotional issue, and the official reason for the fight is often not the real reason. It is not what they say, but what they think. Be careful! Without being familiar with your case, an overachieving father and underachieving son is typical to an ADHD situation. Your spouse may be overachieving as a hyperfoused ADHD on a subject that excites and interests him, your son is (surprise- surprise) not exited about math, geography, and science, and is turned off! Two flip sides to the same personality. This is a guess, but it is worth investigating. Do not by any means start diagnosing your spouse! If your son is diagnosed with ADHD you can decide to see if his father (or mother) has ADHD too, (is it wise?) You don't have to be hyper to be ADHD, you can be distracted or disorganized (or both). Look into the possibility; get help from the school counselor. Another possibility is that your son may have a learning disability. Again consult the school staff.

(2) Anonymous, July 14, 2011 4:52 AM

Validate husbands, love children

I disagree and think your advice is not helpful. The gambler wife of course knows her husband needs help. Isn't that obvious. She's asking what to do in respect to his relationship w/the kids. A woman must show her children that she loves and respects her husband. Through seeing peace and not conflict she brings the Shechina into the home. And her children will be whole well adjusted people. She should not talk about her husband's addiction nor do the children need to know what he does. If she raises them with good values and love, and validates and loves her hubby she will bring tremendous bracha into her life and will have nachos in all areas. Same for the overachiever husband. The mother should tell the son that he's lucky his father cares so much and at the end of the day he should give his dad a hug, thank him for his advice, and say he'll try the best he can. She's the one with the pressure. She should remind her hubby that if he really and trully wants his son to be "successful" in life than he must show that he also loves him for who he is not what he achieves. And that if he does this his son will definitely be an acheiver in his own way. All this without pressure or anger or disagreements especially in front of the kid. Just validate her husband and love them both. ie. when they're doing home work together, put a plate of cut vegies in front of them. Eating together creates comradarie.

(1) Kevin Cullis, July 12, 2011 3:05 PM

14 year old and dad's personalities

I 100% agree with your comments about the Type A personality versus any other personality. Once my wife and I took the Myers-Briggs, StrengthFinder, and DISC tests my wife exclaimed after seeing the results, "You mean to tell me you've not been doing all those things you do just to make me mad?!" (I think differently than she does) Once she realized that we're both different in personalities and talents we've both worked hard on finding out how to motivate each other based on the OTHER'S personalities, not our OWN personalities. What motivates ME is completely different than what motivates my wife. I still wish my Dad would learn this, he refuses, thinking he's always right in his way of thinking. When you understand who G-d made you and how we each fit into His world, we're better off. Thanks Emuna.

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