Dear Lauren,

I'm 13 and for a while now my dad has been putting me down about my weight and how lazy I am. I'm not “skinny,” but I'm not “fat,” either. I have a brother and a stepsister and, for example, we were in the living room and we were talking about my dad’s army training and my siblings and I were like: "I could do that!" in a joking way. And he said to my other siblings "Anna* (that’s me) couldn't do that. She's too lazy."

And there are more examples of this, like: I recently had my eyebrows waxed, but before that they were quite large. My siblings, my dad, my stepmum and I were out on a walk and my dad picked up a leaf and put it against his eyebrows then said "Anna, look! Your eyebrows used to look like this!" I got annoyed but he said it was just a joke. He's always doing stuff like that. Is he just joking or could it be something more?

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

A very important point to remember is that everyone – including you – is deserving of respect.

Therefore, what your father does to you is wrong because it doesn’t reflect respect for you. I don’t mind saying that parents sometimes do things that are wrong (and teachers, too), because we parents (and teachers) are only human. We make mistakes.

As I often tell my own kids: “Sometimes we learn from people’s behavior how not to behave.”

You can talk to your father about the fact that his comments hurt your feelings. After his next “joke,” you would say something like, “Dad, I want us to have a good relationship because I love you. It hurts me when you say things like that. It makes me feel bad. Can you please stop?”

He might say “Aw, come on, Anna, you know I’m just kidding you!” After which you can reply, “I know you say you’re joking, but your words really hurt me, and I wish you would treat me with more respect, because I love you.” Notice how you keep telling him you love him, and just respectfully ask him to stop doing the behavior which hurts you.

You should know that your father may never have been taught that teasing can hurt. You mentioned his army training. Army men are not known for their emotional intelligence, nor for their empathy, nor for mushy-gushy lovey-dovey gentleness. You might be the first person who has ever told your father that his “teasing” is painful.

You have a right to be treated well. This week, I had a new client, who told me that her boyfriend often leaves crumbs all over the counter, doesn’t shower regularly, burps at the table in her presence, frequently gets drunk, doesn’t have a job, doesn’t speak kindly to her…I asked her, “Do you know how a girlfriend/wife/daughter is supposed to be treated?” (If it had been a man, I would have asked, “Do you know how a boyfriend/husband/son is supposed to be treated?”)

She looked at me blankly for a few moments. Then she tentatively suggested, “With respect?”

Who taught her to be so tentative with regard to her expectations of being treated with basic decency? We went on to discuss, “What does being treated with respect mean, practically speaking? What would it look like if your boyfriend treated you with respect?”

Of course, we came up with: he would be giving, kind, concerned about your welfare, listen to your ideas, look at you when you talk, he would be someone who is responsible about fiscal welfare and personal hygiene and manners…. What was amazing to me was the fact that she just accepted as the norm her boyfriend’s disrespectful behavior towards her.

Anna, you deserve better. You might not be able to change your father’s behavior, but I at least want you to know how you deserve to be treated – how you should be treated. Because the last thing I would want for you is for you to replicate your father’s disrespectful behavior in your life by choosing a boyfriend or a husband who treats you without basic respect.

You deserve to be treated with all the respect due to a child of God.