Q – I see some qualities in my son that remind me of my ex-husband. Even though I don’t mean to, when he starts acting like my Ex, I over-react. I’m so worried that my son is going to turn out just like him. I know it is not fair and I should stop comparing them. I’m sure my fears are creating unnecessary pressure for my son. Any suggestions?
A – You’ve raised an issue that can easily put the most even keeled parent on edge. First, the fact that you’re aware of your tendency to compare less than desirable traits between your son and your ex is half the battle. And you’re right; it isn’t fair to your son. Kids usually view negative comparisons as direct insults and over time they have the potential to do some serious damage.
Instead of trying to head off your son’s “ex like” behavior, I’d advise taking another approach.
Usually when something elicits a strong reaction there’s more to it than meets the eye. I’d encourage you to dig a little deeper and take a hard look at why it’s a problem for you. Is the behavior touching on an old hurt or unresolved anger? Is it related to an ongoing point of contention between the two of you or perhaps a reminder of what wasn’t working in your relationship?
If you’re having trouble getting to the root of what’s fueling the fire, then ask a close friend or family member (who can be objective) to help you get some perspective on the situation.
While you’re thinking things through, focus on separating your feelings from your son’s behavior. When your son does something that reminds you of Dad, do your best to take an emotional step back and not react. Easier said than done, I know. It may help to ask yourself if this behavior cropped up on it’s own, meaning it wasn’t related to your Ex, as a concerned parent how would you address it? Chances are you would probably handle it differently.
If the offending matter relates to a value issue you may want to consider giving your son some food for thought. Consider raising questions about the behavior that offer your son an opportunity to evaluate the implications of his actions or veiws. You might say something like…
“I’m not sure I understand why you did that, can you help me understand what’s going on?”
“How do you think this belief will influence other people’s opinion of you?
“ I don’t agree with your perspective, why don’t you tell me your thoughts about it and then I’ll share mine.”
The key is to get him talking and thinking which will give him the opportunity to evaluate on his own. Keep in mind that if your son knows a certain behavior drive you nuts, you may find it becomes more frequent, especially when you are enforcing a rule or setting limits.
As for worrying about your son turning out like your Ex, don’t lose sight of the fact that the way your son sees Dad isn’t the way you see him. It’s important to help your son have a balanced perspective of both of his parents. If you’re having a hard time connecting with your Ex’s more positive qualities, try shifting your perspective by making list of the things that your son appreciates or enjoys about his Dad.
Bottom line no matter how much you love your kids, divorced or not, it’s not uncommon for kids to develop habits or qualities that grate on our very last parenting nerve. By managing your reaction, you stand to gain more ground than lose it.