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Dear Emuna: Overachiever Dad, Laidback Son

July 7, 2011 | by Emuna Braverman

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

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