Care and Feeding

My Husband Yells at Our Toddler Over Every Little Thing

His anger is bringing me to tears. How can I make it stop?

Dad in plaid shirt yelling.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Deagreez/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My husband and I have a 2-year-old boy, Harry, who has his terrible-two moments, but is generally good-natured. He is also very active (maybe a bit hyper), very clever, and very determined. We are both involved parents, my husband even more so now that he is working from home. I’m pretty even tempered with him, but my partner is not, and I’m not sure how to deal with it.

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He yells at him a lot. Angry yelling for a whole myriad of things. Today he yelled at Harry for rolling a toy truck down the stairs (it could scratch the wall), and I lost it. I told him it had to stop, Harry didn’t deserve it and then I cried. Poor Harry was terrified that I was crying, but he doesn’t react when he gets yelled at by my husband. He does have more meltdowns with my husband, which just precipitates more yelling. I am so tired of it. I have tried talking to him about it, it stops for a few hours, he apologizes to Harry, and then he gets frustrated by something Harry is doing and yells at him. He doesn’t yell at me. I think people who know him would find it difficult to believe he is like this with his son.

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I had no inclination that he would parent like this before I got pregnant. It’s not good for Harry, and it creates animosity between the two of us. He loves him, we both wanted him very much, so I don’t understand how he can treat him with so much disrespect. I don’t want to leave. I just want us all to live in a peaceful house.

—Can’t Take It Anymore

Dear CTIA,

This is a “straight to couples counseling” situation. Your husband is behaving abusively toward Harry, and your reasonable reaction to witnessing that abuse is further upsetting Harry (as Harry has already started to internalize that being angrily yelled at is normal parental behavior). If you have not yet said, “I know you are not an abuser, but this is abusive behavior and it’s a pattern and it needs to end now,” this is the time to say it. Focus on what he’s doing and not what it says about him as a man or a dad or a husband.

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Then say it’s time to have a third party help you both with better strategies for dealing with these moments. If he isn’t open to going, I would tell him that you are not interested in being married to someone who doesn’t care enough about you to go to couples counseling over something that brings you to tears.

I truly hope he improves. Please keep me posted.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My daughter walks nearly exclusively on her toes. She just turned 5 and has been doing it at least since age 2. Her pediatrician (a very young, inexperienced PA) told us she’d grow out of it. We insisted on a referral and subsequently spent a year going to physical therapy. The therapist said she had reflex issues and that over the course of the year, they would be resolved. She said the same thing—she’ll grow out of it.

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That was over six months ago and she still toe-walks 90 percent of the time. She’s way behind other kids her age in terms of running and jumping—she’s slow and can barely get an inch off the ground. She trips and falls walking on flat surfaces. I’m worried we’re missing something more serious and setting her back by not being more aggressive. What more can I do? Why can’t I just relax if everyone is telling me she’ll grow out of it?

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—Walking (Slowly) in Memphis

Dear WSiM,

I think you should get a consult with a developmental pediatrician, who will look at all aspects of your daughter’s development and see what’s going on. I think she absolutely still needs to be in PT (but would find a more motivated therapist and really ask them to delve into her range of motion in her ankles), and I would be interested to know if she’s hitting her expressive language milestones and how her social skills are with her peers. Toe-walking is a soft marker for autism (I did it, two of my kids do it, my brother did it until he was 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds and his arches could not longer handle it), but idiopathic toe-walking is found in between 5 to 12 percent of “normal” children and in those situations it does pass in time.

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Since your daughter has other physical delays, I would listen to your instincts on this one and keep pushing until someone takes you seriously. My child’s pediatrician was the head of pediatrics at a very highly regarded teaching hospital and missed the diagnosis, whereas a developmental pediatrician does exactly this, every day, and provided me some much-needed clarity and resources to better understand and support my kid. I know I’m prone to “could be autism!” because of my background, but girls are so underdiagnosed and present so differently, I just never want to let an autistic girl slip through the cracks and then develop anxiety as she tries to mask it throughout grade and high school.

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• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

We’re doing baby-led weaning with our first baby who is 6 months old, mainly because that’s what my parents did with me and my siblings, plus my family doctor recommended it, and the baby despises being spoon fed. We don’t want to give rice cereal either, honestly because it’s really processed.

We’ve been getting questions from friends and family asking about our baby, and when they hear about eating they immediately jump to rice cereal! I usually say, “No, she hasn’t tried that,” but my MIL is getting pushy, plus she thinks we’re insulting my SIL for giving her child rice cereal. Fed is fed, give it if you want, I say; it’s just not for us. How do I tell them to back off without making it sound like we’re self-righteous?

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—No to Rice Cereal

Dear NtRC,

Well, your mother-in-law is being a dick, so I’m not really concerned about you being a little rude to her in return. The next time she brings up rice cereal, act extremely confused and say, “I could have sworn we had this exact conversation the last time you were over! Anyway, we’re not interested in doing rice cereal.”

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You have no idea if your sister-in-law actually feels insulted or if your mother-in-law is a sleeper agent for Big Rice Cereal, so I wouldn’t worry about her at all unless your sister-in-law brings it up. My goal for you: Never have more than one conversation about rice cereal with the same person. Any subsequent attempts to reengage can be met with the above look of confusion and “we’ve covered this.” If it’s on the phone, say you have to dash and get off the line. If it’s in person, just leave the room with the baby.

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Happily, the rice cereal phase will end soon enough, and then you will get to hear exciting new opinions about toilet training and whether your baby’s head has a flat spot because you insist on putting them down on their back, like a witch.

What the Hell Are We Supposed to Do About College This Year?

Jamilah Lemieux and Elizabeth Newcamp are joined by Natalie Hopkinson for this week’s episode of Slate’s parenting podcast, Mom and Dad Are Fighting.

Dear Care and Feeding,

In a recent column, you discouraged a grandparent from “tapping/smacking” a toddler’s hand and suggested an alternative for that particular situation, but you didn’t opine on spanking in general. What’s your stance?

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—Just Curious

Dear JC,

Spanking is an effective, time-honored, traditional form of sexual foreplay between consenting adults with a predetermined safe word, and I support it wholeheartedly. For kids? No. That would be wildly inappropriate. It’s 2020. Turn off their data plan or take away their toys or something.

— Nicole

More Advice From Slate

At the age of 21, I dropped out of college midway through my senior year to take care of my ailing mother. My father continued to work while I cared for her day in and day out for two and a half years. I borrowed $4,500 from my father to pay for my expenses during that time. After she passed away, my father collected her life insurance money and began receiving a hefty pension from her state job. Imagine my surprise when I not only received nothing from her life insurance money but was also presented with the bill for the money I borrowed! It’s been more than a year now, and while I have not paid any of the money back, he never fails to bring up the fact that I “owe” him. Should I just pay the money and keep quiet, or should I present him with my own bill for the two and a half years of my life that I gave up?

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