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My wife and I have been married for about 7 years, we have two sons, one is five years old and the other is eighteen months old. I disagree with the way my wife disciplines and reacts to our five year old when he misbehaves. He is no angel and often misbehaves and doesn't listen.

Her demeanor towards him in general when she wants him to do something is very unpleasant, when getting him ready for school or for bed she barks orders at him like a drill instructor which he almost immediately defies. This then sparks off a series of escalations which results in both of them screaming at each other like it is two children having an argument instead of a child and an adult.

Also when they fight like this my wife compares him unfavorably to his younger brother, which I think is causing resentment towards his younger brother, and says things about him as a person instead of his behavior. "I've had enough of you" being something that is said daily.

It is getting to the point now where he is only listening and doing as he is told when I am asking him, he is defiant of his mother all the time and when he is being punished by her, she is punishing him when she is still very angry and the punishments are not suitable IMO, often too harsh and numerous.

I don't think she would do anything to hurt him but there are two incidents that I am concerned about and I don't know if I should be worried about them. She dislocated his elbow when she pulled him very hard by the arm towards her when he was disobeying her and another time she grabbed him by the forearm and squeezed it hard enough that her nails broke the skin and he had four nail shaped cuts on his forearm.

I have tried to talk to her about this situation but she cannot accept any criticism or advice, or ever admit she does things wrong and sees it as an attack on her and lashes out at whoever tries to help her. I think there might be some sort of personality disorder.

I do not know what to do, I have been thinking about this for some time and cannot find any way I can change things, even if I go as far as leaving her she will almost certainly get custody of the children and the situation will continue. Any advice would be appreciated.

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    Have you ever suggested counseling or parenting classes? Books? Internet articles? How did she respond? – anongoodnurse Oct 24 '15 at 19:08
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    Your child is currently being abused. You need to seek professional help. You need to protect your child from this abuse. You need to tell the abusive parent that any further contact with the child must be safe for that child. You need to do this now, today. – DanBeale Oct 24 '15 at 23:41
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    And you need to talk to a lawyer, especially taking your past questions into account: parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/18647/… and parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/18803/… which might indicate that your son's personality already suffers. You should document these violent events, possibly with photos and copies of the medical records (dislodged ellbow). Honestly: Your assumption that your wife won't hurt him is evidently false, physically and psychologically. – Stephie Oct 25 '15 at 5:01
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    I'm not saying that your wife doesn't need help, on the contrary, but your son and possibly his sibling need prtoection. There are many possible explanations (not "justifications"!) for your wife's behaviour but you need to get the children out of the line of fire first. Then you can support her in finding help, if you are able to, emotionally and otherwise. – Stephie Oct 25 '15 at 5:09
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    Stephie: that sounds like an answer. – Acire Oct 25 '15 at 11:55
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What you have described is well within the standards for child abuse. I am the first to encourage disciplining a child, even spanking, but this should never be done in anger. What I tell my children is that if they are angry, they should not even touch the other person. An adult should know better. By your own accounts, she has twice now inflicted physical harm on the child - a dislocated elbow is really bad, and I am tempted to think that the fingernails digging in was no accident, but accident or not, this is clearly physical abuse.

Further, the yelling and personal attacks that you describe are well within the bounds of emotional abuse. In our house, we have some rules. One of them is "never compare one person to another", and another is "never make 'you are' type statements." You can criticize what a person did, and say how it hurt you or why you think the action is wrong, but the minute you say "you are..." you are attacking their identity, the core of their being, not just their actions. This is abusive and wrong.

You can rest assured that the wounds and scars your wife has inflicted on your child will haunt him for the rest of his life. You need to stop this.

I would strongly advise you to report all this to child protective services. Record one of the shouting matches and take this to the authorities before your child suffers further damage. Report to them the instances of physical abuse. You must have medical records from the time his elbow was dislocated. If it was just the shouting matches, I might have advised differently, but this is obviously out of control and will only get worse.

Together with the authorities, you can put a lot more pressure on your wife to get some help. Either she stops this and gets treatment for whatever problems she is having, or she will lose the kids - with proof of child abuse, it is basically impossible that she would be given custody of the children. But, be ready to be there for your wife and help her through this. With help, she could come out of this a better, stronger woman, with more peace than she ever thought possible.

I know that going to CPS is very scary - I have been there, and it was super-scary, even though my wife was not the abuser. I cannot imagine what it is like for you. You have a tough road ahead, but you must move to protect your child immediately.

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I do not know what to do, I have been thinking about this for some time and cannot find anyway I can change things, even if I go as far as leaving her she will almost certainly get custody of the children and the situation will continue. any advice would be appreciated.

Your wife either has a personality disorder, she comes from an emotionally abusive home (and this is all she knows), or both. You cannot "change" her behavior. Only she can do that, and only if she "wants to" (i.e. has a good reason to.)

A dislocated elbow happens to a lot of kids in the same manner that you described, and it is not an actionable offense. It's called a nursemaid's elbow, and it happens because young children's elbows are prone to it. I don't think there's a judge in the land who would take kids away for it.

The fingernails breaking the skin, though, is a different matter. It really does indicate the extent of her inability to control her actions.

What to do depends on you. Your child, as pointed out by others, is being emotionally abused.

If you are staying because you think your children are better off with two parents, you need to rethink this. Your child is suffering, and it will affect him his entire life. Something needs to change for him.

If you would gladly leave to save your kids, but are afraid of losing custody, start gathering evidence now. Use a recording device when she starts losing it. Store the evidence where she can't erase it. Contact a good lawyer. Follow their advice.

If you are hoping to keep things together and just want her to change, look back on your experience. If nothing has worked before, that should tell you something.

Good luck with this difficult situation.

  • Even a dislocated elbow may be an actionable offense - at least when viewed in context. For example WebMD.com says that "[...] physical abuse is sometimes the cause of this injury[...]". – sleske Oct 28 '15 at 21:12
  • Also "use a recording device" may not work - in many jurisdictions, covert recordings are not admissible as evidence, or even constitute an offence in themselves. A good lawyer (or some type of experienced counselor) is probably the best option. – sleske Oct 28 '15 at 21:13
  • @sleske - In context, maybe. That's a firm maybe. In the Emergency Department, nursemaid's elbows are not reported as child abuse. (Spiral fractures? Almost without fail. Any fracture with a story that doesn't match the injury? Always.) It is common and too easy to accomplish. People are counseled on how to avoid it. That's it. – anongoodnurse Oct 28 '15 at 21:55
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    @sleske - Not "covert"? She won't like it. It might even make her think twice. But an adult who knows she's being recorded who still behaves abusively is a mighty potent indication that she is out of control. – anongoodnurse Oct 28 '15 at 21:55
  • Yes, it's probably better to record openly, even ignoring the legal aspect. It does send a strong message that you disagree with what is happening. – sleske Oct 29 '15 at 9:46
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Have you considered your wife might be having a burnout? I can't judge you're situation but only speak from personal experience. We're on the rebound a situation that i could have worded in a very similar question.

Kids want attention and if you have a burnout from your kids then that's the one thing you can't give. Which means kids will do anything to get attention until the situation explodes. Even in places where both husband and wife pitch in 80% of the chores are done by women. And I'm not talking about playing soccer in the back yard for an hour in the weekends i'm talking about changing diapers, cleaning up the mess, getting kids ready for school, doing dishes, washing clothes, etc.It's a job that never ends so burnout isn't that strange.

A few things i did are

1) I rearranged my working hours so i would be the one getting up in the morning. This means anything that needs to be done until all the kids go to school i'll do. There is no expectation, blaming, or anything like that. the mornings are mine. Also i get up half an hour earlier just to take the pressure out of getting ready.

2) Get professional help. Burnout/depression isn't something you 'just walk off'. Not if it's the serious kind. This help needs to be twofold a) How can you and your wife deal with the stress b) How can you and your wife correct your 5year old in more effective ways. And yes you need help as much as she does. If the way i raise kids cause my wife to be less effective then that doesn't help. You need to act as a team. Also 'you do it wrong now go get counseling' is never a good message. 'our son isn't behaving as we want him, lets get some help' is a much easier one. And if you have a real professional he'll look at the whole picture.

3) Make sure you save your relationship with your wife. What does she need from you. If you're on different sides of an argument then it's much harder for her to listen. However if the two of you still love eachother (and have time for eachother etc) then it's much easier to create a situation where you can talk.

4) Take a vacation. Going to school in the morning is always stressful in our house. Find an activity for all of you that isn't stressful. Can you plan a vacation where everyone relaxes? (except you, sorry). It's much easier for your kid to behave and for your wife to be a good mother if they are doing something they both enjoy. Ringing schoolbells that makes you feel that you're running late doesn't help

Of course this all is assuming you want to recover from this situation as a family and you havn't decided to just take the kids and move out. Sometimes that's the only way to go. However if the situation can be turned around that's much better for all involved. It worked for me and my family. I hope you can have that too.

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As a person who has bipolar, it sounds like she possibly has some sort of disorder like even bipolar. But for a grown woman to scream at a child like that is not normal, and for her to in any way physically hurt your child, you need to ask yourself something, do you really think that it is healthy for her to treat your child like this? She also seems to be escalating to physical violence, you need to tell her either she gets help or she can lose her children. Your first priority should always be your child's safety.

  • Exactly! Shouting and screaming at children is THE WORST THING YOU CAN DO to them. They are humans - not robots. – Fandango68 Mar 17 '17 at 2:19
  • I think this answer is too easy. This reads too much like 'yell at a child and you are bipolar' I think there are many more options. – Batavia Mar 11 '18 at 8:54

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