The Father Son Dynamic – Is that why he pushes?

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Visit to Kennedy Space Center

I cannot figure out the relationship between my husband and my son.

Our son.

I wonder if that’s part of the problem.

Jared’s interaction with Devin (and Devin’s with Jared) is startlingly different than my own. Startlingly is my word, I suppose, as I find that it bothers me more and more as Devin gets older and the tension between the two of them becomes more constant.

To put it bluntly – Jared pushes. Hard. As a vested observer I worry that nothing Devin does is ever good enough for his father. He wants him to be tougher. Braver. He wants him to try harder. Go faster. Be stronger. More, more, more. Always, always, always. Be more. Be better.

And yet he is the one who agrees to a Monopoly marathon that is guaranteed to last for several hours.

I find myself wanting to stand between the two of them. Like a lioness protecting her cub, I mentally move in front of Devin in an effort to shield him from Jared’s disapproval. With my back to my son, I steady my gaze and warn my husband that he’s coming too close. Back off, I say without speaking.

And yet I am the one most likely to ground him and make sure the punishment sticks.

It’s not right – this protective instinct I have. I know that. It’s not fair, I’m aware, to a man who loves his son. A man who is just as much Devin’s parent as I am.

And yet over and over again I find myself playing mediator. Or advocate.

Standing from my place as the protective mother who sees so much of herself in her boy, I see the rest of the world in Jared’s assessment of Devin. I see a society that will wonder why he doesn’t want to go to a football game instead of a science fair. I see relatives who tease him about girlfriends, oblivious to his cringing at the mere mention of girls and romance. I see the faces of children his own age and the puzzled looks on their faces as they wonder at him “what’s wrong with you? Why are you like that?”

I see, at once, all the ways that Devin doesn’t fit and all the ways that he is absolutely fucking extraordinary compared to the mediocre bullshit that is allowed to run amok in this world.

And I know, also, that none of that is fair.

Because as much as Jared pushes, Devin certainly pushes back. He questions his father’s every word, openly doubting both his motives and accuracy. He seldom responds to Jared on the first attempt and is acutely aware of his ability to argue… and win. As eager as Jared is to offer Devin a constant stream of critique, Devin is equally as unwilling to accept it. Any of it.

And yet this is the man he begs to spend all of his free time with.

I don’t understand it. This strange dynamic between the two of them that is based not on affection and approval and total acceptance, but on some bizarre dance around unspoken challenges.

I wonder if this is something I am destined not to comprehend.

I question if my interference might show them each a better way – or throw off kilter some delicate balance that I’m completely unaware of. I’m plagued with guilt that my own influence – arguably the strongest in our household – has mutilated what would otherwise have been an easier, more accepting existence between the two of them.

I worry what lies ahead for them.


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  1. cris says:

    uh… Mama Bear…? Need I remind you..? Your son can break a fucking board with his fucking foot?! Sounds like he has a healthy mix of nurture and challenge.

  2. Robin says:

    Call me crazy, but I think your son is even more awesome than I thought he was before. Why you ask? Because as young as he is, he has the courage to question things….even if it is including questioning his dad. To me, this means he’s not and will not be easily led by others, and will always forge his own path in life…fantastic. :)

    I also believe that Devin and Jared will be okay – it’s that whole test of wills dad and son manly thing….weirdly healthy I think. :)

  3. rebturtle says:

    He sounds an awful lot like me at that age. I was (am) big into science. Those of us who question everything often are. Science is one of the few places where questions are not only encouraged, they are answered and even rewarded. It also means we won’t end up mindless sheep who get all of our worldly advice from the tabloids. Questioning everything is great, as long as it is done with a practical and analytical approach. We don’t want him to end up in a basement with a foil hat hiding from “the government” with a gun collection, but I think you two are well-balanced enough to keep him within the normal realms of society.

    I was never “cool,” (cool kids don’t take physics and extra math courses as electives) but I was friends with practically everyone in my 350 student graduating class and then some, even though I was decidedly “different.”

    Football? – meh. I watch the SuperBowl about every other year – for the commercials. I loved cross-country (the sport for athletic nerds). Run 3.2 miles in the hills in 17 minutes, and nobody will tease you about how manly you are. Well, maybe. I’ve won every fight I’ve ever been in by at least 5 steps….. :)

    He sounds great to me. Being cool and accepted isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be. He will find his own path, and it may not be the most popular. That’s okay though, it will be his. School is a rite of passage of sorts, and we all make our way through it.

  4. I’m like you with being a mama lioness. I can punish and yell at my kids, but the claws come out to protect if Mr. Schmitty disciplines. Just an instinct, I suppose.

    My son too, marches to the beat of his own drum. It’s hard to see others not quite understand him….children AND adults. But I admire him. I wish I could be more like that.

  5. Vic says:

    It sounds like you have the same dynamic going on as we do in our house. Worse still, I don’t think there’s any answer to it. But I think they’ll all be fine. Both our kids have better fathers than many out there, and they’re loved regardless of dynamic.

  6. Dawn says:

    I’m not a son, nor am I a father. Duh.

    But I’ve seen this dynamic many times over, as if the father wants his son to be better than he is (how many times, as kids, have we had to do something or go somewhere that had no interest for us because our parents weren’t able to do/go when they were our age?).

    In all the cases that I’ve seen, as adults these fathers and sons grew up (yeah, they BOTH grew up) to have a loving, healthy relationship with each other.

  7. SciFi Dad says:

    It’s part of becoming a man (as cliche as that sounds) to question one’s father, someone who represents (or at least should represent) what a “man” is. Devin may be starting earlier and more aggressively than some, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

    I’d get into a whole diatribe about my old man, but this isn’t the time or the place.

  8. sounds so very normal to me. devin learning how to be a good man from the man he loves most. jared challenging his son to be the best possible man he can be. and mom, always the unconditional loving protector who picks up her baby and supports him.

    devin sounds like he has the best of all worlds. exactly as it should be. i love it. too much challenge and he would be off balance, too much protection and he wouldn’t be right either. you both are doing a terrific job.

    love yinz.

  9. Wendy says:

    Sounds EXACTLY like the situation between me, my husband and our son. We are a few years ahead of you, though, and it has all worked its way out. I truly think it is a guy thing that mom’s don’t understand. I do my absolute best to not contradict Keith in front of Josh, but at times I just can’t stop the words that come pouring out of my mouth!! I always tried to make Keith aware of being more sensitive to Josh’s feelings but he often laughed at me or just ignored me. I don’t know if that worked or not, but I had to do SOMETHING. Josh just turned 12 on Monday, and he is turning into a great guy. I can see that coming. He is a boys boy thanks to Keith, but he does have a sensitive side, hopefully thanks to me.

  10. Robina says:

    I’m afraid their relationship is probably normal. Your son is freaking AWESOME and I LOVE kids that can argue and question becuase that means they are SMART, and maybe your husband isn’t ready to see his boy grow up, or he is intimidated by how smart he is and wishes he could relate more with him on the things DEVIN likes.

    I’m just saying, cause I just saw something like this on TV. And it made so much sense when I watched it. But I probably totally screwed it up.

  11. William says:

    The dynamic with the three of you works because it balances out.

    If you fill a cup with sweet honey and nectar and you break the cup, nothing but honey and nectar will come out of it.

    Your job is to fill the kid with nothing but love and kindness and the good stuff and the father’s job is to try and “break the cup” to make sure that nothing but love and kindness comes out.

  12. Kristin says:

    Babe,

    This is normal. I’m not going to say it’s a “phase”, but I cna tell you they’ll get through it.

    Devin is so extremely intelligent and sometimes it is hard for dads to understand why they want to be tucked into a book rather than playing football, Jack and Lou were the same way.

    It’ll be okay!

    And btw…..who in the heck is teasing him about girls!? He’s JUST turned 9 for God’s sake! In another 5 years they’ll think “he’s too young to think that way about girls”

  13. Avitable says:

    I know you’re going to hate this, but it’s always seemed very similar to my childhood. I was always reading and doing things that were a bit more cerebral and my dad wanted me outside playing football. Tae kwon do was a good middle ground, but my dad just never quite understood why I didn’t want to do all of the same things he did.

  14. NYCWD says:

    It sounds very similar to the relationship I had with my father growing up.

    As a child he wanted me to play stickball, I played with Legos.

    In school he wanted me to play baseball, I did extra credit in computer class.

    In high school he wanted me to play football, I did the newspaper.

    As an adult he wanted me to work for Sanitation, but I chose EMS.

    His saving grace of sanity was my brother, who did all the things he had wanted me to do… including Sanitation. Hence why I’m the momma’s boy.

    Sure, I’m not as close to my father as my brother is, but that’s the dynamic we have.

    It’s not necessarily a bad one… but it is different.

  15. Finn says:

    It’s got to be a father and son thing. Lil’ M and Mister drive me insane when they are together — they push each other’s buttons like crazy — but Lil’ M would rather be with his dad than anyone.

  16. Willie G says:

    I think this dynamic is very normal, and very healthy. My wife and I have a 13 year old that was a later in life surprise. Now he is the baby and the final child at home. My wife is fiercely protective, and we have had battles from time to time over our parental roles of this her last baby. This is made worse by the fact that my son and I knock heads continuously. We are both stubborn and willful, and he is determined not to let me get anything past him without a challenge. We argue, pick, snipe, bicker, make a lot of noise and generally disrupt life. My wife hates it when we do. Yet my son craves my time and attention, and I can’t think of another person I would rather spend time with. Other than my wife of course!! Hi Kim!!

  17. DemMom says:

    We’re trying really hard to not make our kids into perfectionists. My husband thinks that his parents pushed him too hard, and that resulted in insecurity and never feeling like he’s “enough.” But I see him doing it to our girls anyway and I get that same look, telling him without talking, to “Back off.” Tough, but hopefully everyone finds their comfort level.

  18. I could have written every word of this 14 years ago.
    I still say to my husband “You don’t UNDERSTAND what it’s like to be like us”.

    What happened? He grew up to have some of the best of both of us. He works hard and tries to do things well, like his Dad.
    He is sensitive to others like his Mom.

    I am fiercely protective of both of my kid’s emotional lives. My husband is feircely protective of their practical needs.
    They call me when they are upset and need to talk. They call him when they need help solving a problem.

  19. Robin says:

    I have a tendency to do the same thing. My son is much younger, but I can already see so much of myself in him, and I find that I tend to do the same things – step in between him and his father, for example, because I fear that his father – my husband – is being too critical or harsh toward him, or that his expectations aren’t fair. I don’t have any answers, but it’s nice to know I’m not the only mom who does this. And it’s definitely a reaction specific to my son, not so much my daughter, who is much more like her father…

  20. ~jtm says:

    I’m going to venture a guess that, looking from the outside, you may have the same relationship with your daughter. I don’t know because, duh, I don’t know you but I would guess an outsider would see the same things. I’ve only got daughters and didn’t have a mom at home to learn from. What I’ve read mothers/daughters, fathers/sons have interesting relationships and from reading others responses it appears to be a normal situation. I also know in our family I tend to be harder on the girls when they exhibit things that I see in myself that I don’t particularly like about me, does that make sense? Anyway, as my daughters therapist tells me over and over, parenting isn’t for wimps… so true.

  21. Miss Britt says:

    cris: yes. Well. OK. BUT!

    Shit, I got nothin’.

    Robin: yeahhhhhh, sometimes I wonder if that is a monumental failure of my parenting. LOL

    rebturtle: I expect that at school. I want home to be his safe place where he gets affirmed that he is, in fact, absolutely great the way he is.

    Mrs. Schmitty: man that is comforting to hear. Sincerely. I always assumed that was just another symptom of my pushy, controlling, domineering bitch personality. And woo doggie the guilt associated with THAT.

    Vic: that is definitely true.

    Dawn: see, I really *try* not to push my own desires on to the kids. It’s why I let Emma go out in public looking like a damn fool!

    But maybe some of that is necessary to avoid a complete and total hippy parenting childhood. LOL

    SciFi Dad: see? THAT right there is what I don’t want to hear Devin say when he’s an adult. I don’t want that for either of them.

    hello haha narf: we love yinz too. All of us, you know.

    Wendy: I don’t think all the pushing in the WORLD would make Devin a typical “boys boy”. I just want him – both of them – to know that is OK.

    Robina: “wishes he could relate more with him on the things DEVIN likes.”

    I don’t think you screwed it up. That makes a lot of sense and I think does play a role in their relationship.

    William: damn. I was going to say “who the hell wants to break the cup! it can just stay in there!”

    But… no. That contradicts everything I believe about why we’re here.

    *sigh*

    So, yes, I suppose you have a point.

    Kristin: lots of boys his age are VERY aware of girls already.

    Avitable: that’s not exactly what I’m talking about. But I know you relate to Devin’s interest in books, etc. vs. sports quite a bit.

    NYCWD: it sounds like you’ve got some level of acceptance of that, at least. It doesn’t sound like you resent your dad at all – so that’s comforting.

    Finn: I’m surprised to hear how common this is! Granted, my brothers didn’t grow up with a real father figure so I don’t have much but TV to compare it to.

    Willie G: same with Jared and Devin – Devin PREFERS spendign time with Jared. WTF?!?! Males are odd.

    DemMom: “My husband thinks that his parents pushed him too hard, and that resulted in insecurity and never feeling like he’s “enough.””

    See, that right there. That’s the sentiment I want to avoid.

    Little Miss Sunshine State: ‘I still say to my husband “You don’t UNDERSTAND what it’s like to be like us”.’

    This is what I do – and it makes me feel guilty – like we’re excluding Jared from some club.

    Robin: “I don’t have any answers, but it’s nice to know I’m not the only mom who does this. And it’s definitely a reaction specific to my son, not so much my daughter, who is much more like her father…”

    Ditto.

    Thank you.

    Sometimes “me too” really does make all the difference, doesn’t it?

    ~jtm it is definitely different when it comes to my daughter. In countless ways. She’s only 3, so it’s hard to say much about that yet – but I do know I have to make a CONSCIOUS effort not to put my own vanity on her, in a way I never had to do with my son.

  22. Dawn says:

    I don’t know if it’s so much a pushing of your own desires as it is wanting your child to have everything that you never had, or being the best that they can be.

    I don’t have kids. I’m basing this on the fact that my father FORCED me to take ski lessons, FORCED me to go to summer camp, wouldn’t accept the “but everyone else did bad on the test too!” line, and wanted me outside playing with the neighborhood kids instead of inside reading a book… for no other reasons than he wanted me to have everything and be the best person I could be.

    I hated skiing. The first year, I hated camp, but then I loved it. I understood the “I’m not concerned how well — or not well — the other kids are doing in school; I’m just concerned about YOU.” And, although I do like social time, I’m still happier with a book.

    I think parenting is the hardest job there is, and I think you and Jared do it well, with whatever tools and goals you have so that your kids turn out to be fabulous adults. Rest assured — your kids are going to be terrific grownups.

  23. The father/son dynamic is complicated between my husband and son. Mainly because I sometimes have trouble letting go of the control. Yes – he’s been in his life for six of his seven years but it is still hard to keep my mouth shut when I think he is being unfair (even though I am far more the bad cop than my husband is).

    Maybe Devin likes to spend time with Jared because he is trying to prove that he IS good enough. Of course, I get ditched for Dad 9 times out of 10 so that could be sour grapes talkin.

  24. Fogspinner says:

    #1 get out of my head. #2 give me back my husband and son. ;-)

    My husband and son…exactly the same. Only add in some yelling and back talking. My son is a teen after all and back talking is becoming an art form.

    Extract the wanting to spend every minute with dad. Be glad for that. My son, not so much and it really shows now. I’m totally sorry I didn’t force them together more when my son was small enough to force to do anything.

    In other words, totally natural. On all accounts. You, him, them, totally alright. If you ever wanna switch though… LOL.

  25. Lynette says:

    Yep, that father/son dynamic is a weird one. He’s not JUST your baby, he’s growing up to be a man…And lucky for him, he’s got his father to teach him. But like all teachers, he’s going to be challenged & questioned and eventually they’ll find their own balance.

  26. ali says:

    i *think* it’s normal…but i’m going on what i know about my brothers. and i don’t know if i’d use them as prime examples of normal. hehe.

  27. twinkie says:

    I loved this blog. The writing. The content. And that picture? HOLY SCHMOKES woman. You have a beautiful husband and a beautiful son!

  28. kathulhu says:

    How old is your son? I have a 3 and 4 year old and my husband is the exact opposite with them. I wish he would be more firm with them but he is so wishy washy when it comes to the boys and he lets them get away with murder! Of course, that makes me the bad guy when I have to enforce punishment, etc. I was hoping that as they got older, my husband would become more of the disciplinarian!!!

  29. One thing I have learned raising a boy is that they are different than girls. WAAAY different. And men and boys have a totally different relationship dynamic than women and girls. It is not even in the same realm.

    It is a hard struggle as a mom to figure that out. My son will be 13 on Sunday and is totally different than I am. (and also the same.)

    I bet in time they will find their own balance, it may not be what YOU want, but it should be what they NEED.

    *Hugs*

  30. Faiqa says:

    You both are great parents and from what I have seen have each contributed to most of what is extraordinary in Devin in your own ways.

  31. Intriguingly intuitive. I wonder if I’ll be that way towards my eldest daughter. I know she won’t be the popular kid – but more of the nerdy girl with one or two friends.

  32. This sounds exactly like the dynamic of my husband, daughter and I. I am constantly trying to get him to ease up on her, which it turns seems to make him push harder. It you figure it out, please let me know!

  33. Amber says:

    I’m not a parent and can’t give you any assvice on this. I know… I know… take your moment to thank God, lol :).

    Anyway. The only thing I’ll say is this, that I know to be true: my uncle is the same way with both of his sons. My dad was the same with my brother. My uncles the same with their father.

    As an observer, it seems like it’s something that dad’s instinctively do to prepare their son to be the “man of the house” someday. Because only a man can truly know what is expected of a man… same with women. Like, you can have an IDEA about it… but not fully comprehend because men and women process things so differently.

    In a manner, I think they’re preparing them for what they’ll face once they’re out in the big, bad, world. Because no matter how hard your parent(s) are on you at home? It will *NEVER* compare to what is waiting out in the “real world.”

    Anyway, that’s just kind of my thoughts from watching so many interactions between mother/daughter and father/son.

    I hope you get things figured out… or develop enough faith and trust in Jared in this particular area, that you don’t *have* to have it all figured out… you just can accept it.

    Oh! And the maternal instinct? Heard that’s pretty normal for good moms, too :).

  34. TSM says:

    I don’t think we ever really understand the dynamic between our husbands and male children. But that’s the point. That’s why they need fathers do desperately. There’s a father-shaped hole in each of them and only he can fill it.

    It’s beautiful. And envious. And amazing. And frustrating :)

  35. Summer says:

    I didn’t read all of the comments, pressed for time so sorry if this has been said. Mothers and sons have a special relationship, different from father and son. I have two sons and feel the same as you while my husband and sons would butt heads over everything. You balance each other out and as long as they communicate all will be fine. Now I have no girls but see it with my girlfriends, mothers and daughters go through a similar type of thing when the daughter gets to be about 9 or 10. The roles will be reversed. GOod luck.

  36. Sybil Law says:

    I think it’s incredibly normal and very common, too. Jared pushes out of love, and Devin pushes back because that’s his job. My brother in law goes absolutely apeshit because his son, who’s a fantastic soccer player, won’t play soccer anymore. He’d rather play games on the Wii or computer. I constantly have to stick up for the kid saying stuff like, “Hey – I’ll bet Bill Gates was no athlete, either!”. I understand where you’re coming from, because it’s natural to want to protect.
    All in all, I think you’re both doing a great job as parents; you protect, and Jared pushes! It’s a nice juxtaposition. Obviously it’s working out: Devin is absolutely gorgeous, on top of being smart, sweet, kind, sensitive, and a kick ass board breaker!

  37. Barack Obama says:

    hey, thanks for commenting on my blog, although i’m not super satisfied, every little bit of info helps. Take care! ~ Obama

  38. Kris says:

    I wonder if it’s not so much a father-son thing as it is the fact that they’re a lot alike. (I don’t know if they are – I’m just assuming based on my experience.)

    My husband and our youngest are both on the autism spectrum – he with ADHD and she with Asperger’s. (I suspect he’s undiagnosed Asperger’s, too, though.) They are almost carbon copies of each other. And they infuriate each other constantly. He’ll reprimand her for something and I’ll have to point out later that he does the exact. same. thing. in. the. same. way. And that it infuriates me! LOL!

    I remember my mother telling me how much like my father I was. And that was REALLY hard to hear. Yet, she was spot on. Bullheaded, opinionated, gooshy on the inside with a hard candy shell, a tendency to be all up front and open, yet not let people into what really goes on inside the noggin.

    We do the best we can. You and Jared are the yin and yang that Devin will find balance in.

  39. Miss Britt says:

    Dawn: it’s definitely not as easy as they make it look on TV.

    Sheila (Charm School Reject): I would not trust me with a “biology” card to play. I have a feeling that would go very, very badly.

    Fogspinner: switch? Ah damn, I thought you were offering to just TAKE them free and clear!

    Lynette: the words “man” and “Devin” have a really hard time coexisting in my brain.

    ali: hey, at least you’ve got examples.

    twinkie: *blush* thank you

    kathulhu: oh no – he isn’t DISCIPLINING him. No, no. THAT is MY job. He’s just nagging him, basically.

    themuttprincess: “it may not be what YOU want, but it should be what they NEED.”

    I’m sorry – WHAT??

    Faiqa: ah honey, thank you.

    Angie [A Whole Lot of Nothing]: I dunno, I’m making this shit up as I go.

    Blessings From Above: I’ll spread the word.

    Amber: yeah, blind acceptance is not really my strong suit.

    TSM: that’s an excellent, excellent point. I know a few boys who could attest to that better than anyone.

    Summer: you’d think the concept of “two people providing different things” vs. “one person can do it all” would not be so novel to me.

    Holy. Shit. I just figured out WHY being a “single mom” was so damn hard for my mom.

    Sybil Law: well, the gorgeous he gets from me. *clearly*

    Barack Obama: have you met my friend Faiqa?

    Kris: actually, I’ve always attributed it to the fact that they are very, very different.

  40. It is definitely a father/son thing that you will not fully understand. Dad will challenge and son will respond in his own way and both will learn about one another. The thing you will never grasp is that Dad, although he seems confident and sure, is anxious inside knowing that his challenges are shaping a young man’s mind and wondering if he’s doing it all right. Son is feeling his oats yet questioning whether he can possibly be doing anything right if it’s not exactly what his Dad would do, because Dad is supposed to know everything, right? As a dad of many kids, I am fully swamped in these feelings all the time and somehow, things are turning out alright. Jared won’t fully know if he’s been successful for many years, and every one will haunt him until that day when he sees what a man his boy has become. It’s a strange dance and you’ll just have to bite your tongue at times, but it WILL work out. They will both grow up a bit as this all plays out. For your part, you will shape his view and expectations for what he will want in a wife someday. Based on what I’ve seen in this blog, the two of you are doing just fine.
    Take Care,
    FMD

  41. vulgarwizard says:

    Earlier this month at a birthday gathering, my father told a story about me at age 2. He came home from work and found me and my mother standing toe to toe arguing about something. I was TWO. My mother was arguing with a two-year-old. My father asked what was going on, and we both turned to him and rambled hysterically about whatever it was we’d been at odds. He snatched me up, corrected my behavior, spanked my bottom, and let me run off to cry . . . then to pout . . . then to sneak over to him sitting in his recliner . . . then to ask, “can I sit wif you?” My mother was convinced that his choice in parenting would make me hate him for the rest of his life, but I surprised her by not letting it phase me for more than a few minutes. It never made sense to either of them for much different reasons. I don’t remember any of it.

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