Relationship Connection: Working with ‘Mother Deaf’ Children

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I’m a stay-at-home mom and my kids hardly listen to me when I ask them to do things like chores. My husband comes home and they listen to him. I tell him about this and he doesn’t do anything to make it better. He just gets mad at the kids for not listening to me and then they respond to me less when he’s not around. We’re not sure what to do.


It is certainly frustrating when your own children won’t respond to your voice. Although we often joke about the term “mother deaf” when referring to children who tune out mom, it often generates feelings of powerlessness to be on the receiving end of such blatant disregard.

It’s encouraging to hear that your husband has the ability to get the children to respond to him. Even though that doesn’t magically solve the problem of them not responding to you, it does prove that they most certainly have the ability to respond to a parent.

There are a few ways you can go about fixing this problem. One way will involve examining your personal relationship with each child. Another will encourage you to examine your follow-through with your children. Finally, we’ll discuss how to enlist your husband to help you both create a united front with your children.

It’s likely that you and your children are locked into a self-reinforcing negative cycle that keeps both of you stuck. In other words, each player in this drama interacts with the other in a way that just guarantees that they’ll never get out of the gridlocked pattern.

Let’s imagine how this scenario might look.  You’ve hit your limit with a child and approach him to do his chore. Your tone is impatient and irritated. He responds with eye-rolling and silence. This would then lead to you raising your voice and using more force and threats to get him to respond. He’ll dig in his heels even further and you’ll both be stuck in this back-and-forth with no hope for a solution. This will create feelings of resentment and a desire to be distant from him. Your interactions with him will probably just feel tense and annoyed most of the time.

While you’re working on getting your children to respond to your expectations and requests, it will be important to continue working on building your relationship with each of them. Even though you may not want to be around them much, look for ways that you can build your connection to them. Many parents use the withdrawal of their time and attention as a punishment to their children who disregard them. This is rarely, if ever, a good idea.

Instead, spend time with them as much as you can. You’ll get more out of them when they feel like you’re genuinely interested in them as individuals.

Next, I encourage you to examine your follow-through with your children. Parents who are discouraged and frustrated with their children often stop following through on their requests and threats, believing it’s pointless. This takes focus and persistence on your part, but it’s well worth it.

I’m not a big fan of threats. They just kill our credibility as parents when we do nothing. Instead, I recommend you figure out what needs to happen in each situation and then commit to do the same thing every time. You won’t have to say anything to them after you’ve explained it to them. Just take action. The saying “action speaks louder than words” will become a reality in your parenting and get you immediate results.

If you need help coming up with consequences that you can enforce with your follow-through, speak with someone who has more objectivity about your situation, such as a family member or friend.

Finally, let’s talk about how to get your husband involved. Even though he clearly feels just as powerless, if you both get on the same page with the follow-through, then the children will come to expect consistency from each of you. Let him know specifically how he can help you. Tell him you understand what he’s trying to do when he yells at the kids. If you acknowledge his intentions, then he’ll be more likely to work with you on a better solution.

It will take some time to get both your husband and your children used to these changes. Be patient with yourself and work on consistency. Your efforts will pay off!

Here are a couple of books that you might also consider:

¨     How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Elaine Mazlish

¨     Between Parent and Child by Haim Ginott

¨     The Anatomy of Peace by the Arbinger Institute

¨     Keeping Our Credibility as Parents by Robert Lichfield

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