We are parents of two children, a boy who is going to be 13 and a six-year-old girl. Both my husband and I have been very ambitious for our son.There has been a lot of pushing, a lot of lecturing, even physical abuse. Also, there have been disagreements between my husband and me, and even small issues turn into major arguments. Though I realize my mistake now, it seems to be too late. My son is very aggressive and impatient with his sister. If I try to tell him to be patient, he snaps back, saying we were like that with him. My daughter is also becoming very irritable. It is also very difficult to get my son to do anything in the house, like putting his things in place. Both my children are bright and intelligent, but not happy. Is there no way things can be changed? What shall I do to ensure that both children grow up into happy individuals with pleasant personalities?

To start with, perhaps you could acknowledge quietly and humbly to your son that you feel things have fallen apart, and that you realize you have mishandled many issues with him as parents. From this sobered state (do it when there is no massive fight or little squabble going on), if you can have this conversation, tell him that you are looking for a way to redress some past issues and re-address the future in a healthier way. You need to be in couple counselling as well as in family counselling, and with a counsellor who will work consistently with your family. On your own, you could ask your son, during a quiet moment, whether you all can start off with one assigned day, or 2 hours in every day, when you can speak to each other in ways that you have missed doing in the earlier years—loving, respectful and accepting of the other person’s point of view. It may seem artificial at first, but emphasize to him that you are looking for a way back to each other.

As an adolescent, and an abused one at that, he is likely to reject your suggestion outright, since he is used to a certain level of aggression and negativity in the home, and has learnt to function with it. If he refuses to be drawn into some slight but significant daily or weekly modification in your interactions with each other, continue to follow this yourself as parents and as a couple. Beyond a point, you do not need to keep revisiting the past and apologizing, but he does need to hear from you that you want to change the way you are with him.

Acknowledge his anger and resentment and do not hurry him into “forget the past" kind of attitudes. Gently emphasize that you all need to find a better way of being now.

You would need to commit seriously to the counselling process, and it will be hard work, yet it is something that you urgently need to pursue for yourself and for your family.

Gouri Dange is the author of ABCs of Parenting.

Write to Gouri at learningcurve@livemint.com

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