Parenting Secrets: Michelle and Lenny

Parenting Secrets: Michelle and Lenny
Dr. Phil talks to parents who say their two sons are out of control.
"My two boys are out of control, and I don't know what to do about it," complains Michelle. When her sons, Logan and Aaron, fly into a rage, they kick, bite, scream and hit her.

Michelle and her husband, Lenny, feel like they've run out of options for disciplining their children. "We've grounded them. We've taken things away. We've put them in their room. We've spanked them and I'm out of resources," she admits.

Because Lenny is often away from home because of his job, Michelle is the primary disciplinarian. "I hold Michelle more responsible for the bad behaviors than I do myself. She is the biggest role model that they have in their lives," he says.

Feeling like a scapegoat, Michelle says, "Because I'm a stay-at-home mom and a home-schooling mom, I feel like my husband thinks I should be with them every minute of every day, everywhere they go." Her marital problems also contribute to the confusion. "My husband would tell me, 'Change your weight. Get rid of your one eyebrow.' I do believe that that influences the children. They've really never seen my husband love me in their lifetime."

Turning to Dr. Phil, she cries, "I feel like a failure as a parent."
Lenny and Michelle agreed to have cameras in their home to capture their kids' out-of-control behavior. Lenny got fed up and decided to stop the tape. A distraught Michelle recorded her feelings in a video diary: "Lenny wouldn't let it be taped. He rewound it and he started recording over it. I said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'I have a right to privacy, too, and I do not want my stuff on tape.' And I said, 'But so do I, and so do the children, and I want help. Why are you so afraid to get help? We can't do counseling because you don't want to talk to anybody.'"

When Michelle tried to retrieve the tape from Lenny, they got into a shoving match. "We had our first physical altercation. It was really scary ... He grabbed the tape and he ripped it in half," she says, holding up the broken tape. "Dr. Phil, I'm scared and I don't know what to do. I'm scared for my kids if my marriage isn't repaired. I don't know if I should stay here or if I should go somewhere."
Dr. Phil addresses Lenny's concern with having cameras in his home. "If you think that you're the only ones with these problems, the only ones with out-of-control kids, overworking dads or moms and therefore everybody's going to say, 'Oh my gosh! Look at them. They have problems with their kids,' that's not going to happen because this is life," Dr. Phil says. "I want to talk to you about it in an open, honest and candid fashion. My plan here is not to throw either one of you under the bus, and say, 'It's your fault.'"

Dr. Phil tells the couple that he doesn't think either of them are intent on sabotaging their marriage, but they are hurting their sons. "The children are the squeaky wheel. They're the ones that are squeaking the loudest," he explains. "But they're not the problem here. This is a family problem ... We call them target patients. They're the ones that get dragged to the altar of the therapist and [parents] say, 'Fix these kids.'"Lenny and Michelle both need to take responsibility for their kids' behavior. "If we're seeing frustrated, defiant, unfocused, disobedient and aggressive behavior out of these boys, would it be fair to say that's mirroring what they've been living?" Dr. Phil asks.

Lenny agrees. "The children are not the problem; it's the parents that are the problem," he says.

When Michelle disputes the extent to which she's held the kids down or been aggressive with them, Dr. Phil says, "You don't want to run from this behavior. If you do this, then you need to acknowledge you do. You can't change what you don't acknowledge ... I'm seeing oppositional behavior from these kids. It was modeled somewhere."
Dr. Phil admonishes Michelle and Lenny for putting their sons in the "naughty corner." He asks, "We have children that are frustrated, and they don't know how to express themselves, so we're going to reject them with a negative label for them to ponder while they're confined in a corner? This is going to build their self-esteem and help their impulse control?"

"We've tried so many things for discipline and nothing's worked, and so we were trying to be consistent with something," Michelle says.

"It's very important how you label these children because they internalize those labels," Dr. Phil warns. He addresses Lenny and Michelle's marital issues. "You two don't get along in a very loving way, do you?"

"No, we basically co-habitate," Lenny admits.

"What's happened here is you have two children that are living in an emotional divorce," Dr. Phil explains. "They live with open hostility sometimes, they live with coldness all of the time, or the vast majority of the time, and that does create oppositional behavior. It seems to me that they are mirroring exactly what images you're putting out between the two of you."
Lenny, who is hardly ever home with his family, needs to understand the consequences of his actions. "I hope you make a lot of money to pay for lawyers and psychologists and all the people that are going to need to be involved with these boys if you don't plug in. I can tell you she is not the most powerful role model in their lives," Dr. Phil stresses. "The most powerful role model in the [boys'] lives is their father. An absent father, a frustrated father, a judgmental father is one that creates more frustration in the children."

He points out that the boys are very needy and clingy when Lenny comes home. "That should tell you that they're not getting filled up with their dad, and that's a rejection experience for the children. The number one factor that I talk about in Family First is that you have to create a nurturing and accepting family environment where there's a role for everyone that's clearly defined." Lenny and Michelle also need to create a rhythm in their family, and model proper behavior for their sons.Dr. Phil advises Michelle to stop homeschooling her sons and put them in school. "Homeschooling can be very successful mentally, emotionally and socially," he says. "This is not a situation in which that is a good idea. You're overwhelmed at this point. You need that break of those boys being in school. They need other influences in their lives. They need socialization in their lives. They need other adults in their lives. And they probably would get an increased level of modeling, structure and order by being in a school situation without mom or dad there."

Michelle and Lenny need to stop fighting in front of the kids and create a parenting plan where they are consistent in their discipline. Lenny needs to plug back in and communicate with his wife. "I understand about your career. There is no amount of money, there is no amount of responsibility that is worth sacrificing the emotional development of your sons," Dr. Phil says.

He offers to provide a family therapist for the couple, and advises them to read Family First. "We'll talk some more about the boys in the future, but it starts with you guys," he says.