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‘Our son has severe social anxiety, but my husband and I don’t seem to be on the same page’

Ask the Expert: ‘I’m worn out looking out for my son and dealing with my husband’s frustration over missing school’


Our 14-year-old son is attending CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services) for severe social anxiety and suicidal ideation. Every so often he experiences a really down day and finds it hard to go to school. On these occasions he sleeps for hours on end.

I understand he is recharging after the exhaustion of the daily grind, day after day. However, my husband and I don’t seem to be on the same page. My husband sees these days off as an opportunity for our son to “catch up with school work” and study. I have tried to explain to him that when a person feels this way, even the most basic of everyday tasks can be utterly overwhelming and rather than taking on board extra work, they need to rest. I’m worn out looking out for my son and then having to deal with my husband’s frustration over missing school days. Our son is extremely bright and my husband is determined that he achieves his full academic potential. I feel like a hamster on a wheel at times.

Of course my husband has our son’s best interests at heart and only wants the absolute best for him but I honestly feel he can’t grasp just how crippling depression and anxiety can be for someone.


Supporting a young teenager with mental health problems is worrisome and wearing. It is completely understandable how worn out and frustrated you might feel at times. Coupled with this you are co-parenting with your husband who has a different approach and this is an extra stress. When dealing with a child with mental health problems, it is common for the parents to be in conflict about how to respond and this can add to their burden. Reading your email, it strikes me that you are ‘tuned in’ to your son’s needs and emotions which is a good thing. I think you are right to be very patient when supporting your son. Adding pressure can be counterproductive and the key is usually setting small recovery goals and proceeding very much at your son’s pace. Below are some ideas as to how you might talk to your husband so you can better co-parent together. When you do talk, try to find a good time when you are relaxed and alone and certainly out of earshot of your son.


Acknowledge feelings

Acknowledge how frustrated and upset your husband must feel about your son’s mental health problems and encourage him to talk about his worries about the future and academic achievement. Indeed, I’m sure you share some of his feelings and acknowledging this allows you to ally together — you are in the same boat as parents.

Appreciate your husband’s good intentions

Tell your husband that you appreciate he only wants the best for his son and pick out what you think he does well in his parenting. As co-parents we often forget to praise the other parent yet we all need lots of encouragement and support.

State your concerns clearly

State what you are concerned about in a non-blaming way using an ‘I’ statement. For example, you might say “I am worried that if we put too much pressure on N, it will add to his problems and slow his recovery” or “I think at moment his mental health recovery is more important than study” etc. Then listen to and debate your husband’s response

Explore some ‘win-win’ solutions

Try to explore with your husband parenting responses that you both agree with. Bear in mind that as different people you are likely to have slightly different parenting approaches and this is usually okay once you are both focused on your son’s needs. The goal is for you to find your best way to parent and for your husband to find his.

If I was talking to your husband, I would ask him what does he think is the best way to support his son and to help him recover. I would emphasise that him having a warm connected relationship with his son is one of the most important factors in his recovery and then explore how this can happen. If your husband remains concerned about ensuring his son keeps his school work going, I would explore how this could happen in a way that builds his mental health and preserves his relationship. While small study goals on a day off might give your son a sense of achievement, this will not be the case if your husband ends up cajoling or criticising him and the study ends in failure. Getting the right response is a delicate balance to strike.

Focus on family relationship

During challenging times preserving family relationships is really important. This means of course giving time and attention to your son’s relationship with each of you, ensuring you have quality one-to-one time together. But it also means looking after your relationship with your husband. Prioritising some enjoyable time together as a couple will go a long way to improving family harmony and will directly benefit your son.

Look after yourself

Finally, in your question I notice the understandable stress that you are under in managing the family. I would encourage you to take time to prioritise your own self-care as well as caring for everyone else. This might mean prioritising simple things such as making sure you get a walk every day or ringing an old friend or taking time to read or listen to a podcast. In fact, looking after your own needs as a parent is not only good for you it is good for everyone else in the family.

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John Sharry is clinical director of the Parents Plus charity and an adjunct professor at the UCD school of psychology. See