Q&A: sarcasm or something

Natalie writes:

"Our kids are preschool age, and my husband uses what I think would be
sarcasm with them all the time….maybe it is just plain teasing.  You

He does things like this: He will be playing "chase" with
them (which I appreciate), but then when they run into their rooms to
hide, he will knock on the door, and yell, "Grandma is here!" When they
open the door, all excited, he will grab them and say, "I gotcha!"
Repeat this about ten times with ten different exciting promises (ice
cream, grandpa, candy, etc).  The kids get really excited, and then
realize he is teasing.  He also does this the opposite way, by saying,
at around 4 pm, "Well, it is time for bed", and one of my kids will be
to the point of tears, and then he’ll say, "Just kidding!"  Repeat five
times.  When I tell him to stop, he says, "Think how happy they are
when they see that I am kidding!  Hee, hee!"  He really is doing it to
have fun. 

I want you and your commenters to
tell me what you think:  Is this just plain kidding and I am just too
sensitive?  Or is it more than that?  What do you think?"

I think it’s mean. But I think it’s entirely possible that he doesn’t have any idea that it’s mean, because someone pulled that same crap on him when he was a kid and told him it was normal and he was being "too sensitive" if he didn’t like it. Alternately, it’s possible that he’s got some unconscious resentment toward the kids at this stage because he was treated meanly when he was that age, and so it’s coming out in this too-harsh treatment of them.

Don’t get me wrong–I love sarcasm and funny teasing that lets the kid in on the joke. (An example of that is answering a kid’s question with something so exaggerated that the kid knows you’re teasing and thinks it’s funny. "Mom, where are we going after school?" "First we’re going to buy some space suits, and then we’re going to drive to the moon!" Assuming the child is old enough to know that you can’t drive to the moon in a regular car.) But the teasing your husband’s doing isn’t letting the kids in on the joke. It’s just setting them up for disappointment and teaching them that they can’t trust what he says.

I have no idea how to resolve this situation. You could try giving him a taste of his own medicine, but telling him you were making his favorite meal for supper, or that you’d gotten a raise at work, or that you were dying to have a quickie right then, and then saying "I gotcha!" Or sit him down to tell him you’d gotten a letter from the IRS and you owed $50,000 in back taxes and penalties, and then say "Aren’t you happy to see that I’m kidding? Hee, hee!"

But something I can’t put my finger on really does make me think that he’s striking out at the kids like this because of some hurt that was done to him when he was this age that he may not even realize happened. I don’t know if giving him a taste of his own medicine is going to help much if he’s still carrying that hurt around in him. Maybe you could start a conversation about things that adults did when you were little that you hated. (I can start: There was one distant relative we’d see a few times a year who would always offer to pour a drink for me and say "Say when," and then when I’d politely say, "Thank you" he’d keep pouring until the drink overflowed and then say, "You didn’t say ‘when" and give a big laugh. Jerk.) It may come out without his realizing it was there.

Anyone else? Do you agree with me that this is more harmful than funny? And what can Natalie do to stop it before it seriously harms her husband’s relationship with their kids?


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