Being The Alpha Male Of The Family Group

It’s important to understand that being a husband usually comes with a dual role of fatherhood. The close relative of the Alpha Male traits is being the Alpha Male of the Group (AMOG). In other words leadership of your wife has also got to be leadership of the children as well. If a kid is running the show you aren’t the AMOG, they are. Which is really really bad on so many levels.

So if the kids are running about uncontrolled you’re screwing up the whole thing and look increasingly Beta at best and Omega at worst. You’re responsible for the raising of the kids, more responsible for them than your wife is. As I’ve said before you’re the Captain and she’s the First Officer. Oh sure the mom can step up and kick ass and take names if need be, but for the really nasty stuff she feels like G.I. Jane when she’d probably rather be Barbie. Ideally a Barbie hooking up with a G.I. Joe. (I mean seriously, we all knew Ken was nervous about G.I. Joe right?)

Anyway… we just had an icky moment in the family where eldest daughter had to be disappointed on something she wanted to do due to us not feeling comfortable about it. Bear in mind that this is a very good kid who gives us minimal trouble if any. She’s saved up cash and dreamed about X coming around again ever since she did X last year. We were cool with X. X was approved. But last week Y was tacked onto X. And her friends were doing Y. Y was going to be very cool.

Ummm… I’m not sure I’d let Jennifer do Y lol.

So Y was not going to be approved.

But there may be a complete meltdown.

I get to be the bad guy.

So anyway, grab my calendar and we all sit down together and I pull the trigger on Y explaining why and move into problem solving to get her X together. Jennifer backing me up. By the time we’re done Y seems like more of a fantasy idea and we’ve maximized the X. Everything goes very very smoothly. Phew. Like I said she’s a great kid, but this is like “the thing” that she reaaaaaaaally wants.

Plus we also authorize eldest to use “over controlling parents” as an excuse to justify her lack of ability to Y. She looks a little relived to be given a way out of Y to be honest.

The important point in terms of husband-wife relationship though is this; if I hadn’t put a stop to it, Jennifer would have anyway. But she would have lost a little respect for me. After all if I can’t stand up to a 90lb 8th Grader, an actual adult female would mop the floor with me.  That’s fail.

Discipline sounds like a harsh word, but often it really isn’t in practice… These are the limits, these are the consequences of the limits being broken. This is me not enabling you to break the limits. I can easily not drive you in the car all day long. You made a huge scene when we left there, so I’m not taking you back for a week. You are screaming at me like an asshole, so this conversation stops until you can express yourself appropriately. You are having a tantrum in public, so we are leaving public now. Yes I understand that we left a shopping cart full of food behind, we can make cheese sandwiches at home. Thank you for being good, let’s get ice cream. You were both well behaved then, thank you. Yada yada yada.

When you discipline one kid, you actually discipline them all. Daughter #2 isn’t getting to do Y either should Y come up and should it be offered to her she’ll just say “my parents won’t let me do that”. The kids are a social unit and they expect discipline to apply to all. (and you’re screwed if you don’t lol) Likewise when you discipline your kids, you’re actually disciplining your wife as well, and vice a versa. This is how we treat each other in this family.

Positive touch, kind words, humor, playfulness are likewise tools in the discipline tool chest as well. Playfully grabbing your wife and kissing her in front of the kids, or cuddling on the couch together, might make the kids groan in mock horror, but they do find it enormously comforting. Mom and Dad still love each other, which implies they still love me. Together you can set a tone for the whole family’s interactions together.

But mostly the person you’re disciplining is you.


  1. Ulysses says:

    As I'm currently only dealing with a 2 2/3 year old when it comes to saying no to things, I haven't yet reached a point where rational decision making enters the equation. I just have to say no to eating cupcakes for breakfast or whatever. I am optimistic that one of the lessons I'm learning will continue to pay off, though. Staying calm is huge. When the elder starts getting worked up, I don't match her mood. If I just stay calm, she has a harder time escalating her frustration to unacceptable levels. It seems that half the time kids are fishing for a response when they test your alpha status and if your response is too fiery, it just stokes their own flames.

  2. Athol Kay says:

    Oh even small kids can be extremely rational about behavior choices. Just break it down into "the orginial Klingon"…

    Be good, go park. Be bad, stay home. Choose.

  3. AK, this really hits home. My 13-year-old daughter has been angling for a cell phone, and I have stood firm in saying "no." She has her mom's sales acumen, so she has continued to push the issue, has printed out full business plans on how she'll pay for it, etc., but the answer remains no.

    My wife is backing me up on it, though I'm confident she would have given in by now, which has made me dig in my heels even more. Your post underscores my intuition on why that's my reaction, and why it's the correct move.

    On a side note, what's so ridiculous about the request is that we have a "home" cell phone that's for use by anyone, and both of the kids are welcome to use it and/or carry it when they like. But the vanity aspect of it, i.e., having her own phone number, is what I believe lies at the heart of the matter. So, I'll continue to be a hardass about it…and continue to loathe our idiotic consumer culture that has convinced young teens that a cell phone is a necessity equivalent to water, food and shelter.

  4. Great points, both in the article and in the comments.

    The presence of children, each angling for their piece of territory, complicates the alpha mission on the homefront.

    Remaining calm in the presence of a rampaging toddler is absolutely key. Now if you can just keep your wife from escalating in lockstep with the child….

  5. Athol Kay says:

    Hi Jake P, we went the other way with the cell phones. We have a family plan with five cell phones and did away with the landline. We're actually saving money overall.

    We give the kids a lot more leeway in walking the neigborhood and going to friends houses etc because of the ease of communication. We also play with each other via text a fair bit too. It's fun.

    However the girls MUST answer the phone from me or Jennifer. They don't get to go out without us unless they have their phone and it's charged.

    Plus the entire cell phone plan is in my name… which gives me legal tapping and GPS tracking options should they ever turn naughty in the future.

  6. dalrock says:

    Great post! grerp wrote the corollary to this on her blog a while back:

    I would say the two posts compliment each other, which only makes sense given the perspectives.

  7. dalrock says:

    I also want to add that my wife and I have found that the game principal of "sh*t tests" is in full force with out 5 year old daughter. She is a complete sweetheart 99% of the time, and we can keep it that way so long as we catch these tests and also watch basics like sleep, sweets, etc.

    Her most common sh*t test is to ask us to do something for her which she could do herself. I have to warn everyone who watches her for us to be on the lookout for the slightest hint of bossyness and under no circumstances comply. Usually this takes the form of "Grandpa, could you go get me X toy" (from another room, or across the room) type requests. She is terribly cute and they want to comply.

    But doing so is like feeding a gremlin after midnight. They laugh at us at first because she is probably the nicest behaved 5 year old they have ever seen. Everyone thinks we are imagining this at first. Then they fail the test and we have a monster on our hands. Sometimes it takes several days to get our nice little girl 100% back after that.

  8. @Dalrock–My toddler tests me, too. If we tell him to do something, he kinda feels us out to see if we're serious. He's also learned to do the fake-out, which includes pretending to start doing the task only to stop and laugh a second later.

    @Athol–Totally agree that the man must be the head of the family by leading the way in discipline. I hate having to be the bad guy when my man can't step in and give a spanking. I mean, wow, what happens when the burglar breaks in the window you know? Are you going to just ask him politely to leave?

  9. Athol Kay says:

    Katy – We tried spanking very early on. It didn't really get us the results we wanted and seemed to intensify things to be honest. We did a lot of work with positive reinforcement, choice making and the removal of fun activities if they couldn't behave at them.

    Zosimus the Heathen – comment deleted, you need to behave at my place thanks.

  10. Zosimus the Heathen says:

    Damn, I thought you'd appreciate a bit of black humour.

  11. Athol – there's more than one way to skin the cat, eh? I'm still sticking with the "public use" phone for the time being. (The only landline in our house is my business line.) I grew up in a household where phone calls were limited to 5 minutes and showers 2 minutes before dad started hollerin'. By that measure, I'm a pushover.

    On the other hand, your Big Brother angle makes me realize I'll eventually need to rethink my position. So, how 'bout a post on "changing your mind without losing the upper hand"?

  12. dalrock says:

    One point I found interesting on spanking is that even Dr. Dobson doesn't suggest using it as a general form of punishment. In his book on discipline, he gives specific examples of when spanking would be inappropriate; the child left your tools outside after being told to put them away and the tools rusted, child left their bicycle in the driveway despite repeated reminders and it was driven over, child continually forgets to take out the trash. All of these are what he calls childishness, and don't warrant spanking.

    He says spanking should be reserved for defiance. Basically, spanking is the answer to the question "And what if I don't?" when you tell them to go to their room, etc. If used in such a way, for most kids it probably won't be needed very often at all.

  13. Pol Mordreth says:

    @Dalrock: thats how I generally use corporal punishment. I haven't had to spank my older kids more than 3 or 4 times (they are 11 and 13 now) because I was willing to reserve it for defiance and be implacable during it. I would tell them how any swats they were going to get, and specifically why. I would then apply the punishment silently and walk away. They learned that defiance = sore butt, and quit. Now as they start getting uppity, all I have to do is look at them and it stops.

    I do use a snapping swat (lots of noise, little actual pain) on my 18 month old's diaper to startle her out of a temper tantrum.


  14. Athol Kay says:

    @ Zosimus – I'm on my real name and I work professionally with abused children, as does my wife. Can't risk it sorry.

  15. Athol Kay says:

    The main trouble with spanking is that you are underpinning your authority with the use of force as punishment. At some point they get big enough to hit back – usually right when you need your influence the most.

    Ultimately the key point is for you to not reward negative behavior somehow, and to reward positive behavior.

  16. Pol Mordreth says:

    @Athol: In my experience that is only an issue if overused and apologised for. Force, or the threat of force, is the primary underpinning of all authority. Once the willingness to deploy corrective force is demonstrated, it rarely has to be used. With my older children, the 3 or 4 times in their life that they weere spanked demonstrated that defiance (not mistakes, not normal child behaviors that needed corrected, but straight up defiance, ie refusing to accept punishment) will hurt. Now, at 11 and 13, we can sit down and have civil discussions on what they did wrong, why it was wrong, and the appropriate punishment for it. No backtalk, no fits, no refusing to comply. Adult, logical communication that I don't see in families that didn't establish the basis for their authority early.


    PS: they're never big enough to hit back – I learned that from my father when I was 15 and challenged him.. heh.


  17. Athol Kay says:

    @ Pol – I think we're talking about much the same thing then.

    But… this is a complicated issue and an entire other topic. I can assure you though that kids do get big enough to hit back that it can become an unsafe situation for both parent and child to engage in physical confrontation. Both in terms of risk for injury and legal risk as well.

  18. Yikes, I didn't intend for the comments to become a debate about spanking your children!

    My main point was: Dad, as ruler of the roost, should command the respect of his wife and children so long as he's earning it. So if he's not man enough to dole out the punishment–whatever that might be–neither the wife nor kids can see him as the alpha.

    Nobody enjoys punishing their children, but it's necessary for keeping the family order. Athol, I believe you've written before about consequences for the wife who "misbehaves," and I see it as a similar situation with the kids: If you do bad things, you will get bad things back.

    That said, I agree that spanking is best used sparingly and for deliberate defiance. My dad rarely spanked us growing up, so we knew we were in deep doo-doo when it happened. But he really had the "you're in big trouble young lady" scowl down and that generally kept me in line well enough.

  19. Handling 8th grade girls under peer pressure can be like handling uranium. Athol, you're just awesome.

  20. Athol Kay says:

    Thanks Grerp, high praise!

  21. Anonymous says:

    There's way WAY too much blurring of the boundaries between spanking and child abuse. Parents and kids know the difference, even if bureaucrats and academics don't.

  22. FATHER OF 3 says:

    @ Pol Mordreth: You spanked your 18-month-old baby girl??!! That is really sick and bordering on child abuse.

    There is absolutely no reason EVER to spank a baby or toddler. If they are in diapers, they are too young for a spanking.

    And most children that I’ve known that have been spanked turn out to be hyper aggressive little trolls who bully the other kids in school. Also remember that some children might grow up to become “spankos” as adults where they can only achieve sexual gratification through pain.

    Corporal punishment is a dangerous area that should be avoided because there are so many studies out there that have proven spankings do more harm than good. Only truly uneducated ignorant folks still use corporal punishment.

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