No matter how good your intentions may be, there are just some things you should never say to the mother of your children.
And no, it’s not because they are ‘overly sensitive’. Rather, words have the powerful ability to destroy (or build) one’s self-esteem and confidence. Eventually resentment might seep in, creating tension in your relationship.
With this in mind, here are 10 things you should avoid saying to the mom of your kids.
1. “That’s not how I want to raise my kids.”
It’s natural for parenting styles to differ from one parent to another. And the temptation often is to be quite critical of one’s spouse’s child-rearing techniques, explains James Sturdee, a registered psychological counsellor practising in Durban.
“There is a lot of anxiety (especially with the first child) about not making any mistakes during crucial developmental milestones, and as such I could see how this could overflow into critical assessments of the spouse’s mothering.”
Your heart may be in the right place but the the danger here is that the mother feels unappreciated and incompetent, explains James.
“[This is] made worse by the possibility that the father is actually not an expert on these matters either.
2. “Let me tell you how my mom used to do that.”
Closely linked to criticising your spouse’s parenting is the is comparison of one’s wife with one’s mother.
“Given the stereotypical (but often valid) fractious relationship between a wife and her mother-in-law, this type of comparison is very likely to trigger underlying resentments,” says James.
“No-one appreciates being told they are doing a bad job at something they are trying very hard at, especially if they are being told that a person they often feel they are competing with did this job better than them.
“Furthermore there is an underlying implication that the husband must have turned out perfectly if his mother is being put forward as the benchmark for child-rearing.”
3. “That’s your mother talking.”
Of course, the other side of this is comparing the mom of your kids to her mother in a negative light.
“This is problematic because again it is a projection of resentments and relationship tensions onto the canvas of one’s own parenting.”
4. “I wonder where he (or she) gets that from.”
If a statement like ‘He’s lazy, I wonder where he got that from” is something you’re likely to say to the mom of your kids, you’re in for a rude awakening.
Blaming your children’s personality characteristics on your spouse is really seeking out trouble.
“This is unhelpful and unscientific,” points out James.
“The truth about child-rearing is that so little is really known about how to achieve the best results (although everyone has a theory) that to isolate unique behaviours and attribute causality is a bit of a leap of faith.”
5. “It’s your fault he’s this way.”
Another tendency is to blame the mother for genetic defects in their children (or for their behaviour before or whilst pregnant), says James.
“Whilst there may or may not be truth in these allegations there is no way of changing the known outcome, and to use it as a manipulative tool in a power game is very toxic.”
5. “It’s a woman’s job.”
While “entrenched gender roles” might not require men to perform typical tasks associated with motherhood, this doesn’t mean you are exempt when the mom of your kids asks for help.
Dads, it’s the 21st century and housework is not “a woman’s job”.
6. “Have you gained weight?”
If the mom of your kids has put on some weight, chances are she knows. Don’t even go there.
7. “Are you really going to eat all that?”
8. “Kate’s been looking really great these days.”
A comment like this might sound pretty innocent, but it can be easily misinterpreted, for example, by a new mother who has been focusing her energy on a newborn.
9. “Because I earn more money.”
“If the mother of your children is a stay-at-home mother (less common these days but still common enough) there might be a temptation to exploit power imbalances that exist in the spousal relationship,” explains James.
“In other words, it is possible that the father lacks respect for his wife’s ‘occupation’, as it does not in fact generate any direct income.
“This might be associated with a tendency to minimize the value that she brings to the household, and diminish the significance of teamwork and division of labour in a relationship.”
James warns that conversations along this line are hazardous indeed.
“Having said that clear and healthy communication about expectations regarding division of responsibilities is important, so everyone knows where they stand. Society tends to attribute personal value to financial contributions considerably more than other types of contributions.”
So what does this all mean?
Empathy and a will to understand the other is key in such encounters, suggests James. It’s the ideal route to go “as opposed to assuming the moral high ground for oneself and using it to control and manipulate the other.”