8 things to never say to your partner about their parenting

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8 things to never say to your partner about their parenting

8 things to never say to your partner about their parenting

Nobody likes being on the receiving end of criticism from their partner, and that goes double when the critique is aimed at their parenting. Whether you mindlessly let a salty comment slip because you had a bad day or intentionally go toe-to-toe with your significant other in front of the kids because you disagree with a decision of theirs, parenting criticisms are a particularly touchy subject. 

“When you critique your partner’s parenting, it’s easy for them to hear all the things they’re doing wrong, especially if you’re not careful how you say it,” says Kristen Mosier, licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Space for Systemic Healing in New York City. “I’ve never met a parent who didn’t wonder if they were messing up sometimes. So when a partner calls them out on something, it can play off that insecurity and make them defensive, especially since, most of the time, we’re all just doing our best.” 

According to Mosier, a good starting point for opening lines of communication with your partner is to admit your own faults and worries about parenting, which allows your partner to be honest about theirs. And when conflicts do arise or there’s something you’d like them to do differently, avoid using all-encompassing terms. 

“If there’s something you would like your partner to change about the way they parent, present it kindly and skip phrases like ‘you always’ or ‘you never,’” says Mosier. “Also, try to use positive phrasing, by saying things like, “I’ve noticed when you talk to our son calmly, he seems to respond better.’”

“When you critique your partner’s parenting, it’s easy for them to hear all the things they’re doing wrong, especially if you’re not careful how you say it.”

—Kristen Mosier, licensed marriage and family therapist

Of course, sticky situations are bound to crop up when you’re raising kids together — and sometimes, in the heat of the moment, not everything you say will go over well.

We asked 10 brave parents to reveal criticisms they’ve said to their partners about their parenting and then asked experts to weigh in on how the message could have been communicated more effectively. 

Just in case, you know, it ever happens again. 

1. “You never help me!”

“Recently, I blew up at my husband because I was tired of being the one who always cleans up and the one who asks our kids to clean up their messes,” says mom of two Shannon Jensen, of Canandaigua, New York. “Clearly, messes don’t bother him, but I told him I was tired of being the ‘bad cop’ when it comes to having the kids pick up their things.”

A better alternative: According to Dana Dorfman, psychotherapist and co-host of the podcast “2 Moms on the Couch,” it’s always best to wait until the dust has settled, rather than addressing sensitive or emotional topics in the heat of the moment. 

“When you’re highly emotional, you have less access to intellectual, logical and rational thoughts, and you’re less able to effectively communicate,” Dorfman says. 

“When you’re highly emotional, you have less access to intellectual, logical and rational thoughts, and you’re less able to effectively communicate.”

—Dana Dorfman, psychotherapist

Instead of pointing fingers, address issues you may have with your partner’s approach to specific tasks, such as household chores, as a team. 

“Become partners rather than adversaries by enlisting your spouse’s help in achieving a goal like this,” Dorfman says. “Say something like: ‘It’s important to me that the kids learn the responsibility of putting their things away and respecting their possessions. Do you have any ideas about how we can teach them this?’ By doing this, a person is more likely to be invested in the execution of the plan.” 

2. “It’s my way or the highway!”

“I recently left my 3-month-old twins alone with my husband for the day in order to celebrate my nephew’s birthday with my oldest son,” says mom of three Jaclyn Santos, of Hazlet, New Jersey. “In addition to leaving a detailed list, I found myself texting my husband hourly to give him reminders and further explain my instructions. Eventually, he texted back: ‘I know what I’m doing, you know? They’re my kids, too!’”

A better alternative: Spoiler alert: If you want everyone who cares for your kids to do things as precisely as you do, don’t ever ask anyone to care for your kids. Not a realistic option, right? 

“Parents often make the mistake of asking their partner to do something and then expecting them to do it the exact way they would,” says Moiser. “When parents micromanage their partners, they’re subtly saying ‘I don’t believe you can do it properly,’ which often leads to them not wanting to even try for fear of doing it ‘wrong.’ If you feel really strongly about something, it may help to say, ‘You know, I find it helpful to do this.’ Then they can choose to take the advice or find something that works for them.”

3. “You’re parenting wrong!”

“We’re in the midst of a terrible bedtime routine with our kids, and I feel like my husband isn’t helping things,” says mom of two Annie Garland, of Wheat Ridge, Colorado. “On a particularly frustrating night, I told him that he has no patience with our children and is only making the situation worse.”

A better alternative: Again, avoid having a discussion in the moment, which, let’s be honest, is almost guaranteed to turn into an argument. 

“Comments like this aren’t productive in the middle of bedtime, on the heels of an exhausting routine or when everyone is feeling tired and defeated,” says Dorfman. “Instead, wait for a time when everyone is feeling less emotional and frustrated, and collectively brainstorm what the cause may be behind the bedtime battle, such as waiting too long to put the kids down, and then explore solutions together. This addresses the origins of the issue and minimizes the ‘blame game.’”

4. “You’re parenting wrong!” (said in front of the kids) 

“I often am quick to comment on how my husband handles our daughters’ conflicts — in front of them,” says mom of two Elizabeth Merrifield, of Keene, New Hampshire. “He recently told our one daughter that if she kept pushing our other one into the tree on the swing, he was going to do it to her. I snapped at him, saying, ‘This is not how we want our kids to handle conflicts!’”

A better alternative: “It’s generally advised that parents present a united front in front of children since it demonstrates consistent messaging to children,” says Dorfman. “However, when one parent is engaging in inappropriate behavior that may jeopardize a child’s safety, it’s important to demonstrate appropriate protection of child. In a situation like this, mom may say to dad: ‘Actually, in our family pushing or deliberately hurting another is never OK — even when you’re frustrated.’ This also gives parents the opportunity to model healthy disagreements and conflict resolution.”

Later on, when the kids are out of earshot, Dorfman recommends validating the feelings of the parent who was corrected in front of the kids while encouraging them to find an alternative way to express their anger. 

“You can say something like: ‘I know how enraging it can be when our daughter pushes her sister, but can we agree on an effective consequence to teach her not to do it? If we threaten to push her back, she’ll get the message that this is an acceptable way to express anger,’” Dorfman says.

5. “I always have to be the bad cop!”

“When our boys were younger, my husband had a tendency to join in when the kids were poking fun at me — nothing serious, just a little ribbing,” says mom of two Jess Whitcombe, of Providence, Rhode Island. “At first, it was kind of amusing, seeing them all join forces, but eventually I had enough. One day, I wasn’t in the mood and I blew up on everyone, mainly my husband. He — and the kids — were shocked by how mad I was!” 

A better alternative: While nobody wants to be the butt of someone’s joke, a more effective way of expressing anger in a situation like this is to do it privately — and before you’ve hit your breaking point. 

“If one parent feels like they’ve become the punching bag of the family, so to speak, I would suggest they talk to their partner privately about how it makes them feel when this happens, and about the message it sends to the kids,” says Mosier. “While the occasional joke might be OK, being ganged up on regularly doesn’t feel good. I’ve heard a lot of moms say, ‘I always have to be the bad guy, while he gets to be the buddy.’ When parents present themselves as a team, it creates a feeling of security for the children and takes the pressure off one person to be the authority figure.”

6. “Stop yelling!”

“My husband and I have different disciplining tactics,” says mom of two Ilene Palmieri of Howell, New Jersey. “Sometimes we can find a middle ground, but I rarely agree with yelling. Whenever my husband raises his voice to the kids, I find myself blurting out, ‘Stop yelling!’ Most of the time, this doesn’t help things, and sometimes it even creates a weird dynamic in the moment.” 

A better alternative: According to Mosier, when one parent’s choices don’t sit well with the other, it can help to take a look at their upbringing. 

“In this case, I would suggest making some time alone away from the kids to talk about this dynamic and come up with shared goals,” says Mosier. “Each can share why they feel their parenting strategy is effective and even talk about how they were raised and what role yelling had in their family and how it made them feel. They might not agree on everything, but at least they can gain a better understanding of where the other is coming from, and then can try to agree on a united approach from there.”

7. “Let me tell you what I think!”

“I once told my husband, who has two children from a previous marriage, that he was paying a lot more attention to one of his daughters,” says a stepmom of two who wishes to remain anonymous. “I thought I was helping him by sharing my observations as somewhat of an outsider, but it didn’t go over well at all.”

A better alternative: Even when you’re trying to help, it’s important to remember: Unsolicited advice isn’t always welcome. 

“In a scenario like this, it may have been a good idea for the stepmom to ask her partner if he was interested or open to observations and perceptions,” says Dorfman. “When people ask if it’s OK to give a comment or offer advice, those on the receiving end are more likely to listen, especially if they’re being empathized with and their feelings as a parent are validated.” 

Additionally, Dorfman suggests highlighting the other person’s goals as a parent. 

“In this particular situation, a preface to the observation could have been something like: ‘I know how important it is to you to be close and have positive relationships with both of your daughters,” she says. “I have an idea about ways that you may be able to do that.’”

8. ‘Your parenting is hurting our child!’

“When our son was a toddler, my husband told me I was coddling our son,” says mom of two Lisa Roche, of Park Ridge, New Jersey. “He told me we needed to ‘toughen him up.’ I disagreed and remember feeling awkward parenting in front of him during that time.”

A better alternative: When a mom or dad is on the receiving end of a comment about their parenting, it’s bound to make them feel self-conscious, so a better way to go about decisions with which you strongly disagree is to “curiously inquire” about the root of it all. 

“In this situation, when everyone is calm, I would suggest mom curiously inquire about the origins of dad’s perceptions,” says Dorfman. “Figure out what his fear is exactly, and then, while being respectful of that, figure out if there are ways — that they both agree on — to ensure their son develops a thick skin.”