What To Do When Your Spouse Constantly Criticizes Your Parenting

They don't really think you're an idiot (probably).

by Jonathan Stern
Originally Published: 
Spouse criticizing husband's parenting.

2-Minute Therapy is a regular series providing simple, effective advice on how to make sure your spouse thinks you’re as awesome as your kid thinks you are.

Like a hapless hiker suddenly standing between a mother bear and her cubs, you may find yourself being attacked (seemingly) without provocation by your partner over some random parenting task, like changing a diaper or reading a bedtime story. It can be subtle, like the passive-aggressive, “What I would do is …” Or it can be more direct, like the “You’re doing it all wrong, I can’t believe you managed to impregnate me.” From there, it’s a downward spiral of constant monitoring, undermining your authority, and generally making you feel worthless.

This is what couples counseling pros like Laura Silverstein of Main Line Counseling Partners call “gatekeeping.” And, while 2 minutes of therapy is rarely enough to accomplish much, gatekeeping isn’t that complicated, even though it’s awfully common. Here are Silverstein’s tips on getting past the gatekeeper (also known as your spouse).

Create Space To Talk Things Over

Never mind that Oxford’s word of 2015 is “emoji” — face to face communication is the only way to stop the cycle of criticism. “Face-to-face” doesn’t mean “When you’re wrestling a 3-year-old out of pajamas in the morning,” or “When your wife is showering, and you’re on the toilet” (not that that ever happens). “When you talk about it on the fly, it’s more likely to be accusatory,” says Silverstein. “When you’re both consciously deciding to talk about it, it goes much better.”

Don’t Be So Defensive

Nobody likes to be told they’re doing it wrong, so when you’re doing a great job washing your kid’s hair and your partner think you’re water boarding them, it’s natural to get a little defensive. So take a break and cool off before re-engaging, so the conversation can be explanatory instead of accusatory. Silverstein says she’d counsel your partner “to be saying it in a request manner: ‘This is why I’m uncomfortable with this tiny little thing,’ and not a global, ‘You’re irresponsible’ or ‘You don’t do anything right.'”

Assuming Silverstein isn’t at home to tell your partner this, ask them yourself: “Why are you uncomfortable with what I was just doing?” And if Silverstein is at home to tell your partner, why are you reading this?

“Remind yourself, ‘My partner doesn’t think I’m an idiot, it’s their child as well as mine, and they just want what’s best.”

Hear What They’re Saying, Say It Back

“People want to feel like they’re listened to and taken seriously,” says Silverstein. “Respond in a non-defensive manner, and validate what the other person is saying. You’re not required to say yes to what anybody asks you. But you are required to think about it. Try it on for size and [see it] you can meet their request with generosity.”

Note: Saying, “You’re right honey, I should never wash the kid’s hair again” is not meeting their request with generosity.

What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

If your partner honestly thinks that your child will be hurt in your care, then you have bigger issues than can be solved in 2 minutes. Assuming that’s not really the case, ask them what they think could go wrong with the way you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing that precipitated this fight — just do it in a sincere way and not a sarcastic one. Because you’re never sarcastic. (That was sarcasm.)

Set Up Some Parameters

Parenting isn’t done by committee, it’s done through trust. Once you both agree that they’re not calling Child Services on you, make the conversation about what common rules can be put in place so that you’re both on the same page about as many day-to-day decisions (about naps, food, screen time, how many beers are appropriate on a Saturday, etc.) as possible, so neither of you have to make too many decisions on the fly. Because decisions on the fly are frequently bad decisions.

Everybody Wants What’s Best

“People have really strong opinions about what they think is in their kids’ best interest,” says Silverstein. “Remind yourself, ‘My partner doesn’t think I’m an idiot, it’s their child as well as mine, and they just want what’s best.’ Connect around that common goal.”

And, if your partner really does think you’re an idiot? You’re going to need more than 2 minutes with Silverstein.

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