Passive-Aggressive Exhausted Parent Communication: A Translation Guide

As follows are a handful of seemingly benign questions and phrases commonly employed by parents (typically directed at their child(ren)’s fellow parent(s)) when they are exhausted and possibly experiencing a critical deficit of caffeine or calories. Or both. Accompanying each “thoughtful” question or phrase is a handy translation of what your spouse/partner/co-parent actually means. It’s recommended that you keep this guide on your person at all times for use as a quick reference when attempting to pick a fight and/or for the purposes of general moral superiority.

I would also like to note, for the sake of marital harmony, that I am guilty of all of the following about 67 times per day…

1. Commonly used phrase: “Where’s the (insert critically-needed object – for example: pacifier, wipes, diaper bag, keys, phone charger, burp cloth)?”

What your spouse/partner/co-parent really means: “Where did you put (insert critically-needed object) and why is it not where I thought it was and why can’t you read my mind and understand why I need (insert critically-needed object) at THIS EXACT MOMENT RIGHT NOW IMMEDIATELY?”

Note: This question is typically yelled rather than spoken, over a cacophony of baby screaming.

2. Commonly used phrase: “Do you need some help?” (Often accompanied by a hefty sigh).

What your spouse/partner/co-parent really means: “Seriously, what the f—k are you doing and why is it taking so f—king long?”

Note: Tone is important here, as sometimes spouses/partners/co-parents are genuinely interested in offering assistance. However, when the questioner comes across sounding completely exasperated and as if they are in an utterly un-helpful mood, and/or are standing by the door juggling keys, baby, bags, and a cup of coffee yet to be consumed, see above re: “WTF are you doing.”

3. Commonly used phrase: “I don’t know about that idea…” (or alternatively, “Can we think about this a little more?”).

What your spouse/partner/co-parent really means: “I sure as f–k don’t want to do that.”

Note: If the spouse/partner/co-parent on the receiving end of this phrase/question is also sleep-deprived, experiencing low blood sugar, and/or generally irritated by anything else, this one will frequently be interpreted as “That’s the worst idea I’ve ever heard, and so is every other idea you’ve ever had ever.” Be prepared.

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a Punch to the Gut

Holiday in California

I wish this post was full of tales from my great vacation last week to California with my partner and the kid. I wish it was some sort of heartwarming story about a family conflict that we resolved over snuggle time before bed. Life isn’t always like that, and truth can hurt without a soft landing or a happy ending.

A few weeks ago, my partner, the kid, and I were getting ready to leave the house. This can be a long process, sometimes ending in Yelling Parent who cannot possibly say “Put your shoes on” for the 6th time. I said something like ‘Is this kid ready to go?’, which the kid heard as ‘Is my kid ready to go?‘. To be clear: I do not refer to the kid as “my kid”. She is clearly not the child I ‘created’, and I think that referring to another person as your property sounds a little creepy. Probably exasperated with the nagging adults trying to get out of the house, she said “Anyways, it’s not like I’m even your kid.” Ouch, man. Yeah, you’re not. But yeah, you sort of are.

If the kid is in the house, I’m an active parent. I plan time with friends around the kid’s schedule, making sure I am contributing in some way to caring for her whether it is helping with dinner, bathtime, bedtime, or playtime. I grocery shop with her likes and dislikes in mind. I notice when fun things happen in town and see if she’d like to go. I listen to her fears, her nightmares, her weird thoughts and creepy imagination. I’m there for her sicknesses, her triumphs, her tears, and her fun projects.

No, I didn’t plan her birth. I’m not a primary parent. I don’t have a say in where she goes to school, what state she lives in, and changes in her routine. I don’t choose her doctors and I don’t choose her haircuts. I’m glad she has a concrete understanding about who her parents are, and that neither myself nor her other parent’s partner are clouding that at all. But dang, that was a real sting of a sentence. She wasn’t upset, and we weren’t fighting about anything; I don’t even think she said it with ill will. She was just correcting what she thought she heard me say.

It was a nice reminder of what her teenage years may be like. Sometimes I think it could go both ways; she could find me a refuge from her folks and seek me out as an ally or she could take the stand of “You’re not my parent” and create that distance that teenagers need from the adults in their lives. Time will tell.

Guest Post: Maintaining Self-Identity as a Parent

Our guest post this week comes from Fab Mama, writing about identity, visibility, and family. Interested in submitting your own guest post? Click here!


Once I became a parent my identity was forever changed.  When people ask me about myself one of the first things I say is that I am a mom (to the most amazing toddler on the planet).  I am also a partner, a teacher, a cis-gender woman, a former dancer (who still itches to move), a quiet artist (who is probably a closeted crafter), a baker, and so many other things.  But for the first year of Fab Baby’s life, my complex identity dissolved into one primary role: motherhood.  I nursed Fab Baby around the clock, stayed home during the day to care for her, washed her diapers, cleaned up her spit-up, held her as she napped, and co-slept with her.   The line between my end and her beginning was blurred; we were some kind of symbiotic being, breathing and pulsating together.

But, as we rounded the bend on Fab Baby’s first birthday I began to see that my “momminess” was showing.  I had a frumpy haircut, carried more post-baby weight than I felt comfortable with, wore a “mom” coat because my more fashionable coats still didn’t fit, and felt overall uninspired.

So, here we are 16 months into parenthood and I am just now regaining some of my former parts.  I’m going to the gym more regularly, I got some clothes that I feel good in, I got a part-time job out of the house, my partner and I schedule more time for me to be alone and do things that fuel me, and I got a better haircut.  I have realized that while being a mom is important, I don’t want that to be the only (or even most important) way that I define myself.

I imagine most first-time parents, especially stay-at-home and nursing parents, can relate to this temporary loss of identity.

In addition to temporarily misplacing my identity in mommyland, I also struggle with finding a way to self-identify in the context of my new family.  I have always struggled to find the right label for my sexual orientation.  When I dated a woman it was easy to say things like, “My girlfriend…” or “My partner, she…” and people knew I wasn’t straight without my needing to come up with a label for myself.  Now being the partner of a transgender man I am often misread as a straight lady.  This is even more so the case now that we have a child; people hear that I have a baby and a partner/husband, and assume that we are just your average got-knocked-up-the-old-fashion-way hetero couple.  This perception couldn’t be further from the truth.  I am proud to be a member of the LGBTQ community (even if my identity doesn’t fall under one of those labels).  Sometimes when I’m in a room full of straight-appearing folks I want to scream at the top of my lungs, “I’m not just like you! I’m different!”

But then, how do I talk about myself?  I can’t casually mention my same-gendered partner to out myself.  Sure I can use “partner” instead of “husband” when talking with people, but lots of hip folks – gay, straight, or otherwise—use this term now.  I could also reveal that I am married to a trans guy, but I hate that one of the only ways I can think of to self-identify involves outing my partner.  This is unfair to him, as he should be the one who gets to decide who is privy to that information, and it’s unfair to me.  It makes me feel less than a whole person and that I don’t have my own unique identity without my partner.

How do I talk about my family open and honestly without sharing information that isn’t mine to share?  How do I self-identify if my identity is wrapped up in other people?  I suppose the larger question, for people of all family compositions, gender identities, and sexual orientations, is: how do you maintain a sense of self within the context of a family?