Pet Peeve Phrases I Wish I Never Said
Some phrases we say in families are powerful. For instance, “I love you” can energize your loved one, lead to deeper connection with them, and change their day for the better. In a similar manner, “How can I help you?” is a question packed with the power of intimacy and connection. But there are some phrases I hear in families that kind of irritate me. Well, they do irritate me. They’re pet peeves of mine. Let me share three.
- “I have to babysit the munchkin tonight.” I generally hear this phrase spoken by a father, although I have heard mothers say it as well. Either way, you are the parent, not the babysitter. The babysitter has momentary responsibility and acts under the authority of the parent. A babysitter watches another person’s child. You are the parent. Calling a parent’s role “babysitting” minimizes the responsibility, gravity, and privilege of the parental role. Parents have a responsibility that endures for a lifetime. The gravity of that responsibility is enormous. Our children’s future and our society’s well-being depend on how seriously we take the role of parent. And being a parent is an amazing privilege filled with long-term delight. Parents don’t babysit their children. They have the privilege of caring for a special life that was born out of their love for one another. What a joy. “I have the privilege of spending time with my children (munchkins) tonight.” That’s a better phrase.
- “I have to….” You know, “I have to make dinner for my spouse.” “I have to go to my kid’s game tonight.” “I have to wash dishes for my family.” “I have to… (fill in the blank with some household or family task).” It’s true. There are tasks that we must do to keep our home and family running smoothly. But, “I have to” makes it sound like we grudgingly do it out of obligation…and that does not lead to a happy family life. Nor does it set a positive example for our children (who we want to participate in household tasks). In reality, doing my share of household tasks is an expression of love. We can make the task more of an expression of love by changing the “I have to” to “I want to.” “I want to” wash the dishes because I love my spouse. “I want to” help with the laundry because I love my spouse. “I want go to” my child’s game because I love my child. This moves the task from an obligation or a duty to a privilege and then to an expression of love. It moves the motivation from the external reward of task completion and a smooth-running home to the internal motivation of love. That is the basis for a happy family. By the way, “I want to clean the kitty litter.” (I’m practicing.)
- “Just calm down” or some variation of minimizing a family member’s emotion. Yes, statements like this one minimize how our family members perceive something and how they feel about it. It focuses only on their outward expression and dismisses what might be happening to them internally, in their mind or heart. And it shuts down the opportunity to learn important information about our family members. We only get excited or upset or angry about those things important to us. So, when a family member is excited or angry enough that we feel the need to tell them, “Just calm down,” they are probably reacting to something important to them. A statement that will lead to greater intimacy (and that is what we long for) is, “I see how important this is to you.” Or “what’s going on? What makes this so upsetting to you?” Get curious. Find out the value or priority behind the emotions. Discover what they see as so important that it leads them to have such a strong response. Learn about them. It will help you have a deeper, more intimate relationship.
Sadly, I have made all three of these statements in my life. We all feel like we’re “babysitting” because we “have to” at times. We get overwhelmed by other people’s emotions and want them to “just calm down.” Still, these phrases are not helpful, and I wish I had never said them. They can be hurtful, dismissive, and damaging to our relationships. Each time we say them, we have to repair the relationship we damaged. So, they are pet peeves of mine…even when I say them. Join me in putting in the effort to say healthier phrases like “I want to (clean the kitty litter or whatever household/family tasks you do),” “I have the privilege of spending time with my child tonight,” and “I see how important this is to you. Tell me more.”