Small Step No. 10

There’s a tried-and-true tip I’ve often heard from seasoned married folks, one of which is guaranteed to keep arguments fair, gentle and in-the-moment (rather than relying on cheap shots and past scripts), and it is simply this:

Avoid two words: (1) Always and (2) Never.

There are a few obvious reasons here, one of which being that neither of the above words are often true. Does your spouse really never do the dishes? Are you really always picking up dirty socks? Is your teen truly always on his phone? And so, as of late, I’ve made more of an effort to steer clear of these mounting exaggerations, certainly in an argument, but also in everyday language, and in my own self-chatter.

It has since, oddly enough, transformed my parenting.

It is no longer “You never finish your carrots!” or “You always forget your trains at your friend’s house!” and is instead, something a bit gentler, a bit kinder, a lot more true.

It is a small difference, the tiniest shift. But it makes for a giant space between frustration and exasperation, between correction and shame, between simple mistakes and complete failure.

It is surprisingly hard to do, leaving out the two words.

Last week, as we’re leaving for church, I’m snapping car seats and adjusting seat belts and re-buckling a shoe and starting the car when Bee announces she forgot her water.

Why do you always forget your water? flies out of my mouth, and before I can correct myself, the littlest voice in the back of the van reminds me not to say “always.”

(Sometimes, parenting is little more than training a 4-year-old to sound precisely like your conscience.)

Tell me: what small steps are you exploring these days? I’d love to hear!


p.s. These are a series of small steps that will (hopefully) provide one giant leap to greater things. Not for mankind, but for me, and perhaps for you, which will always be good enough in my book. More here.

  • I, myself, have tried and tested this, and it is both helpful and humbling. Omitting these two words help me think and not dwell on how I feel at the moment. It also humbles me to remember that the other person’s mistake is my same mistake sometimes as well. :)
    I would like to share my recent small step when it comes to conflict of ideas or opinions. I make sure I acknowledge and align. Whenever I hear an opinion different from mine, I acknowledge it and make sure I hear them out right. Then, I lay down my opinion aligning it to what they said and not changing the whole context as if trying to win the argument. :)

    • SO humbling, yes? thank you, julie!!!!

      and i LOVE your small step. “acknowledge and align” is brilliant!

  • Another good tip! I have heard it and try to adhere to it with my husband, but to omit these words with my kids or with self chatter…I can already see how helpful (and challenging) this could be. Thanks for the nudge!

  • Love your small steps. I agree with the always/never rule and am also teaching myself to stop in the moment and choose to pause and breathe versus spew the unpleasantries racing through my mind. Changing response in a moment of frustration proves to be consistently difficult for me. I’ll keep pausing and breathing over here. The toy train track is beautiful- where is that from? Thank you and loved your book!
    (fellow IN gal)

  • 100%, totally and completely agree. I’ve been living with this rule so to speak for years now, and it is so helpful.

  • “Sometimes, parenting is little more than training a 4-year-old to sound precisely like your conscience”. “Never” has a greater truth been spoken. But really, these are trigger words for us, too, and taking them out of the vocabulary all around makes for better discussion and communication all around.

  • Love your small steps series. Yes, eliminating the words “always” and “never” from a heated discussion is a valuable step. Working hard at using “I” statements instead of “you” has helped me too, with my husband and our young adult sons….hard, though. Am loving your blog, every though my days of raising little ones is long gone.

    • Thank you so much, Gracia! And yes – I love hearing you’re putting “I” statements to good use with your family! It is SO hard to do!

  • Two more words to avoid are “Everyone” or “No One” in place of “I”. I have been much more conscious of using these during arguments – er, debates. It can make you feel pretty lonely if you’re on the receiving end.

  • Love this! We learned this trick a few years ago and it’s been so helpful in our marriage. Every now and then one of us slips up and we’ll look at the other and say, “really, never?”; it helps interject a little humor in the argument as well :)

  • Isn’t that so true? Those absolutes change the tone of a message so much, don’t they? Great reminder, Erin. Thanks for sharing. — You have a fan-girl over at #ChasingCommunity this week who shared your post with me. :) Great to connect. Hope you have a great holiday weekend. ((graces))

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