Anti-spouse Pronouns

How does something as small as a possessive pronoun hold so many years of disdain, frustration, and enmity? I’m talking about the possessive pronouns used by ex-spouses. Not the “my” as in “my ex-husband” or “my former wife”. But the “your” as in “your mother”. Or the “her” as in “her father”. Came across the locution recently and was struck once again at how choosing one small possessive pronoun over another not only shifts the meaning but also shifts the responsibility from adult shoulders onto wee shoulders already weighted with confusion and loss.

“Her father” had forgotten to do something for their child. Not as bad as forgetting to pick her up at school and leaving her there all night but an oversight that was enough to cause a painful, if temporary, consequence. For the mother it was just one more reason why she had removed the man from her life. And by phrasing it “her father forgot” instead of “my ex forgot” the entire ownership of the bumbler is shifted to the party who’s most innocent in this whole scenario — the child.

“Your father……” “Your mother……” Doesn’t matter what comes after; the ensuing verbs are irrelevant. It’s the animus behind those two words that hangs in the air. Because when a child hears, “Your father did so and so” or “Your mother did such and such” then the child in question, who is the only one still linked to the offender, is also guilty by association. Through no fault of her own, the child owns the sub-standard parent and thus the dastardly deed being aired by the other (often rightfully) frustrated parent.

So here’s something to think about. Next time an ex-spouse’s shortcoming rears its head and the temptation to use one of those ownership-shifting pronouns pops up — bring it back home. Say, “my ex-spouse forgot to buy the poster board” or “my ex-spouse is taking me to the cleaners.” Or better yet use a given name. “Joe forgot to pack lunches…” “Susie forgot to send in the tuition…”

Putting the pronouns where they belong changes the equation of the complaint. Putting the pronouns where they belong frees a child to resent his parent if he wants to, or have compassion, or just shrug and go on with life, leaving the enmity where it began — in the hands and hearts of the adults.

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4 thoughts on “Anti-spouse Pronouns

  1. Lisa Hollis


    Good to have you back, and I love this latest piece. My parents split up when I was 10 1/2 years old, and for the rest of my dad’s life (he died in 2005) and the rest of his mother’s life (she died in 2007), my mom was called “YOUR MOTHER” (caps intentional). The antagonistic references to my mom from my dad’s family, not so much from my grandmother but from my dad and his second wife, did little to help heal the wounds of the divorce. On the night that I met my husband (who was divorced and the dad of a 15-year old) he referred to his ex-wife not as an “ex” but as “my son’s mother” and did so in such a respectful manner that I thought, “Hmm . . . isn’t that a nice way to talk about someone he once loved and lived with?”

    So, yes, from the perspective of both the child of divorced parents and the wife of a once-divorced dad, I appreciate this so much. Parents often don’t realize how the “subtle” things they do can hurt and undermine their children.

    I hope you’re enjoying fall in Michigan; it’s in the high 80s with 90% humidity here in New Orleans. Sigh . . .

    Best to you.

  2. Debra

    Thank you Gaylee and Lisa for your comments. My sister heard another one that she liked. She overhead someone refer to his first wife as his “former beloved.”

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