Dear Captain Awkward,
My parents and I have a very strained relationship. There is obviously a lot involved, but since I left home 12 years ago I’ve slowly been setting boundaries with them and trying to have the kind of relationship we can manage (which is a superficial though mostly friendly one as long as I’m not in the same state as them). While a lot of the things my parents do bother me, I’ve been coping with them. However, I have a pet peeve that I just can’t get over, and I need help!
My dad insists on talking to me in baby-talk and in the third person. I am 30 years old, a successful attorney, married, and 100% an adult. He tells me all that time that I’ll “always be a widdle girl to Daddy” and other similar nonsense, and I want to reach through the phone and show him what’s what. I have far exceeded what he thought I would become in life (no thanks to him) and I feel like he’s infantalizing me to ‘keep me in my place.’ I hate it.
But how do I make it stop? This has been going on my whole adult life, and I feel like I’m in deep to just say “actually that bothers me a lot, please stop.” Ultimately I know this is indicative of his whole attitude toward me, which will never really change, but if I could just carry on a conversation were he says “I changed the oil today” instead of “Daddy changed the oil” (in a cutesy voice) I would take it.
Not Widdle and Not Buying It
Dear Not Widdle,
Oh god oh god oh god it is time to rip the bandaid off.
Step 1: Make the request
“Dad, can you stop with the baby talk? Thank you.”
Interrupt him if necessary. The shorter you make the delivery, the easier it will go. You don’t have to take care of all his thoughts & feelings about it, you just have to make the request.
Step 2: Ride out the derailing
Him: “But why didn’t you say anything before?” You: “I’m saying something now.”
Him: “But I thought you liked it!/I thought it was ‘our thing'” You: “And I thought you’d snap out of it once I was an adult, and yet, here we are.”
Him: “But you’ll always be a widdle girl to Daddy!” You: “No. I’m 30. That’s how time works. For us to have an adult relationship, it’s time to talk like adults.”
Him: “But I feel weird and embarrassed now and that’s somehow your fault!” You: “I feel weird too! Believe it, it’s embarrassing to hear about the ‘widdle wunch Daddy ate earlier.’ But if you stop the baby talk then this will pass really soon and we can just interact like adults, which is what I want.”
Step 3: Enforce the boundary
Him: “Daddy changed the oil in his vroom vroom so he can pick up daughter for some bweakfast?”
You: “Hard pass. Also, we said no baby talk, remember?”
Him: “Awwww, Daddy forgets sometimes. Babygirl forgive Daddy?”
You: “Ugh, Dad. I’m not going to talk to you if you act like this.”
Then hang up the phone. He talks baby talk to you? You get off the phone or end the visit. He tries talking to you like an adult? MAYBE you hang in and have a conversation.
Can’t imagine why your relationship with is “strained.”
(That was sarcasm)
Being clear and direct is actually the kindest move here. Digging into why he behaves this way means possibly having to hear more about why he behaves this way, which, no. No! Ask, remind, enforce, escape.