Locked Up in Louisville

Dear Gabby,

My parents and I are in a viscous cycle of discipline that’s totally not working for me. I do something – usually without meaning to – that prompts a lecture during which I stay respectfully silent. Then they ask if I have anything to say or any questions. The few times I tried to say something, I just ended up getting another round of lecture. So now I just bite my tongue – never have anything to say when it’s my chance – and then I go outside until I’ve cooled down, which can take hours. I just feel like our relationship is so one-sided – me listening to them because I have to and them not hearing me at all. You should know that my parents are traditional and strict. Am I just destined to be locked up inside myself until I leave home?

Locked Up in Louisville

“A wise man will hear and increase in learning.” Proverbs 1:5

Your letter reminds me, Locked Up, of a head-on showdown on a one-way street between a garbage truck loaded with old diapers and Roquefort cheese – it smells really bad because it’s like 100 degrees out – and a cute little convertible VW Beetle, with a little flower smiling in the complimentary flower holding thingy on the dash board. You, the driver of the Beetle, are pretty confident that you’re going in the right direction, and yet that garbage truck is way bigger and nastier than you.  But wait! You pass a sign. What did it say? Are you the one going the wrong way? What? You’re not sure. You may be wrong. But at this point, as you come within a few feet of the smelly garbage truck, does it even matter? Who’s going to get hurt more in this showdown? Being bigger and smellier doesn’t make the garbage truck right, and you certainly shouldn’t always let bigger, smellier things push you around in life, but in this case, right or wrong, you may have to yield.

And so it is in some conversations where there is talking without really communicating. It sounds like you’re already aware that it’s not true communication when one person does all the talking and the other does all the listening. And yet Proverbs reminds us that listening is the beginning of understanding. What you’re wanting is for your parents to do some of the listening, presumably so there can be good communication – that’s a noble concern. So, this is what Gabby would suggest: When times are peaceful, ask your mother or father if you could talk to one of them one-on-one. Maybe go out for a cocoa and doughnut. It’s hard to get all steamed up over a doughnut—much less in public! Now the garbage truck is more the size of a church van. With the least amount of judgment or accusation possible, tell her/him “I know I sometimes do things wrong. I don’t mean to, and I know you get frustrated with me, and for that I apologize. But it bothers me that I feel like I can’t talk to you. When you discipline me you always ask if I have anything to say, and then you don’t listen. You don’t really, really listen to me. If I promise to really hear what you are saying, without getting upset, could you promise to listen to me too without starting another lecture?”

This is a hard ask, for sure, but you’ll never get what you want if you don’t ask for it. And parents sometimes need to be reminded that their children are independent people with their own thoughts and opinions. Parents really love when their children show maturity by taking the initiative to improve the parent/child relationship in sensible, peaceful ways.

If you just can’t see this working with your parents for one reason or another, how about pulling this off in writing?

Sometimes in life we are driving the garbage truck and sometimes we are driving the VW. The difficult part is learning—at whatever age—to stop before crashing. Mother Theresa once said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” So be forgiving of others’ trespasses, and in the meantime, keep your eyes on the road! Sounds like you’re already on your way.

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