Author Mary Karr gave an interview recently about raising her son after having a hellacious, salacious, fuck-all-acious childhood and young adulthood of her own. Her poignant and straight-forward parenting methods included remaining honest about her early years, before she got sober and started writing, and it plucked about 5 of my strings at once. She said to her son when he turned 13, “You’re gonna want to drink and have sex and do drugs. I want you NOT to drink and have sex and do drugs. You’re gonna continue to want to do those things and I’m gonna continue to try to prevent your doing them. That’s just what we’re engaged in. Let’s not make it personal. Let’s not make it, like, that I’m a bad person or you’re a bad person. Let’s just make it that’s what I’m doing and that’s what you’re doing.”
Stop. Right. There.
This is how I communicate. This is how I believe all people should communicate (because I’m a human with an ego and so everyone should be like me): with facts. Not with emotions and not with assumptions, but with facts.
Fact: You will want to drink.
Fact: I won’t want you to, so I will try to prevent you from drinking.
She outlined the battle that she and her son might or might not engage in throughout his teenage years and didn’t attach anything personal to it. It somehow takes the power out of it, the mystery out of it. Here’s what is going to happen!
She also decided that she would not take other people’s actions personally, specifically her own flesh and blood. She would not assume he would begin drinking because he didn’t like or respect her. She didn’t guess which nights he may or may not drink, nor did she tell him how much it “hurt” her when he did get busted with beers. There was no attachment to personal feelings of self-worth in her mother-son relationship. There was great love, there was ardent protection, and there was passionate grace. But no personalization. (She stayed in her own lane.)
Then she said something even better…
“He told me, ‘You don’t understand. You’re crazy, you think that because you had a problem I’m gonna have a problem…’ And I told him, ‘Look, it doesn’t matter. I busted you with beers, ergo, you no longer have a car. It’s just the rule.’ I didn’t get angry about it, I was just drawing a line.”
(BTW: We should all be using “ergo” in at least once sentence a day.)
What if all communication in life could be this simple?! No drama, no over-the-top sentiments…just…facts. This leads to that.
You don’t show up for me when I need you in our friendship? You don’t get to be my friend anymore.
You smart off to your superiors? You don’t get to have a job anymore.
You spend your money on shoes and coffee? You don’t get to have lights on inside your house.
Our life doesn’t require this much discussion or this many feelings if we choose to live simply. Our life doesn’t require this much OVERTHINKING! Stop thinking and list the facts, and you might be surprised how much clearer your next steps can be.