How to shut up your mother
You know how it goes: Everything is just fine, sunny and wonderful, upbeat, copasetic. Until it’s not. Maybe you dared ask about homework. Maybe you mentioned that dinner was in 10 minutes so that chowing down on that leftover burrito might not be the thing to do right now. Maybe, who knows, mercury suddenly went into retrograde. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. What matters is what happens next: The Silent Treatment.
We think words are powerful. But silence is more powerful. You can do something with words. You can respond. You can ask for clarification. You can re-interpret. You can work with words, play with words, search for common ground, find humor. But silence? Silence is a wall. Silence is a hulking, unplugged appliance. An airless room. Silence is compressed anger, dense, cold, impenetrable.
Teens are so damn savvy about silence. You have to hand it to them. They know what weapons they have in this fight for independence: Not many. We adults have the big guns. We make all the decisions. We fund, or defund. We allow. We disallow. Oh yes, we grant privileges (when we feel they are deserved based on our Deservedness Criteria). We loosen the reins when we believe the reins should be loosened. But not too much. And not too soon. This is all good. This is all how it should be. We’ve lived longer; we know more. It’s our job to protect, to teach, to talk about things.
But here comes the teen with the undeveloped pre-frontal cortex and the overdeveloped (age-appropriate) snark. Here comes the teen who wants…whatever: to not be bothered, to not be reminded, to forget chores, to play Xbox all day, to do whatever he or she damn wants. And here comes the parent. Okay, here comes me, with words and reasons and stories, with inducements and consequences. And more words.
How can I shut her up? (thinks the teen) How can I get her to leave me alone? What can I say? Oh, wait a minute. It’s not about saying anything. It’s about not saying. If I shut her out, I shut her up.
The Silent Treatment.
I know this from both sides – and so do you. That thing my daughter does, that iron door she slams? I did the same thing. I slammed the same door. My mother was on the other side then. Now it’s me. Ouch.