Leaving a graduation ceremony and subsequent reception last night, I glanced at the clock, "Wow, that lasted a long time."
"I'm sorry," said my daughter riding shotgun.
"Why are you sorry?" I nonchalantly asked.
Then quickly realizing that I was entering the strange teen-zone where an unassuming question can instantly transform a regular moment into an emotionally-charged field of landmines. "WAIT," I divert and quickly add before she can answer my why question, "what did you think I said."
"Well, you said that I talked too long."
"Yeah, that I'm the reason it ran late."
Huh? "I was only commenting on how long it lasted. I wasn't saying anything about you."
"Well, that's what I heard."
Welcome to a common field of landmines -- the space between what is said and what is heard. It's been around for ages and is especially dicey during times of stress, certain monthly-occurrences, after a long day and pretty much during all teenage-years and any other times affected by changes-in-life.
How can we navigate these dangerous fields and come out on the other side intact, whole, emotionally stable human beings? Who knows?! Most days are simply about survival.
But in an effort to flourish, here are a few ideas to help communication.
Be aware. There's a good chance more is being heard than said. Especially on certain days and in certain scenarios that can impact hearing. For example, it's probably best to avoid any topic that could be construed as commentary on outward appearance:
- before, during or after shopping for a swim suit
- after a sport-function
- surrounding most social situations (even school)
- after a haircut
- during any high-stress
Instead, pour on words of affirmation. Reality can circle back at a later date when insecurity levels are lower.
Be aware of common misheard phrases. Here are a few (some aren't exclusive to teen ears):
What is said: "Have you finished your homework?"
What is heard: "You fail everything! Why can't you be smart like your sister?"
What is said: "Why don't you wear that cute new dress we bought?"
What is heard: "You look fat in what you have on."
What is said: "Did you remember to brush your teeth?"
What is heard: "Your breath smells like poo."
What is said: "You should call Michelle to go on a run with you."
What is heard: "You ARE fat."
What is said: "It must be hot outside."
What is heard: "You reek. Go take a shower."
Keep the conversation going. Just be smart and know that everyone (everyone!) has stepped foot in the not-hearing-what-is-actually-said field and will again.
Call it out. Back to the long graduation/reception event:
"Okay, so first -- the length of graduation had NOTHING to do with you. I was chatting as much, if not more, than you were."
It's true. I grab hold and chat for dear life any time there is a live person standing next to me -- in the grocery store, at the Post Office -- whether someone wants to chat or not.
Be honest and willing to go there.
"And second," I continue, "do you really think I would say something rude like that to you? You can tell me." I want to know if she feels like I play emotional games with words. I'm sure I do, but I don't want to. "Do I make you feel like I'm saying more than I am?"
"Mom -- maybe sometimes. But I think it probably has more to do with me -- it can be so easy to go negative."
"Honey -- I'm with you -- as is probably every other person in that room."
Times like graduation, where people are on literally on stage, labeled by achievements and next-step-in-life announcements, can prompt self-assessment. And most of us tend to be harsh on ourselves.
Adjust the volume and refine the message.
"Are you listening," I ask, and wonder if I am too. "You're fine. You're going to be fine. Don't let excessive introspection fool you into believing something that isn't true." Then I add reality, "And you didn't talk too long. Graduations usually, very regularly, last a long time."
"Maybe that's part of the deal, being there for each other and calling out the thinking and hearing. So we can be sure that we're landing on the real message instead of something that's simply not true."
Then, what can you do but laugh. Which we did. Because SHE was the one spitting out all the what is said vs. what is heard examples.
Walking the road together, honestly, next to some real-life hearing aids in the form of friends -- even/especially when the friends are family.