Rule #3: Don’t Talk
We’ve learned over the past two weeks that these rules are a sure fire way to lead our kids into addictions and failed relationships. I’ll repeat, there’s no fool proof way of having happy healthy kids. But we can certainly give our kids a leg up if we learn to break these rules.
Nobody thinks they live by the last rule. At least, I haven’t been with any families who declare they have taken a vow of silence. They talk. They talk about football, baseball and the Olympics. They discuss the weather. They share the latest office gossip. They talk about every one else’s problems. But when it comes to anything truly deep, meaningful and personal, they are silent as the grave. Instead of talking, they toss around jokes (all the while declaring the jokes demonstrate they are emotionally healthy), they rage, they minimize, they sidestep, they stonewall.
Few families actually allow talk about feelings, problems or embarrassing situations. There may be a huge pink elephant in the room. Most families will walk gingerly around it and never say anything, pretending it’s not in the way and doesn’t smell.
We’ll start with the big pink elephant rearing its head in this blog post. Junior comes home from school and says, “Mom, what’s oral sex?” Mom gasps and drops her coffee cup on the floor. As she hurriedly runs to grab a towel she shouts, “Where did you hear about that?” “Tommy said his older brother’s girlfriend does it.” “What!? We don’t talk about that. I don’t want you talking to Tommy anymore.” Junior just learned, in his family, you’re not allowed to talk about sex. Where will Junior go one day when he’s experiencing sexual feelings and is really interested in finding out more about it? Not Mom and Dad, it’s against the rules to talk about sex in their family.
How about this scenario? Susie’s still dressed in her volleyball uniform when Dad gets home from work late. “Dad, you said you’d be at my game this time.” Dad, already frustrated from a tough day at the office harshly replies, “Look, I don’t want to talk about it. When you’re an adult you’ll understand.” What did Susie learn? Her family doesn’t talk about hurts and feelings. Where will she go one day when she’s really hurt by some young man? Not her parents. We don’t talk about hurts here.
Or yet another. Pre-teen Johnny asks his Mom, “Why does our church do such and such? Jimmy’s church doesn’t do that.” Mom, likely not very sure herself responds, “Because that’s what God said and I won’t let you go around questioning what God said. Do you understand me, young man?” What did Johnny learn? In our family we aren’t allowed to talk about spiritual questions and especially disagreements. Where will Johnny go one day when he’s really having a crisis of faith? Not his parents. They don’t talk about spiritual matters in their family.
I hate to bring up this one because this is one where I follow the rules too often. Dad rebukes Mary for something. Mary, having been unjustly accused and misunderstood, “But, Dad…” “No ‘buts,’ young lady. You will listen to me and you won’t give me any lip. Do you understand?” What did Mary learn? I’m not allowed to talk about injustice when I’ve been wronged or speak up in my own defense. Where will Mary go when someone touches her inappropriately and made her feel uncomfortable and dirty? Not to Mom and Dad. She’s knows what the person did was wrong but knows just as firmly her parents will blame her and she’s not allowed to speak up in her own defense.
Things we’re definitely not allowed to talk about. Dad’s alcoholism, Mom’s raging fits. The black sheep older brother who’s taking drugs and got a girl pregnant. The teenager next door who has spiked green hair and a chain running from his pierced nose to his pierced ear. We don’t talk about sex. We don’t talk about death and dying. We don’t talk about our hurts. We don’t talk about our feelings. We’re not allowed to say we’re sad. We’re definitely not allowed to say we’re mad. If we ever say we’re anything but happy, someone might even bring God into the picture, saying, “God doesn’t like it when you’re sad. You better cheer up now or I’ll give you something to cry about.” We learn that we’re not good Christians if we ever say we’re anything but, “I’m blessed.”
There’s a great little scene in the 1995 Emma Thompson version of Sense and Sensibility. Following a very trying lunch and afternoon with Mrs. Jennings, who was trying to figure out if the Dashwood girls had any suitors, Marianne rebuked Margaret for parading ignorant assumptions about a Mr. F being engaged to their sister Elinor. Marianne speaks ill of Mrs. Jennings and Margaret pipes up in her defense and Mrs. Dashwood, the girls’ mother, cuts the conversation short.
Margaret: I like her, she talks about things. We never talk about things.
Mrs. Dashwood: Hush, please. That is enough Margaret. If you cannot think of anything appropriate to say you will please restrict your remarks to the weather.
And thus we learn we are not allowed to talk about “things.” No, we haven’t taken a vow of silence, but since we’re not allowed to feel and we don’t trust anyone with our feelings anyway, we don’t talk about “things.” Sadly, in this scenario we know many things about the people with whom we live, but we don’t actually know them. And we certainly don’t want them to know us. After all, we haven’t talked about it because we don’t trust them.
Certainly, we need structure in our homes. Children should speak with respect. Children do need to learn some conversations are not appropriate in certain settings. However, we do need to let our children know it is good to talk about things. We need to learn to talk about things. Let us not restrict our remarks to the weather.