Ask yourself this: How many times do you use sarcasm to express your dissatisfaction? I would guess you do this more often than you’d like to admit. I have been guilty of this, and it has resulted in situations where I have not always put my best foot forward.
When my son became a teenager, I permitted myself to start using sarcasm. Partly because it’s how a teenager often speaks. But in my case, I abused sarcasm and often used a sarcastic tone to correct him, nag him and remind him what he was doing wrong. I would say things like:
You really thought that was a good idea?
Wow that’s impressive!
You must know everything, I know nothing!
All of these comments are unkind. Consider how rude it is to speak to somebody sarcastically. You would never speak to a co-worker this way. Why was I speaking to him this way? It was such a slippery slope, and the next thing I knew, it became my go-to way of speaking.
During an exchange with my son, I observed myself talking this way — sarcastic, condescending, attempting to be humorous but at his expense. I didn’t realize the negative impact it was having until I saw him use the same condescending and sarcastic tone with others. I was shocked! It was so alarming but critical to witness. I completely saw myself in him. What was worse: He began speaking this way as if it was harmless or benign. The truth is, I felt so ill-equipped to parent a teenager. I stopped practicing things like patience, empathy, compassion because he was older.
I placed unrealistic expectations on him. Truthfully, teenagers require just as much, if not more, patience than a toddler. They always need a safe place to fall, and they have to know that they can speak without judgment or ridicule.
In my case, what remedied the situation was exercising the practice of pausing — remember, that’s the first step of the PARR approach. It’s where I go when I feel triggered, agitated or reactive. When describing the act of pausing in greater detail, I encourage people to try and create a meta-awareness around their responses. You want to create an out-of-body experience where you can bear witness to yourself and your actions.
Here’s an example to help illustrate the process of pausing to create an awareness around yourself.
Have you ever been in the uncomfortable situation of watching two people argue? You are the objective party. Because you know the two individuals well, you can clearly see how they are getting triggered. From the outside, you understand their reactions are disproportionate to the situation, buttons are being pushed or they’re reactive because they feel insecure. When you are disconnected emotionally, the problem between the two individuals arguing is crystal clear.
This is the same clarity you’ll want to apply to yourself. You may not be able to glean all the answers during your moment of pause. But through pausing and later reflecting, some truthful insights should start to come through. Consider observing yourself with neutrality, as if you are your own best friend. Think of moments when you’re responding in an automatic or reactive way. In my case, I literally watched myself becoming the mother I didn’t want to be.
During the last sarcastic exchange with my son — and I mean last — I created enough space that I truly saw myself. As I sit and recall it, the sound of my voice and tone makes me cringe. During my moment of pause, I heard myself and fully absorbed the words I was saying and how I was choosing to say them. It was as if I had left my body, and I was watching and hearing this event unfold.
During my pause, I knew immediately something had to change. I stopped dead in my tracks and did not continue the conversation. It was as if something grabbed a hold of me and said, “Do not say another word from this space.” I looked at my son and said, “Give me 5 minutes and we’ll continue this conversation.” I was flooded with the realization that my knee-jerk reaction to be sarcastic was unfair and unproductive. It served no one — not me or my son. These reactions became so automatic, I couldn’t even see or hear what I was doing. From that moment on, I knew I had to adopt a healthier and kinder form of communication. It didn’t matter that he was a teenager. I’m his mom.
When I resumed the conversation, I began with a whole-hearted apology. It went like this:
“Hey, I owe you a really big apology. The way I speak to you when we disagree or when I am trying to help you solve a problem is not OK. My intention is never to make you feel small or inferior. There will be several times throughout life that we’ll disagree, but I give you my word, I will not use snide remarks, or passive aggressive comments as a response. I will always speak to you with respect because you deserve nothing less.”
Something in our relationship shifted in that moment. We’ve always had a pretty healthy relationship, but he realized my sincerity and he saw my vulnerability. In return he offered the same promise — disagreements will happen, disrespectful responses won’t.
It was well-defined to me how I wanted to proceed and move forward. I often wonder — had I not found the space to pause, what would have happened? To most parents, the comments made are in jest or innocent. In my mind, I excused it because he was older and the way he expressed himself had changed. Once my kids became teenagers, there was a sense that they were independent and didn’t need their parents. This sense of independence made me expect perfect choices every time. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
Believe me, there is a lot of humor in our home. We still use sarcasm, but not to cut someone down, or in moments when a meaningful conversation needs to happen. Believe me, teenagers will do things that will have you saying, “Hmmm?” Nevertheless, remember they are still growing — as are we all — and they require patience, kindness and safety in these moments.
In the next few days, try to pause and observe yourself when you’re feeling agitated or triggered. If you’re like me, there may be a great lesson for you to discover when you do this exercise.
I would love to hear how pausing has allowed you to see your situation and yourself in a new way.