“Jonathan, would you please help me fold this laundry?”
“I can’t, my arm hurts.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. It must be terribly painful, especially considering you were shooting hoops in the driveway just 10 minutes ago.”
That exchange might sound familiar. Or how about this one: “Brooke, you really don’t do anything around the house. I really need you to help more.”
“I do too help around the house.”
“Why yes, how unfair of me to say otherwise. I can remember one specific time – I think it was late January when you were in third grade – you did bring an empty pop can into the kitchen.”
Reading the above you might feel that these parents are right on target – they aren’t letting their kids pull the wool over their eyes. Thy’re showing who’s in charge; they know what they’re doing.
I’m not so sure.
I am not a fan of sarcasm as a way of responding to teens. This kind of mockery plays well on television family comedies: Sharp retorts to disingenuous teenage children are guaranteed to stimulate a big response on the laugh track. As you watch the show, these snapy rejoiners seem like good parenting by a savvy adult – they’re putting their children in their place. They’re not.
As a parenting tool, sarcasm is never a good idea. The normal response to being on the receiving end of sarcasm is anger. Plain and simple. And what you get in response to your sarcasm – always – is a fight.
“That’s not fair, I do help. You always accuse me of stuff that’s not true. I never get credit for anything that I do.”
In using sarcasm you will find yourself in a battle with your teens, plus anything positive that might have come from your words will be aborted by their anger.
“Who does my mom think she is, talking to me that way?”
They experience your remarks as extreme disrespect – which is exactly what it is. Sarcasm is a put-down – the superior one showing up the lesser. We can feel that we have won the war of words where the best response shows who is the smarter. We reaffirm that we’re the one who is in charge. We are the parent. We have the upper hand. But parenting is not a contest.
I find it’s far better to treat them with respect: “I do too help around the house.”
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe I don’t give you enough credit for helping. But I still would like it if you would you would help more than you are now doing.”
You are not challenging them. You are stating a simple fact. You would like them to do more. You are not backing down, but also you are not putting them down.
“But I do so much now. It’s not fair to ask me for more.”
You are hearing and respecting their opinion. You may not agree. But you are not getting caught up in a battle of who is right.
“That may be, but I still would like it if you would help more around the house. I would appreciate it if you would help me fold the laundry.”
“I can’t, my arm hurts.”
“I’m sorry that your arm hurts, but I would still like you to help you fold the laundry.”
Notice there’s no mention of the fact he was playing basketball 10 minutes ago. Not even a “How come it always seems that you have an injury whenever ask you to do anything?”
That will only get:“I don’t know. Because I do. I can’t help it if I’m easily injured. It’s your fault anyway that you gave me lousy genes.”
The best approach is not to challenge them, but to simply persist – respectfully. “I’m sorry about your arm, but I really could use your help.”
And usually – though not always – they will help.“Ow! Ow! This is really hurting my arm. Ow! Ow!”
“Thank you, Jonathan.”
Sometimes what they say can scream at your soul for a sharp sarcastic comeback. Not to do so seems like a loss. But it’s not. In the long run being respectful is always best.