By Kenneth Justice
“I haven’t talked with my mother in 40 years” he said
~ Over the course of 200 coffee houses I’ve visited this past year, I’ve ran into a number of different high schoolers who told me they couldn’t wait to move out of their parent’s house,
—) “My dad is so controlling, I can’t wait till I’m old enough to live on my own” said a 16 year young man
—) “My mom gets in my business all the time, she’s always putting her nose into things that are none of her concern” said a 17 year old young woman
—) “My step-father is a jerk. He treats me like shit and the minute I’m legally allowed to move out I’ll be gone” said a 16 year old young man
We’ve all heard the Proverb, “Familiarity breeds contempt” and in many of these cases involving tension between parents and children, or family members in general, I suspect an element of the problem is that we all tend to grind on each other’s nerves when we live in such close contact with loved ones. Unless we live in the White House, most houses aren’t big enough to give us the arm distance we need at times in order to have a break from the relatives that are driving us nuts.
Yet of all the people I’ve met this past year who complained about her parents, it was a 64 year therapist in Atlanta whose story stood out to me the most,
“My husband and I are both practicing psychotherapists here in the Atlanta area. We are successful, earn well above the national average in salary, have a beautiful house in an nice neighborhood, are respected members of our community and serve on a board at our local church…..yet despite all that I haven’t talked to my parents in 41 years” she said
While the narrative the psychotherapist told me is rather long, the jist of the story is that her parents are the type of people who are ‘right about everything, nothing is good enough for them and they are always either finding fault with me, my husband, and couldn’t go one conversation without telling me how something I was doing was wrong” she said.
Forty one years seemed like an awful long time to go without a word between her and the parents and when I asked her if she ever tried to contact them in all that time she emphatically said no, “my parents have periodically sent me letters telling me what an awful evil person I am, that I have failed them as a daughter, and that because I have cut them off it means I am destined to hell. So the answer to your question is no, they are still clearly not at a place where they are able to respect the fact that I’m an adult and am no longer answerable to them as a little child”.
She’s 64 years old and her parents still don’t respect the fact that she’s an adult…..wow! How old does one have to be to be treated like an adult by your parents?
While conflict between relatives isn’t necessarily something that everyone can relate to; conflict in some way, shape, or form is unavoidable;
—) Managers and bosses who talk down to us or treat us like little children
—) Co-workers or relatives who gossip about us
—) Customers or clients who are unreasonable and treat us with contempt
The list is positively endless regarding everyday conflict situations and anyone who has been a teacher, worked in customer relations, been a barista at a coffee shop, or held political office knows only too well the types of conflict that show up in various forms at the drop of a hat.
What differentiates the type of conflict one might experience in a work setting versus a family setting is the very simple phenomena of familiarity; people who don’t know us as well often demonstrate a higher level of respect towards us in the midst of the conflicting situation. It’s the people whom we are closer to that are the most likely to use more vitriolic language towards us and to disrespect us the most.
At the height of his ministry, Jesus was waltzing around Canaan like a modern day Rock Star; he was being received with massive amounts of joy and excitement everywhere he went; he was like John Lennon and the Beatles showing up to the Ed Sullivan Show.…..and then he decided to go to his hometown. Talk about a deflating experience; the people in his hometown treated him like shit, “Isn’t this the punk kid who was the son of that carpenter?” the people said. These were the people who’d known him since he was young, they watched him grow up, and they merely thought of him as just another boy from neighborhood; they didn’t respect him at all.
~ A prophet is without honor in his own home ~
Often times in life it’s our parents, our siblings, our relatives, and our close friends who respect us the least. We can have obtained worldwide fame and massive amounts of intellectual success, yet to those people closest to us we may never be nothing more than that punk kid they remember us as when we were younger.
“I just ignore them” someone told me recently. A mid-thirtyish young man explained to me that he gets along rather well with his parents because he simply ignores their overbearing ways, “They are hardcore fundamentalist Christians and think they-know-it-all. If they aren’t telling me what type of sin I’m guilty of lately, they are telling me about one of my other siblings or cousins or relatives and how they are in sin. It’s a never ending pit of my mom and dad bashing people behind their backs; but I’ve learned to just ignore them. I smile, I don’t say anything, and we get along great”.
While being stupid and cheerful is a tactic that might work in keeping the peace between us and grumpy family members; I often wonder what type of relationship it truly is if all we are ever doing is suppressing our feelings and ignoring the nasty behavior of those closest to us. Can we really say that we have a ‘great relationship’ with our parents or siblings if we are suppressing what we really think and feel about their behavior and who they are as individuals?
Ultimately, conflict sucks. Listening to parents or anyone grate on our nerves can get old after a while. Arguing with people tends to only perpetuate the problem. Being stupid and cheerful might work temporarily but after a while I wonder if it doesn’t end up having a negative effect on our own psyche since all we are really doing is bottling up our true feelings toward people. Nonetheless, we will never truly be able to hide from conflict; it has been a part of the human experience since the dawn of time and will stick with us till the very end. So what are we to do? How do we deal with all these difficult people?
Unfortunately I don’t have all the answers, I do have a nice cup of coffee in front of me, and I think it’s time I finish it,