The Communication Gap

Just like between men and women, between children and adults there is a practically visible communication barrier.  Unlike with men and women, where the barrier seems built upon years of manipulation and passive-aggressive conversation and neediness and jumps to conclusions, the communication gap between adults and children is built on the child’s capacity for abstract thinking and an inherent need to understand.  Children do not come with the ability to reason, but most come with a natural curiosity, which, if honed, can result in terrific logic skills and wonderful opportunities for love.  (If smothered or not encouraged to grow it can result in dreadfully boring children who will only serve to annoy the rest of us.  More on my thoughts about dull children and how good manners are the beginning to the cure HERE.)

So, I rarely exhibit the passive-aggressive, needy, game-playing woman as stereo-typified in mass emails (What women SAY and what they REALLY MEAN).  Seriously, if I want to hear I look cute, I say to Daniel, “Tell me I’m cute.”  And if I ask his opinion on an outfit, it’s because he has a better perspective of my ass than I do, and I want the truth on the matter.  If I want to stop talktalktalking something to death (Mr. Obsessive), I tell him to just make a decision.  AND I MEAN IT.  I’m a big fan of saying exactly what I mean and not playing an unnecessary game of interpretation.  Probably the only time I need interpreting is when I say, “I don’t want to talk about it,” but everyone knows that means, “We’ll talk about it when I’m ready to talk about it.”  Anything other than that one is like talking backwards, totally counter-productive, and deleterious to any relationship.

Well, most any relationship.  I feel like I could say to any one of my friends:  “These are the things I expect from you in our relationship.”  At the top of the list would be honesty.  In the same way, if I were to list to my friends the things I could bring to the relationship, honesty would probably top the list.  (That and good secret keeping, because I have a shit memory.)  The big exception for me is I might tell a friend something he/she really wanted to hear–that wasn’t necessarily untrue–to protect them from the harsher reality of the truth.  It is unfortunate that most of us would rather have smoke blown than be slightly offended by the truth.

Anyway, this post is about my kids.  So, I find that while I do not play games with my adult relationships, I do sometimes camouflage the truth with gentler language for my children.  Euphemism, circumlocution, periphrasis, verbal evasion, these are words my thesaurus gives me to name what I do.  This is often where that gap in communication comes into play.  Remember how I said I think the barrier in our communication is based on a child’s capacity for abstract thinking and an inherent need to understand?  It looks something like this:

“You cannot keep putting your hands on your brother like that.  It is not acceptable to hit other people.” *Me, being direct.

“Why?” *Her, wanting to understand.

“Because it does not show him that you love him.” *Me, not frustrated yet.

“Why?” *Her, trying to annoy me to understand.

“Grey, we need to show Atticus love.  It is our responsibility to teach him how to be kind.  If you continue to hurt him, one of these days he’ll be bigger than you and will punch you back.” *Me, attempting to show her a bigger picture of just one of the reasons why it isn’t OK to inflict physical violence.

“Why?” *Her, confused at the very idea that her baby brother will ever be anything but.

In this scenario, I used verbal evasion.  Although I really wanted to, I did not tell her that she needs to stop being hateful to her brother because that’s acting without foresight.  She doesn’t get it; she doesn’t realize that what she’s giving now, she’ll be taking pretty soon.  She really wants to understand.  But she can’t conceive of anything being different than how it is at this moment.  And she certainly can’t see a bigger picture of how this all fits into our family’s lifestyle and values and the world at-large.  Her inability to think abstractly and her incessant quest for understanding are a barrier to me communicating the point, which, in this scenario, is simply “Don’t hit Atticus.”

Another example is when I tell her that I need her to not come into the bathroom because I need a break.  This is the nicest way I know to say “YOU’RE DRIVING ME FUCKING CRAZY WITH YOUR CEASELESS CHATTER, AND IF I’M AROUND YOU RIGHT NOW I MAY DO SOMETHING BAD OR EVEN ILLEGAL.”  But, because of the communication barrier, she generally sits right outside the bathroom door and just keeps asking me “Why?”  She has no understanding of the implied meaning of “I need a break” or the literal meaning of “in ten minutes.” And I have no intention of speaking those words to her in capital letters.

Fortunately, when she’s trying to communicate to me, even if she’s being a little sneak, I get it loud and clear.  The other day I was standing in my bedroom doorway, which is right next to her bedroom doorway.  Atticus was sitting on the floor and she was hovering over him, looking close to devious.  She looked at me and said, “Mama, can you go away?”  I asked her why.  She said, “Because I need to do something.”  I said, “Really?  What does that something look like?”  You know what she said to me?  No sugar-coating, no gentle language, not even a shot at deception.  She said, “It looks like hitting Atticus.”

So much for wonderful opportunities for love.

  1. Bekah said:

    I think it’s a damn shame that none of us can remember what it’s like to think in the abstract language of children. I find their honesty, transparency and emotional directness to be immensely refreshing. Though, my kid doesn’t speak yet, so what I find “refreshing” now will likely have me thinking in those capitol letters before I know it. :)

  2. Bekah said:

    Crap, I spelled ‘capital’ wrong and I can’t edit my comment. Grr!

  3. Christy said:

    Hilarious! Thanks.

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