SparkNotes Blog

Auntie SparkNotes: I’m Sick of Always Being in Trouble

Hi Auntie!

I’m a junior in high school who has a good job, works 15-20 hours a week, excels in school, drives everyone around ever since I got my license, and has a steady social life. But that doesn’t seem to be enough for my parents.

I have a younger brother who is a freshman in high school and an older sister who is a senior, and neither of them get in trouble. I can count on one hand the times my parents have even looked at them disapprovingly in the past ten years. Meanwhile, I am currently grounded, don’t have a car to drive, and am constantly being yelled at by my parents for pretty much everything I do. I’m not a bad kid, I just didn’t take my siblings home from school the other day, forcing them to ride the bus. Unbeknownst to me at the time, making your siblings ride the bus is a sin of the worst kind; worse than murder or adultery. I got yelled at, and now have to do all my sibling’s chores and buy $20 presents for each of them with my hard-earned money.

If you have any tips on how to deal with this stuff besides driving off and screaming at myself (can’t do that anymore!), I’m all ears. I’m sick of being the guinea pig for punishments and the screw-up in the family.

Well, yes, Sparkler. I guess you would be! Being “the guinea pig for punishments” sounds miserable, and of course you wish it would stop.

There’s just one problem: as much as I’m sympathetic to your unhappiness (and I am! Always!), I am also… well, not entirely convinced that I’m getting the complete picture here. At the very least, I suspect that your parents’ description of the events in question would be wildly different from yours—and that if they were writing to me, your story about being unjustly punished for doing practically nothing at all would sound more like a story about a kid who brazenly and inconsiderately shirked her responsibilities at everyone else’s expense, and still doesn’t seem to understand why that wasn’t okay.

Of course, that’s just a guess. I could be wrong, and even if I’m not, that doesn’t mean your parents’ take would be the unvarnished and absolute truth. But what concerns me is that their perspective is totally missing from your letter; it’s like you haven’t thought about it at all. And if you want things to change—if you want your folks to treat you differently—then considering their point of view is something you’ve gotta do. When you chose not to drive your siblings home as expected, how did your choice impact everyone else? Did they wait for you, worrying and wondering where you were? Did they have to scramble to catch the bus? How much longer did it take them to get home, and what if anything did they miss out on doing because they weren’t back in time? How might they have felt? And how about your parents? How would they feel? Worried? Inconvenienced? Foolish? Disappointed? Did they give you such unfettered access to the car contingent on your fulfilling certain responsibilities vis-a-vis chauffeuring other people around, and did you let them down? (Also, you haven’t mentioned why you blew off your driving duties. Did you have a reason? What was it?)

In short, darling, you need to be honest with yourself about how it impacts other people when you don’t do what you’re supposed to—and stop being obtuse with this, “Oh, boo hoo, they had to ride the bus” stuff. Obviously, your siblings having to ride the bus is not a tragedy! But if you did something inconsiderate, and made your folks feel as though they can’t count on you, it’s hardly surprising that they were upset.

Which I am telling you not to make you feel bad, or because I think your parents were right to ground you (I don’t), but because this conversation goes nowhere if you can’t first acknowledge where and how you screwed up. Your punishment might have been disproportionate, but it was still for a reason, and being willing to admit that puts you in a much stronger position from which to request a little leniency. As these things go, “I know I made a mistake, but I don’t think I deserve to be yelled at about it for months afterward” is always going to net you better results than [extreme sarcastic voice] “Well EXCUUUUSE ME if I didn’t realize that THE BUS is a FATE WORSE THAN DEATH.”

That’s something you’ll want to keep in mind if you decide to approach your parents—not just now, but in general. Be willing to admit fault and acknowledge perspectives other than your own, and you vastly improve your chances of having the other person do the same… and thus increase the likelihood of ultimately persuading them to behave differently, which is of course what you want. And while this may not be the easiest way to deal with family conflicts, it is your best shot at resolving them to your satisfaction, which is why I hope you’ll give it a try.

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