How to talk to your mother

A communication guide for teenagers

Jack and I were in the car the other day, rushing to get him to his violin lesson.

I love that he still plays violin, and that we’ve gotten way past the screechy stuff to a place where I get to hear some lovely after-dinner music – a therapeutic follow up to the hours we have to spend browbeating the kid into practicing … but perhaps a topic for another blog.

On this particular day, like most, we were late.

It’s moments like these I almost despair of him ever managing on his own. The kid is fifteen years old and I swear he hasn’t learned to tell time or put his underwear on right-side-out yet.

“I told you we were leaving in five minutes, which is when you should be finding your shoes and getting your music together,” I said.

Listen to me, going on like I am the world’s most prompt person. I always think I can eek out one more thing before flying out the door, and that maybe all the stoplights will be green, that the traffic will be light, that I’ll be able to slip in just before the meeting starts. It happens. Sometimes.

Mostly not.

Rude, I know, this late thing.

And, it was kind of my regular MO anyway, then kids came along and compounded the problem about a zillion percent, as kids will.

So was railing on Jack, while driving to practice, about how this is his lesson, why should I have to be the one to ride herd on getting him in the car? Why was he always late?

Now, a thinking person might have been able to see that I was working myself up into quite a dither. A person who valued his personal safety and well-being would keep his mouth shut right at this point, recognizing the rhetorical nature of my question.

There’s that thinking person and then there’s my kid, and gobs of space in between the two.

“Well, I get it from you,” Jack said. Oh, yes, he sure did.

I had a moment remembering the angst-ridden boy in the kids-who-use-drugs-have-parents-who-use-drugs PSA.

“Oh, you know what else you got from me? Twenty-eight hours of labor, mister, that’s something you got from me,” I said.

“Ten months of breastfeeding is something else you got from me. Ten months of nourishment from my own freaking body.”

Seriously. I said that. And I was just getting started. When the lecture train gets a-going, it takes some time to come to a stop.

But then I happened to look over at him and got this look:

Activities 086
a conversation about breastfeeding was not what I was expecting, mother.

And I realized he’d been unprepared to hear such a detailed list of what I’d done for him, and that my voice had been steadily rising as I ranted.

Under different circumstances, Jack’s statement would have probably gone over better. Had I not been harried, or otherwise off my game, we’d have shared a good laugh and a slap on the shoulder. Yes, mom is always tardy. Hee-haw that’s a good one, now get your cutie patootie in there and play your guts out, you rascal.

For future reference in these situations, I have created a little guide to help determine when such a conversation is likely to take a wrong turn, because these things tend to follow a particular pattern.

On one axis of our chart we have mom’s current temperament, ranging from happy-ish to not so much happy.


On the other, we have the method of communication by the teen in question – ranging from the lighthearted or funny to the snarky and sarcastic.


Put them together and you have your four quadrants of communication. In the upper left, we have that golden place where mom is happy and kid is funny, and everything is lighthearted. Good, good times. A snarky or sarcastic comment by said teen on this side of the chart (bottom left), is possibly going to touch off a gentle ribbing, maybe a little teasing, and possibly a pinch on the cheek and an “aww, you’re so cute!”

Because teenage boys really like that cheek-pinchy kind of stuff.

On the other side we have crabby mom. At best, over here, a teen’s lighthearted or funny comment might get a polite laugh. That’s quadrant three.

Then we have the fourth quadrant: the lecture zone. This is where we’re likely to find ourselves if mom’s on the crabby end of the spectrum when the kid is feeling a need to be pointed, snarky or sarcastic.


That fourth quadrant is where a fifteen year-old boy is most likely to get details about his mother’s episiotomy or chapped nipples. It’s probably best to be sure no one is driving or operating heavy machinery when you’re in this space.

Inadvertently step off into the “Lecture Zone,” and it’s best to capitulate immediately with a polite “I’m sorry, mom, I was kidding,” and perhaps a pained expression.

Which is what I got at the time.

Smart boy.


I’m all kinds of good advice. You can thank me by voting. I appreciate your support. I’m sure so do teenage boys everywhere.


Oh, and it should go without saying, but comments are the highlight of my day. So don’t be shy …. Say something.

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  1. Haha, I just had a somewhat similar attack on my daughter, but for a slightly different reason.

    I would also add this to your 4th quadrant: \”Asking Mom for a favor that is inconvenient, expensive, time- exhaustive and sleep-depriving (when she is already stressed out from work).\”

    I accused my daughter of being self-absorbed and wanting, TRYING, to kill me.

    These kids have got to learn about timing!

  2. I\’m sorry mom is very helpful. So is \”lie down mom, and let me get you a beverage\” which is what my 17 year old now does when he sees me getting all wound up.

    Sill, I\’m remembering parts of your lecture to add to the next one I give. The might not have expected a lecture about the birth process. But we\’re barely even. I didn\’t expect it to hurt that much.

    1. Oh, I whip out the birth story whenever it suits me. I\’m big on that. They\’ll probably never have kids because of it, though, which is the downside.

      I think my 15 year old needs to take some pointers from your 17 year old. That kid knows how to calm his momma down.