A lesson in honest communication
About two years after my dad died I had an experience with my mom that led to a story I share in the Heal My Past program. It’s called, Chicken Wing Syndrome. I’ve shared this story for over a decade at this point. And it occurred to me I had never written it down. So, today I’m going to share with you here.
But first a word of warning – avoid Chicken Wing Syndrome at all cost!
The failure to provide honest communication
I called my mother and caught her as she was driving home from my sister’s house. It’s about a 45 to 60 minute drive. Once on the phone with my mom I was kind of committed to the remainder of her drive. We chatted and caught up on things over the better part of the drive. All in all it was a lighthearted conversation and she seemed to be in a good mood.
Once she reached the house I could hear the garage door opening and her mood changing. She told me she’d pulled in the garage and asked me to hold on. I could hear her tension level mounting. She started to sound aggravated, angry even.
“Hold on, hold on… I just need to take care of this shit!”
Not sure of the shit she was talking about, I held the line waiting for her to return. She picked up the phone and was really agitated, so I asked what was wrong.
“Your sister gave me 4 pounds of chicken and I had to put it in the outside freezer.”
“Okay…” Not really sure why she was so angry, I asked “And how’s that a problem?”
“It’s 4 pounds of chicken wings!”
I can hear her thumping around the garage and slamming things.
“Still not getting it, Mom…”
“I Fucking HATE Chicken Wings!”
“Oh My God, you have Chicken Wing Syndrome!” I snorted and started laughing my ass off.
She did not see the humor in this. I know, not the most compassionate thing to do.
But I thought it was honest communication – honestly
Growing up Mom stayed home and Dad worked. And as a stay-at-home mom, one of the things she got good at was stretching the food budget to feed two growing children and a husband who worked in a physically demanding job. Way back when, when I was a child – chicken was actually cheaper than beef. So roast chicken was often on the dinner menu.
As children, Sister and I got the drumstick (kids love the drumstick) and as we grew, we promoted to leg and thigh quarters. Dad having a physically demanding job always got the breast. Both breasts. Leaving Mom the choice between chicken back or the chicken wings. My mother – the martyr – would proclaim her love for chicken wings every time we sat down to the table. Every. Single. Damn. Time.
“I love chicken wings, they’re my favorite!”
“These wings have all the flavor in them – they’re so tasty!”
“I couldn’t possibly eat any of your (fill in the blank) those wings absolutely filled me up!”
How do you pull it back
Back to my phone call. My lack of sensitivity didn’t go unnoticed. Mom started crying.
“Hold on, hold on – did you tell Sister you don’t like chicken wings?!” Preparing to call her and give her a piece of my mind.
“Oh no, I couldn’t do that!”
“I don’t want her to think I’m ungrateful.”
“Okay mom, you have to tell Sister you don’t like chicken wings.”
This is where her crying began in earnest. Sobbing even.
“It’s not just today. She gives me chicken wings every time I go to the house.”
Being that my mom watched my sister’s two kids at least once a week. Let’s do the math… Yeah that’s a shit load of chicken wings in my mother’s freezer.
Evidently, Sister started doing this shortly after Dad passed away. On another side note – anytime chicken was on sale, Dad would buy chicken in the bulk family packs and make sure Sister and I both got, the next time he came to the house. Chicken breast, chicken leg quarters, but never chicken wings! Sister was just trying to be nice. She was raised that way. Sister legitimately thought Mom loved them. She had never heard different. Mom had never tried honest communication.
The first thing I did was explain to my mother how to dispatch a chicken carcass to serve eight people and allow for white and dark meat on each plate. I’m helpful that way.
Next, I launched into the need to communicate effectively and honestly with Sister.
“But I don’t want to make her feel bad…”
“Seriously Mom! How is being angry and resentful helpful? After 30+ years of hearing how much you love chicken wings, you owe it to her to tell her the truth!”
“But then she’ll think I’m a bad person…”
Irony is a lesson in honest communication
I was probably 16 years old this one particular Christmas and we were celebrating at my aunt’s house. In our family it was tradition to open gifts one at a time going around the room. With all eyes upon you. It came to me and I opened a velour, mint green, Mandarin collar sweater. I hate the texture of velour. I’m a winter, so mint green should never go anywhere near my face. And I can’t wear anything up on my neck, which meant – Mandarin collar – out of the question. Being the adorable 16-year-old that I was, I smiled oh so sweetly, looked at my aunt and said, “I hope you kept the receipt.” – Honest communication. My aunt took it in stride, she gave me the receipt and told me I’d have to take the sweater back and exchange it for something I wanted, on my own. Easy peasy.
On the drive home that Christmas night, I got to hear about how ungrateful and inappropriate I was. I remember explaining to my mother that it made no sense to pretend I liked something when I legitimately didn’t. It made sense to me to communicate my dislike for the simple reason that if I lied and said I liked it, I ran the risk of getting another one. No, it’s not the thought that counts. Especially when it comes to family. You have to have honest communication and healthy boundaries with everyone, but most especially family.
And now here I was counseling my mother about honest communication (and running the risk of getting the same thing again – just because you want to be nice). I love irony. I reminded Mom of this incident.
I’m still a good person and I don’t choose to compromise
I asked my mother if she thought I was a bad person. She said no, she thought I was a good person in fact. I asked if she thought I was a bad wife, sister, daughter or friend, business owner, mentor or boss. Again she responded that as far as she knew I was a good person at all of those things and labels that I embodied.
I then asked her if she had ever known me to compromise my needs, wants or desires in order to make someone else happy. That was a BIG NO, and that’s because I believe in honest communication.
I asked her to walk through this with me, so if I was capable of being honest in communicating my needs – even if they made others potentially uncomfortable – it still allowed for me to be a good person. Yes. Good. We made progress.
But do you really deserve to be happy
I asked her what her favorite part of the chicken was. She responded, the breast meat. Great, when was the last time she purchased that for herself. She hadn’t because she had about 50 pounds of chicken wings in her freezer and didn’t want to waste them. OMG! One step back.
I told her that was fine, since she didn’t deserve what she really wanted anyway. I’m all about helping people get clear on what they want in life.
“I do too deserve chicken breast!”
“No, actually you don’t. You’ve made that abundantly clear in your refusal to ask for what you really want and in your failure to attain it on your own – out of some deep seated desire to be seen as a good person.” “Better to build resentment and anger while you fail to get your needs met,” I said.
SILENCE on the other end.
There was more conversation that dealt with some other limiting decisions she had developed in childhood. We were also able to resolve those as well. Ultimately, she came to understand it was imperative that she communicate effectively and honestly in order to avoid feelings of anger or resentment.
My mother loves that I have a background in behavior and communication – mostly. In all seriousness, she took a lot away from that conversation, most importantly the ability to communicate the things she needs – openly and honestly.
Think about where you’re compromising your life. Instead of sharing – do something about it. You can still share if you’d like.