Intergenerational Gaffes: What Goes Around Comes Around | NASW Member Voices

Jan 11, 2023

mother and son sitting after quarrel at home

By Lorrie Appleton, LCSW


Lorrie R. Appleton, LCSW

I’m in trouble! I slip my report card into my father’s hand. I watch his face as he opens the dreaded document. His blue eyes turn red when he sees the “D” in Behavior. Next to the grade, the teacher explains her reasoning. Her notation reads, “Lorrie talks too much.” 

I thought my father’s head was going to blow off his shoulders as he ranted for what seemed like hours about my irresponsibility and lack of discipline. I was in 2nd grade, for goodness sakes! My father was never short on words. Wait a minute! I talk too much — and my father is verbose. There may be a link here!

Fast forward. I attended our son’s sixth grade parent-teacher conference. I was on high alert. His teachers were generally complimentary; however, my anticipation loomed large. I scanned the teacher’s face for non-verbal cues. No smile. Stoic facial expression. Not good signs for a nervous parent. The teacher shared scores and observations about our first-born, which sounded generally positive. Then the bomb dropped.

Ms. Smith (real name protected) said she had a problem with our son’s sense of humor.  She found him to be “sarcastic” and she was not amused. I was non-responsive in the meeting although the thought bubble above my head read, “Lady!  You wouldn’t know funny if it hit you over the head!”

But I digress.

I returned home from our conference and headed straight to our son’s room. He did not ask about what occurred at the conference. He was smart and chose to keep Pandora’s Box tightly closed. I vividly remember my words as I looked at our beloved red-headed boy with disgust, “Your teacher said you are sarcastic. Way to go!!” 

As soon as the words flew out of my mouth, I made a full stop!  My eyes became large and I put my hand over my mouth.  I replied, “Oh my God! I taught you to be sarcastic!” In that moment, I was looking at a large mirror. My sarcasm was glaring back at me with full frontal view. Not my proudest moment. 

After many years practicing Marriage and Family Therapy, I have come to the conclusion that parents are most triggered by family members who share similar behaviors and traits. Initially, parents’ denial can blind them from seeing that we are referring to the human condition. It’s not their fault and no blame is attached to the hypothesis.

The dynamic is what I am calling “Intergenerational Gaffes.” We’ve all been there!

So, how does a therapist lower defenses and promote open dialogue? I am a strong proponent of using humor as a vehicle for self-reflection.  I join with families by confessing my stories and sharing my blunders.

Now, dear social work reader, we have framework to discuss the most challenging issues with the understanding that our parents learned from their parents and we are doing the best we can with what we have learned. 

Richard Schwartz, Ph.D., Founder of Internal Family Systems says it so well: “Your inner characters will transform – they’ll become lighter and happier- when you feed rather than starve them.” 

Epilogue

Thank you to my second-grade teacher for acknowledging one of my keenest strengths. I have been a practicing Social Worker for over 40 years and still talk too much.

Our son remains quick-witted and humorous. I find him highly entertaining and, unlike Ms. Smith, he is seen by others as engaging and funny. His humor creates bridges at work and in life.

And the moral to the story? What goes around comes around.


Disclaimer: The National Association of Social Workers invites members to share their expertise and experiences through Member Voices. This blog was prepared by Lorrie Appleton, LCSW, in her personal capacity and does not necessarily reflect the view of the National Association of Social Workers.

Lorrie R. Appleton, LCSW specializes in couples, family, and individual therapy. As a child, Lorrie aspired to be a comedian. Luckily, she discovered how clinical work and humor are perfect partners to advance problem solving and healing. Lorrie’s post-graduate experiences span over 40 years. Lorrie has practiced in a variety of settings including private practice, non-profit, inpatient psychiatric, military behavioral health, schools, corporations, and human service agencies. You can reach Lorrie at lorrieappleton@gmail.com

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