But, I never said that!

“Why can’t you do this one simple thing?” I tell him. He shrugs his shoulders and says, “I dunno! Why does it matter so much?”

I look at the 16-year-old S and say with frustration: “We’ve gone over this a thousand times. It matters because I don’t want to live in a dump and grow mold. It’s so simple: don’t throw your wet towel on the floor. Hang it to dry instead. That’ll also help you find the towel next time, so you don’t take one, two, three more so before we know it no one has a towel but you. Is that so hard?”

S — “I don’t have three towels. I just have one. And it’s in my room the way I like it. If you don’t like it, you can go hang it.”
Me — “Sure, so you expect me to provide room service to you? What else: should I give you a foot massage, too?”
S — “I never said that! You like things a certain way, so just do them your way.”
Me — “I can’t believe this! Are you serious? You think I’m your slave?”
S — “But, I never said that!”

And he is right—he had not said that. I am upset. I have talked to him (and other kids) about wet towels several times already and am tired of this recurring problem. Why couldn’t he just hang it already?
A good question whose answer I don’t know and could not fathom. Yet, instead of being curious to find out, I am judging and blaming him as irresponsible and inconsiderate. I am assuming the worst about him.

Is there something else I could do? Yes, indeed. As Ted Lasso says: Be curious, not judgmental. But how?
Clearly, I own a problem here. So, I’d better disclose my feelings and needs. At the same time, S is having a problem, too. And here I could listen and reflect to understand his feelings and needs. Only then, we could find a solution so that both our needs are met and neither one of us lose what mattered to us. For example,

Me — Hey, I see your wet towel is left on floor again. I’m afraid it would grow moldy and get ruined. I am also concerned the mold could grow and make us sick.
S — Uh-huh. I don’t see why this is such a big deal. I never have a problem with it.
Me — I see, so you don’t think this is a problem.
S — No, I don’t. I use the same towel and it’s just fine.
Me — And the towel is not ruined.
S — Right.
Me — It sounds like you’re just happy to continue as you have been. And in my experience, a wet towel can start to grow mold and it will be hard to notice it at first, certainly not easy to see. But the mold keeps growing and after a while you can start to smell it. By then it has already gotten onto your skin and in the air. I don’t want to get to that point.
S — Ok. Well, maybe I can have hooks in my room where I can hang it?
Me — Ok. You don’t want to hang it on a hanger.
S — No, it’s a pain to do that and I don’t want to take the space in my closet.
Me — Ok, that sounds good. I’ll order a hook. Do you want to help install it?
S — I’ll install it myself. Can I use the drill?

When we remain curious and avoid judgments and labels, we can understand everyone’s needs and start to resolve our problems. No one’s really out to get me or annoy me on purpose. We all have needs and behave in ways that meet those needs. S didn’t like the solution I had given him multiple times (hang the towel on a hanger) because it was inconvenient and took space in his closet. I needed to make sure we were not growing mold in our house and staying healthy. Once the needs are clear, no-lose solutions are not difficult to find.



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