The Art of Sarcasm

We are a very sarcastic family. We laugh. A lot. The laughter that fills our house is actually one of our favorite things about our family. However, the past few months it has felt like it was getting out of hand. The sarcasm was beginning to take over any serious conversations and actually feeling mean at times. Our “feel good” laughter was beginning to feel resentful, frustrating and just plain icky. 

In typical Jenny Hanlon style, I scheduled a family meeting. Even though our family meetings are usually quite productive and certainly not torture, the 12 and 13 year old usually meet this request with eye rolls. There was even some eye rolling from my dear husband. Yes, more sarcasm. Or is it not?!?! 

I explained my perspective. There was some agreement, some brainstorming and of course more laughter. I didn’t have the answer as to how we were going to change this other than all of us simply working on it. The reality is though, old habits are really hard to break. By the end of the meeting we did all agree this was something that should be different and that we would all work on it. Still we didn’t have a plan.

The next few days were quiet. Really quiet. We didn’t like it. It was as though we were all fearful of saying the wrong thing, so nobody really said anything. It was not natural for our family to be interacting like this. In fact, we were not even really interacting. 

Finally one day when I was reading a book on a topic that has nothing to do with our sarcastic dilemma, I came across a plan that I decided to adjust to meet the needs of the situation. I called a family meeting again. Yes, eye rolls ensued. I shared the idea with them and although they all thought it was a little silly, they decided it was worth a go. 

The plan: 

  • There is a glass jar sitting on our dining room table where we share our family meals with a container of small rocks sitting next to it. 
  • When we feel like someone has gone out of their way to do something nice for another person in the family we will add a rock in the jar. Any family member can add rocks for any one of us. 
  • When we feel like we took our sarcasm too far or say something rude or disrespectful we remove a rock. 

I’m not a proponent of reward systems, so I had to think long and hard before presenting this idea to my family. This felt different to me than a reward system, but I had to think about why. Ultimately, there’s really not a reward tied to this. This system is not being used to teach proper social skills (there’s plenty of research that shows that using a reward system to teach social skills does not help teach these skills long term) . Our family has these skills, but we were stuck in a bad habit. This is providing us a way to track our progress as we work to get unstuck. 

Believe me, there is definitely some sarcasm coming into play as we add and take out rocks. We’re okay with it though because it’s all in good fun. My husband and I value a good sense of humor…we’ve worked hard to help teach our kids the fine art of sarcasm. Any good teaching needs tweaking at times and that’s where we’re at. We’re just aiming to tame down the sarcasm just a bit, so it’s not hurtful, but remains good-natured and fun. So far so good. We’re all talking again, not afraid of that we’ll say anything wrong. We’re feeling like a team again working together to make sure we’re sticking with the plan. I’m sure we won’t need the glass jar long, but I’m also certain it won’t be the last time we take it out.