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We all hate to be nagged.
You're having another piece of cake? When was the last time you exercised? Those cigarettes are going to kill you. Did you clean the basement yet?
We all hate to nag, too.
Sit up straight. That's enough Doritos. Have you finished your homework? Are you sure? For once in your life, could you pick up your dirty socks? You're leaving the house looking like that?
We hate it. They hate it. So why do we do it? And, more important, how the hell can we stop?
The "whys" are the easiest to figure out. We do it because we care. "Have you noticed that you nag people whom you love deeply?" asks Molly Barrow, PhD, a psychotherapist and the author of Matchlines: A Revolutionary New Way of Looking at Relationships and Making the Right Choices in Love. It's somewhat warped, misguided love, she suggests, but it is love nonetheless.
With the rest of the world, Barrow says, "you let them have their deadly consequences with hardly an 'I told you so.' But when you perceive the ones you love to be hurtling toward disaster, whether it's with trans fat, alcohol, drugs, or simply the failure to get a needed haircut, you just have to say something." However, there's more than one problem with saying something, then saying it again and again and again and again. First, it doesn't feel like love. Not to my sons, who feel that I don't trust them to, say, get their schoolwork done their way. And not to their mother, who wonders why they just won't let her help them and why she can't learn to keep her meddling mouth shut.
Second, depending on whom you ask, nagging can do real harm (or at least reinforce unpleasant stereotypes). When relationship expert and business consultant BJ Gallagher gets going on the subject, she makes naggers sound responsible for everything short of the terrorist threat. "Nagging women," says Gallagher, author of Women's Work Is Never Done... and Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Other Women, "are verbally castrating their husbands, emasculating them and turning them into resentful or resigned wusses. Women who nag their children are destroying what fragile self-esteem they might have, leaving their kids a legacy of years on a therapist's couch."
All that because I want my sons to double-check their homework? Please tell me that there are shades of gray here—nagging that is necessary and nagging that is noxious.