How to ask for what you want (and get what you need)

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This is a tale about a mouse.
I know. I sound whack…but bear with me. I’ll get there.

It’s 8 o’clock at night (but feels like midnight). Dad’s out of town. We’ve been running errands and going to extracurricular activities since school let out at 3. I’ve done zero chores. The boy child has done zero homework. We’re on our way home after eating fast food for dinner (#momoftheyear) and the boy child says, “I have a Word test tomorrow and I really need a mouse.”

“A mouse?”
“Yeah, to edit photos. In Word. For my test.”
“Okay. Well, why don’t you take my mouse and we can get a mouse for you this weekend?”

Silence. Crickets chirping over there in the passenger seat as I pull into the turn lane. I’m ready to make the left toward home and away from any establishment that might possibly sell a mouse.

“What’s wrong with my mouse?”
“It’s purple.” His pronunciation of the word purple can only be described as middle schooler disdain.

“I like purple. What’s wrong with purple?”

“Everything you own is purple. Purple nurple.” Then he starts the snickering. Apparently, I just got burned and didn’t even know it.

“Purple nurple? Now I’m purple nurple?”

“It’s okay. I don’t need a mouse,” he says as I pull out of the turn lane and head in the opposite direction of home.

Losing patience, I say, “Look, I just wish you would have told me you needed a mouse sooner than 8 o’clock the night before the test.”

“I DID TELL YOU.” The middle schooler disdain has turned into full-blown middle schooler contempt.

Whoa, what just happened here?

“Umm, you didn’t tell me. If you had told me, you would already have a mouse.”

More silence.

This was getting old.

I could have lost my cool, told him to lose his attitude. Ruined what had been a fun evening up to that point.

Instead, I took a breath and tried again, “I didn’t realize you needed a mouse. I’m sorry it didn’t register when you asked the first time. In the future, please remind me. Be assertive. Make sure I know you’re serious. Write it on my shopping list, text me or something. Okay?”

“I’m not going to do all that!”

“Why not? How else am I going to know you need a mouse?”

And then, out it comes…the root of the problem.

“I think it’s disrespectful to demand that you buy me stuff. I asked, you didn’t get it. I dropped it.”

Ahhh…

And that is the tale of the mouse that inspired this post.

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That night, on the way to Walgreens to buy an overpriced mouse, the boy child learned a valuable secret to a healthy relationship:

It’s not disrespectful to tell people what you want.

And the corollary to that rule: it’s not disrespectful to ask for what you need.

Because…

People are not mind readers.

Whether it’s the relationship with a significant other, a coworker, a boss, our best friend–or yes–even our mother, people can’t be expected to know what we don’t tell them. It’s a dysfunctional way to operate, expecting others to somehow *magically* know what’s going on inside our heads.

That’s not the way it works, or at least not the way it works well. 

None of us (okay, most of us) don’t want to be a burden or a bother to someone else. We want people to love us, respect us, validate us, care about us, and fill us up with everything our heart desires without us having to ask for it.

We tell ourselves, that’s what true love is, that’s what the perfect job looks like. Mind reading becomes our expectation and we’re disappointed when people don’t live up to those expectations.

In extreme cases, we may even slide so far down that path toward unrealistic expectations that we become codependent and chase away the people we care about most.

It happens when we don’t get what we want and then become angry, sullen, petulant, and hurt. We think, he/she must not really love me if they didn’t know (________). He/she must not care about me if they didn’t pick up my hint about (_______). I’m not getting the respect I need/deserve/require so I’m just going to (_______).

The secret to healthy relationships is you have to actually say the words that go in those blank spaces. Out loud. And sometimes more than once.

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How to ask for what we need and get it? Otherwise known as, how to get our mouse before 8 o’clock the night before the test without a big confrontation?

I think the bigger question is, why don’t we want to ask for what we need and want?

Because no one likes to hear the word no. No one likes to get snubbed or to be ignored. Especially after making ourselves vulnerable by asking.

What if we pretended that everyone we met was wearing a sign around their neck that said, “Make me feel important.”

What if, instead of filling ourselves with anxiety wishing that a friend or partner or acquaintance realized when we were lonely, we came out and said, “I miss you and I want to see you. Are you free?”

What if WE let someone else know THEY were important instead of focusing on not feeling important ourselves?

We could get what we want, the other person could feel valued, thus getting what they want (because everybody wants to feel wanted!)

It could all happen with one simple phrase: I want to… talk to you, sit next to you, spend time with you, get to know you…

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So, how DO you get your mouse before 8 o’clock the night before the test?

“Mom, I want to show you the new photo editing tricks I learned in ICT.”

“Cool, kid! Let’s see it.”

(20 minutes of mind-numbing awkward fumbling using a touch-pad to manipulate photos passes)

“That’s great, but this is making me stabby. You need a mouse. I’ll get one for you tomorrow.”

Diana B
Find me at:

Diana B

Diana Baker, MSW, is a registered clinical social work intern, mental health counselor and wellness coach. With 20 years' experience working with children and families, she provides mental health counseling in St. John's, Florida. Offering individual and family counseling for children, teens, and adults; face to face, and via video chat and text. For more information, visit goodmentalhealth.info/about
Diana B
Find me at:

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