Be Quiet?

Although, I’ve only written a few articles or stories in my lifetime; each time I have a story in mind, I test it out on my family.  They are given a brief outline and then because they are part of the stories I have in mind, I ask them if what I am recalling from our real life stories is accurate and whether they mind if they are included in the story.  I did this last Friday in preparation for writing over the weekend.  My primary question for them was “have I ever told you to Be Quiet or given you the impression that I don’t want to hear what you have to say?”  It’s a loaded question right ... my girls are fair though and I was hoping for the best.  

Their response made me pause, pause the writing, or even thinking about writing this story over the weekend.  My husband and girls all responded pretty much the same way and nearly in unison.  Here is one response “No you have never told us to Be Quiet and we have never felt that you didn’t hear want to hear what we had to say … BUT … when you are reading, writing, or working on something from home it takes a lot of “Moms” to get your attention so that you actually hear what we we’re saying.”  It didn’t take much to recall the truth in this statement – only a little over fifteen minutes before I asked the question my youngest said “Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mommm!” to get my attention.  She only wanted to know if she could have some of the Halloween candy, but my mind was already on this story.  So, I paused for the weekend.  

It’s Monday now and everyone is doing their own thing now so here we go …  

“Oh please, be quiet, just for a moment!”  We’ve all said or thought words like these at one time or another, and most likely it was directed at one or all of your children.  Both my girls are very vocal and I’ve certainly known times like these … when there is a temporary loss of sanity and all the talking gets to be too much.  Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom … ahhhh!

I bite my tongue though, and focus on what is being said, implied or told in some other non-verbal way … and then try to gauge whether it has to be heard and dealt with now or can it be put off until a little later when there is no dog to be fed or played with, dishes to do, dinner to be planned, piano lessons to get to on time, ahem writing to do, yeah the list does go on doesn’t it.  Very little of that is vital, but part of what I had planned for that day.

Fortunately I’ve met many people over the years, children who had grown into adults, who had interesting and even sometimes terrifying stories to tell … stories of not being heard.  I’m quiet, and for some odd reason most of my adult life total strangers have approached me and just start pouring out whatever is on their heart … stories of their families, children, even fighting to survive.  Seriously, it happens regularly.  Don’t know why, maybe I just look like I’ve been there, but really much of what I hear I have no experience with … although I do get to learn.  Anyway, I recall some of these people and the stories of their lives, their families, and their hope for something better for their children, all as the chaos seems to be happening … Sanity returns quickly when I think of the consequences of not listening in that moment.  

So much harm can be done in telling a child to be quiet.  Sure there are times when a similar phrase must be used  - usually to curb a child’s disrespect, but most times the voice and words need to be heard by someone who the child respects, someone who is close and … NOW, not later.

One boy I met … well in reality not a boy but a grown man, told me a story about when he was only five years old and his parents were in the middle of a divorce.  A divorce that sounded as bitter and as destructive as many of the awful stories you may have heard yourself and could probably recall right now.  How his Dad regularly beat his mother, and how when she left him they battled over custody but never once asked or heard what he hoped for in the hopeless situation.  He tried … he tried for years to tell both parents how much he loved the other and how he didn’t want to hear the awful things they were saying about each other.  He tried.  They were so completely wrapped up in their animosity for each other that according to him they never listened.  So eventually he stopped trying and instead he absorbed all the hatred each parent had for the other.   The result … was a thirty-eight year old man who when I met him had just gone through his second divorce, had no respect for either of his former wives, the mothers of his three children, or respect for any woman for that matter.  He didn’t physically hurt either, but he sure did have a lack of respect … his words were brutal.  He had many regrets about his adult life, the broken relationships, alcohol abuse that he did not want help for, but what he kept coming back to throughout our conversation … was simply that he could not get through to his parents!  It was sad.

Someone else I know told about the consequences of speaking anything at all … and I do mean absolutely any word or sound, in her family home.  She did not want to get through to her parents at all, she just wanted to survive.  Her entire childhood she spent trying her best to be quiet.  As you probably know this can be difficult for children, but she was afraid … afraid of being heard.  To this day she is still afraid of being heard, not by her family anymore, but instead she is afraid of being heard by nearly everyone she meets or knows.  She retreats to her home or other place where she can shut people out when it looks as though she might have to talk, or express herself in any way … and she hides.  She’s an adult in her forties now and still she hides.  She is nearly opposite of the man I mentioned before; sensitive, unassuming, caring, but her not being heard caused a considerable amount of pain just the same.

While these are extreme stories of what can happen to a child who doesn’t get the opportunity to say anything … they do illustrate the results of keeping any child quiet.  There are many more stories I could tell you, and thankfully not all so tragic, but this is starting to get a little longer than I planned so I had better get to the point.  Through all this learning from other people’s stories and my own experience, I’m certain that parenting is one of the most difficult and important jobs we can ever do and yet we are not required to have any training!  Sure we can favourably compare ourselves to our own parents, and we may very well be doing a better job, but are we perfect – far from it right?!  Parenting is work and we must keep at it … we do not want to miss the opportunity while they are still in our care.  Hopefully you feel like I do in that there is no way you want to send your grown child out into the world unheard, panicked, hopeless, with a feeling of aloneness that can last an entire lifetime.

Do you know what children who are allowed to speak look like?  They have a positive sense of their identity that seems beyond their years, they stand up for themselves appropriately and when necessary, they speak their mind and are not easily intimidated, they can accept the inevitable frustrations and defeats that come in life with grace and move on, they are not afraid to try new things … people of all ages find them a joy to talk with!!  Can you imagine what this would look like on your child?

Children need to voice their opinion often and with someone who is safe.  Hopefully this is us the parents.  We need to assume what our children have to say about the world is just as important as what we have to say, we need to assume that we can learn just as much from them as they can from us (look back at my most recent learning ‘pause’), and we need to enter their world through play, activities and discussions so hopefully anything they are not offering up easily will come out.  

As you’ve already heard in this story and maybe other stories I’ve written, my children are not the ideal model of those who have been given the opportunity to speak freely and as often as they would like, but I will keep trying … and I hope you will too!!

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