Every now and then I stumble upon a kernel of parenting wisdom so perfect in its simplicity that I just have to share it. This one comes from a veteran mom of two teenagers, Devonne Jimison, my BFF since my kids were babies:
"Sometimes the smartest parenting is not about saying the right thing, but about knowing when to be silent," she said recently.
I've noticed that I'm inclined to say too much too quickly sometimes, so I'm taking her advice to heart. In my defense, I think my tendency to jump in comes from a desire to be helpful, but I'm learning that sometimes less really is more.
I'll bet you've already noticed, yourself, moments when choosing to say nothing in certain circumstances-whether with your partner, your kids or your colleagues-is wiser. In fact, you've probably already been faced with at least one golden opportunity to make this choice when relating with your children this summer, particularly if you're spending more time with them. Good times can be plentiful when the kids are out of school, but increased exposure to each other also naturally creates more opportunities for conflicts to crop up.
But whether or not you choose to engage and promote a climate of conflict in your relationships with your children is really up to you.
Take, for example, the last time a conflict appeared on the horizon between you and your child. Maybe he talked back, expressing a snarky attitude. Maybe you returned the volley with one of your own-and maybe it felt good, at first. But then what happened? Did the conflict escalate? Was it worth it in the long run?
What might you have done differently?
Think back to a time when you paused, took a deep breath and resisted the urge to react immediately. Avoided the volley return, if you will. It doesn't always work this way, but perhaps the other person felt that empty space and actually filled it by listening to the "tape" of their own voice in their head, perhaps even feeling the impact their words had on you. If you were lucky, maybe they even chose to repair the damage and apologized right on the spot. Sweet. If not, at least by not engaging you avoided making the conflict worse.
By no means am I suggesting, however, that you avoid giving the other person feedback about how you experienced him. An emotionally heated moment may not be the right time to do this, though, no matter how gently you express it.
Being still and resisting the urge to speak can be valuable in other circumstances, too. Take the carpool, for example. Another veteran mom I once knew, a mother of four, said she learned a lot about her kids and their friends-and their friendships-by simply shutting up and driving. Who's the leader? Who follows? What's the dynamic of their relationships?
Sometimes less really is more. Try saying nothing and see what happens.
Jennifer DuBose, M.S., C.A.S., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in Batavia.
See more of Jennifer's stories here.