What Did You Just Say?


We all know that it is sometimes best not to say the first thing that comes into our minds in reaction to something that we hear. Sometimes this is to spare someone’s feelings, sometimes it helps us to avoid saying something foolish, and sometimes it spares us from interfering where our opinion is neither required or desired. Part of growing up involves learning when to speak and when to remain silent. Still, “If you have nothing good to say, don’t speak at all” and “think before you speak” are lessons that we sometimes have to learn the hard way.

It seems to me that parenthood is giving me plenty of practice in the area of thinking before I speak, especially as my children become tweens. In the past I have made a lot of mistakes by speaking too bluntly when I could have said something more diplomatic and supportive instead. Now I am trying to listen harder and talk less. And I am getting plenty of practice because my children like to talk a lot. A LOT. Quite often I find that I have to say one thing, while my brain is actually thinking another.

For example, a few weeks ago one son came home from school and announced excitedly that he had taken a career aptitude test and learned that, based on his interests and strengths, he was best suited to a career as either an explosives expert or a video game designer. I didn’t hear much after “explosives expert” “Alas!” my brain cried “That is one of the careers I sent you to school hoping to avoid”. But my mouth actually said something like “How interesting, which do you think you will choose?” He then said he was very interested in studying to be a game designer at the Art institute of Las Vegas. “Why Las Vegas?”‘ I foolishly asked, “There are lots of great Art schools”. “Come on Mom!” he cried “It’s Vegas! I’ll have plenty to do in my spare time!” Somewhere in my brain I was crying, but my mouth laughed.

I don’t know why learning to listen first and speak last is a hard thing for me as a parent. I don’t really find it hard in other relationships. I think it’s because when they were younger I got used to telling them what to do and how to behave, and now I am having to transition to a different stage in our relationship. Learning to listen first and speak last is a lesson I thought I had already learned, but now I am learning it again in a different context and in a different way. Someone once said that the trouble with being a parent is that by the time you are an expert you are out of a job. Perhaps I’ll be an expert by the time he sets off his first explosion. Hopefully it won’t be in Vegas.

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