Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Power of Keeping Your Mouth Shut

Millie writes:

As a woman, my instinct when someone has a problem is to support them, brainstorm with them, and help them to come up with a solution. This works pretty well when the problem is something like teasing, homework, or whether to wear the green dress or the blue dress to prom.

However, as a mother I tend to use the Listening-Ear-and-Wise-Counsel technique so often that I forget it isn't always appropriate. Every problem isn't a nail, even if “Maybe you should try this” has begun to look like a hammer.

Sometimes I just need to shut up and butt out.

My husband is dealing with some thorny work-related issues right now, and I'm biting my tongue to keep from offering him some advice (and if anyone knows of a better deterrent than tongue-biting, I'm all ears, because that's only working about 2/3 of the time). I am so used to being asked “What should I do?” that now I apparently think I have the answer to everything. In this case, I don't. He's smarter than I, he's savvier than I, and he is much more experienced in this particular realm of Corporate America than I will ever be. He doesn't need me to tell him what to do.

He needs me to keep my mouth shut so he can think.

Loath though I am to admit it, my kids also need me to keep my mouth shut far more often than I actually do. The college kid can choose his own major. The high school kids can choose their own friends. Everybody can remember to do their own homework – and if they don't, they'll learn their lessons a heck of a lot quicker than if I run interference for them with their teachers.

When you spend your days with tiny persons looking to you for advice and direction, it's all too easy to get into the habit of telling people what they should do. As they get older they may ask for it less, but you have so much help to give that it seems a shame to make them suffer through the learning process when you could just tell them – right? After six kids you'd think I'd know this, but it's something I need to re-learn every four months or so.

It's true, I do know a lot about a lot of things. I've built up a store of ideas and shortcuts and discoveries that have stood me in good stead, and I'm glad to share them when I'm asked. Maybe overly glad, but I'm working on that; just as I'm working on the mantra, “My Husband is Not My Child.”

Can you recite a mantra with your mouth shut?

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