We want to be strong women, right? We want to raise children who stand up for themselves. No shrinking violets but bold, little hellcats. Sure, they challenge us at every turn, but beneath our frustration (sometimes way down deep), there is great pride in raising children who we know will take on the world someday.
Young kids have trouble with self restraint. They say what they think, especially when they feel like they have been unfairly treated. Some of it is observant. “Oh, you’re mad. You are biting your lip again!” Some of it is meant to be hurtful. “You are the meanest mom ever!” It may not always make sense. It can be repetitive, when you do not give the answer they are looking for. “Can I wear shorts? Why can’t I wear shorts in the snow? Why do YOU get to decide if I wear shorts?” But when your children are comfortable enough to speak their minds, in the safe space created by you with love, maybe those experiences, over time, help your children learn to read situations and give thought to their words before voicing them.
Even now, I sometimes need to will myself to pause and think before speaking.
It is not that I have been saying inappropriate things at awkward times, which is way less cute or explainable when you are in your 40s. At this stage, it is not so much an issue of impulse control or immaturity. Sometimes it just feels so important to speak up, to say my piece, to be acknowledged.
Well, here is a life lesson that I did not expect and one that I was slow to learn: Sometimes, and only sometimes, the right thing to do is not speak your mind.
Sounds wrong, doesn’t it? Counter-intuitive and stifling, right?
I am not suggesting we keep quiet as a general rule. No wallflowers here. My point is way more subtle. While there are plenty of times to speak up, protect your family, stand up for fairness and right a wrong or a hurt, there are also other times when the right thing to do is not to say what is really on your mind.
Well, that is misleading. I certainly do not mean to internalize your feelings and bottle things up. No good ever comes from that. The trick, I have found, is expressing all you need to say, but to an audience of your choosing. The right audience. A supportive listener. Someone who builds you up and has your back. Not the intended recipient.
Why? Here is my experience, for whatever it is worth: Sometimes, we feel wronged, hurt, angry by the actions or inaction of others, even those we love or respect. While the obvious response may be to confront, to speak our minds, to duke it out – and there certainly are times when that is the right thing to do – there are other times when clearly, doing so will not reach your desired result. Maybe it causes pain or defensiveness. It could strain or ruin important relationships. Our words matter and they cannot be taken back. Sometimes, the brief satisfaction from saying what you think and trying to prove your point may not be worth the consequences, particularly when the listener is never going to see things your way.
Holding my tongue is hard. It goes against the way I am naturally wired, especially if someone puts me in a corner. But sometimes, this restraint allows me to sleep at night and focus on moving forward, with as little drama as possible. Because, really, who has time for that?