Not Talking

Are you a talker? What sort of talker? Do you prefer skimming the surface or do you dare to dig deeper? What about exploring topics that may challenge those around you – or for that matter, yourself?

You talkin' to ME??Are you a good listener? Are you attentive to both spoken and unspoken messages? Tuned into body language, tone of voice, even hesitations and pauses? Do you deflect or reinterpret what you don’t want to hear?

I like to think I’m reasonably adept at speaking my mind, at doing so delicately if needed, and knowing when to probe as well as to pull back. Yet in recent months, I have come to realize how much I don’t talk about, and I’m wondering why.

Some of the reason is surely that I never knew how to broach the subjects at hand.

Sometimes, not talking is the better path to maintaining a relationship. It isn’t so much that we do not speak, as that we ascertain the best moment to speak.

Sometimes, not talking – in love, marriage, or parenting – riddles the relationship with holes. And the longer we don’t talk, the harder it is to begin again.

Privacy in a Relationship

I’ve offered the reasons I believe we should respect the need for privacy in romantic relationships. We are an increasingly confessional society; this works for some, but certainly not all; it’s a matter of discretion, relevance, and yes – healthy self-interest.

I’ve repeated my assertion that too much information on the Internet is a slippery slope. Some use blogging or Facebook to announce intimate details of both happy and tumultuous events. That choice is, of course, both personal preference and a matter of circumstances. But I don’t tell all, as I find an appropriate dose of self-censorship is, for me, more comfortable.

I’ve expressed my opinion that we nonetheless can speak our minds – rallying support when we need to, taking consolation as well, and working through the process of determining what we want and how we feel, by virtue of giving voice to our thoughts and experience in our digital communities.

How to Talk to Teenagers

I’ve written a good deal about my children, and about the highs and lows of dealing with teenagers. Like most parents, I’ve struggled with the task. I’ve done my best with a kid who wouldn’t talk – picking my moments (and digging for patience). I’ve explored some of the issues I’ve lived as a single mother, and glossed over dozens of others.

On certain topics, I’ve explicitly chosen not talking in a public venue. And when I do write of my sons, I hope I do so in ways that assure their trust.

As a woman raising men (and largely alone), I nonetheless worry about what was never said – couldn’t be said really, because I’m not a man. I also realize that I don’t know what my children discussed with their dad, or what behaviors he may have modeled, as all of that has been out of my control for years.

This is an unsettling awareness and admission as a parent. Yet I can only assume that following divorce, it’s far more common than I know.

What We Don’t Talk About

In contemplating my sons and how they’re changing – yes, the result of having them home at Winter Break – I’m recognizing how much I never addressed with them. Other than going with my gut, how could I possibly know what to ask or how to frame it? How could I know what boys-to-men experience at puberty or through adolescence, as they grow more silent, selectively less emotive, and I’m left to read, to research, to observe, and to listen – as my only means to understand?

Even in our open-minded and intermittently chatty household, surely we were mum on any number of issues.

  • The details of our social lives. (Reasonable, you might say.)
  • The details of our financial situation. (More complicated, and for many reasons.)
  • Our health – though we’ve no reason to discuss it particularly. (And yet.)
  • New friends – though I admit there are so many names and faces (that in the latter teen years change so quickly) that I can hardly keep up.

I Don’t Know What I Don’t Know

While I don’t know what I don’t know, I’m considering a few of the things I never asked and, consequently, do not know.

Have my sons been bullied? Were they bullies? Can they fight? Do they know how? What about love? Have they been in love? What are they afraid of? What infuriates them? What could I have done better, and could I do anything now or is it too late?

And of course, there are the divorced parent’s questions I never asked: Do they blame me for their world being divided into a before and after? Is that only my impression, the cleaving of “a life” in two – and not theirs?

Have I given too much? Have I given too little? If I need them, will they be there for me in the future – as men?

Appropriate Conversation 

You can talk and not talk; you can observe, you can attend, you can consult with others. You can rely on common sense, including when your gut advises that you remain silent.

When it comes to romance, I firmly believe that we own the right to privacy when it comes to our respective pasts, at least, certain aspects of them. And over the years, I’ve improved my ability to speak clearly, to listen attentively, and to fight fair – another sort of communication skill – all of which I consider steps toward more genuine, more fitting, and more intimate relationships.

Not talking can be an act of courage, or indecision, or even cowardice. Life is a mixed bag; there are times I wish I’d spoken up, and others when I’m glad I kept my own counsel.

As for talking or not talking when it comes to the parenting job, am I suffering from the millennial motherhood reality that you’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t?


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  1. says

    I’m a talker. And though I blog, as anonymously as possible, I try to keep personal details to a minimum on my real life Facebook. I’ve learned that when you put it out there, you ‘re opening it up to everyone to comment on. Perhaps that is why there are some things our children don’t wish to share… and why we don’t always ask.

  2. says

    There’s so much wisdom here for a mother of one son like me. I’d like to ask these questions you list here and I’m sure the answers, if they come, will change and cycle back overtime. And in reading this post, I realize what a luxury I have to know there’s always his dad to trust and defer to when it comes to male-specific subjects I’m unqualified to discuss. I’m quite comfortable not expecting my son to feel at ease discussing everything with me, knowing that his father more than adequately cover areas that I can’t.

    But when it comes to romantic relationships, I’m one to hash out at least my side of the issue at hand, even if it means losing precious hours of sleep. I don’t do well letting my concerns go undiscussed because I think it creates a chasm in the relationship that could wreck intimacy, trust, loyalty, commitment, etc.

  3. BigLittleWolf says

    @Belinda – IMO, there is a reason for that ‘village’ concept of raising children. If not two parents, then many good role models of both men and women. And safe places (not necessarily parents) where they can talk and truly be heard.

  4. BigLittleWolf says

    @T, Yup, the blogging issue can be a toughie. We shoot for ways that we think will work in our circumstances. (And hope for the best?)

  5. NoNameRequired says

    I am moderately extroverted; two of three children are deeply introverted, with the last one very extroverted.

    I am comfortable with silence, however, some people are not. I find that if I really monitor my gaze and face, with the deep intention of looking lovingly upon all…then, silence is softened by this work.

    Not exactly what you are talking about, but sort of a response.

    I have become increasingly silent about some things post-divorce. I may be more inhibited now, due to some very hard times. Shame is in there. Not earned. Not deserved. But shame is that edge — being out-fenced, rather than within the sheep-fold — that comes from fear of being separated from the shelter of acceptance by the community.

    Re: joys and sorrows on the web, well, I did tell a story to a kind interviewer online to place something horrid but real out in the light. I did this without my name attached. The topic was parental alienation, which needs sunlight and air upon it. I am glad I did this but the revelation was risky, emotionally. Guess that makes me reticent about digital-platform sharing. However, I am very open in real life. Interesting.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Some of us learn to protect – fiercely. And that takes form in many ways, NoName. Thank you, always, for joining the conversation.

  6. says

    In addition to KW’s car idea, walking is another old-school way of not quite being face-to-face. Also, sometimes it’s cool to ask difficult/awkward questions and then see what happens as the fact we ask shows that we’re brave enough to go there if the other wants to (and if not, then that’s fine too).

  7. says

    Now that my daughters are older, we’ve sat and really “talked” on occasion. As young adult women, it was eye opening for me to hear their take on growing up…our parenting choices for them and how it’s affected them now. I highly recommend having a heart-to-heart convo with your sons. You will always be a parent, but they are of the age where you can be a trusted friend as well.

    • BigLittleWolf says

      Given that the next time I will see them is many months off, I guess that gives me plenty of time to consider the topics… As always, Lisa, your wisdom and experience are immeasurably helpful.

  8. says

    My step-son came to stay with us a couple of nights between Christmas & New Year rather than at his mom’s. He told me she followed him from room to room wanting to talk with him when he wanted some peace and quiet. I felt honoured that he was happy to sit in the room with me, each of us reading our books and occasionally pausing to exchange comments. I suppose I don’t feel entitled to know everything about him, but I’m happy to hear what he wants to share. It’s a lot easier to be in a more detached position I suppose; also, there isn’t anything I particularly want from him except to enjoy the fact that we both love his dad.

  9. says

    My son’s challenge has always been to identify and verbalize his feelings. Along the way it’s been important for me not to tell him what his experience is, not to “teach,” to tolerate silence, to use phrases such as “I’m wondering if . . . ” and “It looks to me like . . . ” Basic stuff which I find very hard.

    I like what Shelley said: I suppose I don’t feel entitled to know everything about him, but I’m happy to hear what he wants to share.

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