While I value silence as much as the next girl, I’m from the school of thought that says children are fantastic creatures that deserve to be listened to and leveled with. Yes, even when they’re shrieking because it’s bedtime or talking incessantly about Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Even when they’re loudly complaining about having their hair brushed or eating green beans.
I think it’s important to encourage our children to speak up, because the habits we teach them now, as children, will stick with them as they grow up. The ability to make yourself heard is a valuable skill to have in the world we live in. It comes in handy at school, at work, in traffic and on Black Friday.
“Seen and not heard” isn’t a good description for my daughter. In fact, “heard and not seen” could be more fitting, since she tends to move lightning-fast — so fast I only catch glimpses of her as she darts from one area to another, leaving a trail of toys and Goldfish crumbs in her wake — and makes lots of noise while doing it. She’s like a superhero, except instead of cleaning up crime, she makes a mess.
From what I understand about children (which admittedly isn’t much), this is pretty normal behavior, or as normal as child behavior gets.
When I was growing up, my mom and dad never made me feel like I had to silence myself, not counting the situations where silence is required, like during church or after Mom would give me “The Look,” also known as the Stop-Talking-Or-Pay stare (STOP). They encouraged me to speak up and be heard when at all appropriate. To the dismay of the person who said children should be seen and not heard, I took that as somewhat of a personal challenge.
These days, I tell my daughter the same things. I want her to know that her voice, however small, is important. I want her to realize that she should be seen and heard as often as possible, and that she is not insignificant or unworthy of her chance to speak up.
I have instituted my own version of the STOP stare for those occasions where speaking up isn’t the best thing to do. Take, for example, when Molly called out “Mama, tell that old man to quit looking at me!” in line at the grocery store. The poor man was crushed, and probably became a believer in the whole “seen and not heard” thing from that day forward. Molly’s learning, though, and it’s my job to teach her when silence is golden and when speaking up is best. We’re working on it.
I can’t imagine trying to raise a child in silence. Seen and not heard? No thanks. I enjoy the life that noise brings into our home — the good noise and bad, the laughter, singing, nose-blowing, shouting and scolding. The noise is welcome here. It’s the soundtrack to our weird, interesting lives. Who am I to silence it?
(Editor’s Note: Lebanon native Debra Carpenter is a novice mother, wife and college student. She writes about the parts of parenthood “you didn’t expect when you were expecting.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit the website at motherinterrupted.com.)