We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. ― Epictetus
Now I get to share the second tip on parenting older kids that my friend gave me. (If you haven’t read tip #1 yet, click here.) It’s nice to have friends who are a stage ahead of you in life. Ask them questions! Learn from their mistakes!
Tip #2: Bite your tongue!
I have heard from various people that older children will want to talk when they want to talk. Some teens are open with what is going on in their lives, and others are a closed book until the time is right. Often it is late at night, but whenever it is, be available. And listen.
This is the advice my friend had for me―when your older kid comes to you with a problem, don’t try to solve it for them, unless they ask for your help. Mostly they just want you to hear them. When you open your mouth to spew forth your wisdom, the conversation will often stop.
She told this story: her grown daughter had come home for a visit and stopped in while my friend was folding laundry. The daughter chatted away about a problem she was having with her boyfriend. As long as my friend kept folding laundry and listening, the chatting continued. When she finally could be still no longer, she began to tell her daughter what she should do to solve the relationship issue. Immediately, the atmosphere changed and the conversation was wrapped up. Realizing what she had done, my friend wanted to kick herself. She knew better!
Another friend had a similar story. Her son called from college to say that when he showed up for his math final, the room was empty. He was told that the teacher had emailed the class to inform them of the test time change. He hadn’t received the email. Of course, the injustice made this mom want to immediately tell her son what he should do to make this right! But she wisely asked instead, “So what are you going to do?”
“Oh, I’ve already taken care of it, Mom!” And he went on to explain how he had handled it in a very mature fashion and everything had worked out fine. It’s a great feeling when you know you’ve kept your mouth shut at the right time.
I forgot this advice recently and totally messed up a conversation with my oldest. I had to confess to him later that I should have kept my mouth shut and just listened. I promised I would try harder to keep my ears open and hold back on advice unless it was asked for. I guess this kind of ties in with tip #1―we need to let them figure stuff out on their own, but be there when they need us. Once again, coming alongside, but not leading the way.
And I am not saying that an older child no longer needs to receive instruction. Proverbs 19:20 says,” Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” It’s just that more times than not, they aren’t looking for advice―they are looking for a listening ear. If you really want to say something, make it in the form of a question.
I admit, this is not always easy. Many times I want to point out what they should do. After all, how many more decades have I been at this thing called life, right?! But that’s not how it works. When we parent older kids, our role shifts from provider and teacher to mentor. Yes, we are still their parents, and sometimes we still have to play that card. But it should happen less and less.
And really, isn’t that what we want?! So zip your lip…bite your tongue…and enjoy those young adults in your life.