Shut Up

September 10, 2013
Photo Credit: Jenn Vargas

Photo Credit: Jenn Vargas

The 2012 Summer Olympics are quickly becoming a distant memory. There is one experience I will take away from those games that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Jessica is an amazing swimmer. For a couple of months during the summer we spend our Saturday mornings watching her compete in her swim meets. Because of her love of swimming our whole family pays special attention to all the swimming events during the Olympics.

Jessica has never aimed low at anything. When she sets her heart and mind on something you can bet that she is going to aim to be the very best. She expects to have all the right equipment. It doesn’t have to be the most expensive, but it better function properly, and it better look pretty good.

I remember how intensely she watched every race. Of course, Michael Phelps was her favorite. She absolutely loved watching him. She studied his every move. She was really into the whole experience. It isn’t often the whole family is watching the same thing on TV these days; we all have such different tastes.

I remember after one of the races Jessica looked up at me and said, “I want to be an Olympic swimmer someday.” All I heard was, “We should spend thousands of dollars making me into a world-class swimmer.” I quickly looked at her and said, “I sure wish we had the money for something like that.” Jessica clammed up and didn’t say a word for the next couple hours. It took me that entire time to realize something was wrong. I walked over to her and asked, “What’s wrong? Why are you being so quiet?” She broke down and started crying heavily. She looked at me through her tears and said, “You don’t think I’m good enough to become an Olympic swimmer.” It was only then that I realized the opportunity I had missed. Jessica wasn’t really telling me that she wanted to go to the Olympics in 2016. She was simply asking me if I thought she was a very good swimmer. I grabbed her up in my arms, apologized and told her that I thought she was an amazing swimmer, and that she had all the talent and desire needed to be a world-class swimmer.

I’m reading The Five Love Languages of Teenagers. Early in the book Gary Chapman takes a few pages to remind parents that teenagers aren’t dumb, even though some of what they say and do doesn’t always make sense. Jessica knew we didn’t have the money to turn her into an Olympic athlete. She was just looking for someone to tell her she was good at something. She just needed some words of encouragement. She didn’t stay upset with me. She quickly forgave me for my misstep, and we continued our evening, and it was a good evening.

It was because of this experience that I came to fully understand the weight of my words on my children. With one simple sentence I can direct the course of their entire day. I listen to my daughters better now. I try to catch what they are really saying. It’s not an easy task, but I realize the value of listening twice as much as I speak. I won’t say that I’m very good at it yet. I’m a talker, and I struggle with silence; it makes me uncomfortable. Every book on teen parenting I open keeps telling me to shut up and listen better, so I’m learning to do just that.

And just between you and me, it’s starting to work.

James Dibben