A ‘Your Mother’s Guidance’ post by Rebecca Masinter
Mothers are supposed to talk. A lot. That is one of our strengths. When we walk with a young child, we point out leaves and caterpillars. When we read aloud with our children we share our opinions about the characters’ choices. We show interest in our children’s lives by asking questions that lead to more than one-word answers. Sometimes, however, we also must stay silent.
Genesis 34:5 says, “And Jacob heard that he [Shechem] had defiled Dina while his sons were in the field, and Jacob was silent until they came.” He didn’t rush to respond, but kept his counsel and waited. Even after the whole story is over Jacob doesn’t rush to press his opinion on his children. He tells Simon and Levi a short rebuke, but Simon and Levi answer him back and they actually have the final word in this section. Jacob doesn’t respond back to them, he bides his time and holds his tongue until the very end of his life when he addresses their role in this story. (Genesis 49:5)
Similarly, when Reuben moved Jacob’s bed to his mother, Leah’s, tent, the verse says, “and Israel heard.” Jacob noticed what happened but he waited and didn’t respond immediately. Here also, he waited until Genesis 49 in his final blessing to rebuke Reuben for this action.
What can we learn from this? We, mothers, can be strongly tempted to address problems with our children right away. We want to rebuke sassiness in the moment, to explain ourselves to an argumentative child or to defend ourselves from a confrontational child. While certainly, particularly with young children and little issues it is important to correct them promptly and often give them feedback quickly, parents of older children with bigger challenges can learn from Jacob. If we criticize our children immediately, in the moment, their natural defensive feelings are sky high, and like Simon and Levi, they will probably want to justify themselves instead of hearing our concerns. If they’re feeling angry or riled up, they won’t be in a receptive mode to internalize our view. We may feel momentarily better by getting it off our chest, but we won’t have reached our children’s hearts or taught them.
When we wait to respond and take the time to let our emotions calm down and clarify our thoughts, we are doing more than speaking to deaf ears, we are waiting to speak in a time and manner that our child can hear us. That is high-level parenting!
Sometimes we may be concerned that if we don’t immediately tell our children what we think or condemn their behavior, our kids may think that we condone or agree with them. I’d like to suggest that isn’t so. Our children watch us all the time, they hear us all the time and they know what our values are. They know what we believe and they know what we think. They are aware of our opinions of their actions even when we withhold comment. By waiting to discuss issues that arise until the time is right, our children don’t think we don’t care, on the contrary, they learn that we care so much that we will treat them and us with dignity to have a real conversation in the right time and not just blow up because we’re frustrated. This is a powerful parenting lesson!