Silence is Golden, and So is a Child's Chatter

Shelby Murphyby Shelby Murphy

Ahhh quiet. How we've missed you. Ever since our daughter learned to talk, you've tucked yourself under the couch like a skittish cat. But the coast is clear now. Four-year-old Jettin is spending the night with her grandparents. Come out and let us bask in your stillness.

My husband and I hadn't realized how pervasive Jett's chatter had become until she was gone. "Mommy, why are there no girl cows? I want to be a cowgirl when I grow up. Can I be a cowgirl? Vaca means cow, Mommy. Why is that cactus growing there? It's brown. I think it's dead. You told me when I was a baby to not touch a cactus, didn't you Mommy?" It is an ever-present stream of verbal consciousness that breaks for no one.

Without her, however, I could finish a sentence without interruption. And Louis could reply. We had an adult conversation with only the babbling of a baby in the background. It was lovely.

The next morning I sat down to begin this week's column, refreshed by 18 hours of quiet and undisturbed thought. Until I stumbled across an internet article by Linda Sharp. She spends a lot of time in her two daughters' classrooms and one day asked the students what gift that didn't cost anything they'd like most from their parents. Their number one answer was deafening: "Listen to me please."

I felt nauseous. Our reprieve from the incessant gab of a preschooler didn't seem so golden anymore. Maybe the reason she at times seems like a yappy Chihuahua is because her mommy sometimes leaves her in the backyard alone (figuratively speaking, of course.) Maybe she is desperate for attention, for validation, for the opportunity to truly be heard.

If I'm honest with myself, I know that I when I’m distracted or stressed, it’s easier just to tune her out. In a sort of self-defense, I construct a wall between us -- especially when we get in the car -- so that I can still hear her but don't really have to listen. I've got enough chatter in my head -- I hope we have enough milk at home to last until morning. Remember to call the insurance company when you get home. Shoot, I never answered that e-mail. Jett needs $2 at preschool tomorrow. I wonder if we have time to wash the car before gymnastics. Exposing my brain to more relentless noise sometimes seems like Chinese water torture.

Jett continues to talk through that wall, however, often increasing her volume and rapidity, in an effort to be heard. "Mommy, Michael used to say he loves me but I don't think he likes me anymore."

"That's nice, honey."

It's just like when I was in junior high, riding to school with my dad, except now I’m the disconnected parent. I remember rattling on and on with true pubescent passion about how Mark glanced at me before fourth period, and we learned how to diagram a sentence yesterday, and did he think he and mom might be able to make it to the orchestra concert tomorrow night? He'd look at me with eyes glazed over by the stresses of running a business and paying a mortgage and say, "What?"

Soon I found that riding in silence became much easier than talking through the wall.

It's ironic how much we adults crave silence, until we get it and realize the cost. Open communication with our children and the validation of their thoughts is hardly a fair trade for being alone with our plans and worries.

I'm the last one who would say that occasional peace and quiet isn't heaven sent, that mommies and daddies don't deserve a little time to themselves. And I don't believe a child should dominate every conversation and be permitted to interrupt others at will.

But I wonder if I were better at listening to my daughter when it is appropriate -- in the car, while I'm making dinner, whether I’m “busy” or not -- maybe she wouldn't continue trying to be heard when it isn't appropriate. Maybe if she felt that her thoughts were truly valued, based on my behavior rather than my words, that free-flowing faucet between her lips would tighten up to a trickle once in awhile. And maybe this mommy would rediscover that behind all that chatter, she really has some interesting things to say.

About the Author:
Shelby Murphy is a freelance writer, columnist, and mother of two. Her work has been published nationally and circulates the globe online. In 2001, she started RadiantWomen, an online and syndicated print column for women who live life on purpose. For a free subscription or more information, contact Shelby at or