Some parents are very verbal, while others are not. Usually one parent is noisier than the other, more ready to speak up and say their piece. But in family life, even with the “noisy” parents, there are long times of silence. Over a life-time those silent moment accumulate into years – the “silent years” of parenting.
I recall travelling with my dad when I was a preschooler. We lived in an outback, country setting and my dad built houses in some pretty out-of-the-way places. He would drive miles along a dirt road, turn into a track that was barely noticeable, drive for miles across farm paddocks, opening gates, driving over cattle grates and finally coming to an isolated spot where he was building a new homestead for someone. His apprentice would be the only other person there, unless I came along for the ride.
Dad would sing songs and tease me at times. But many miles were traveled in silence. On the job site there were times when dad and his “chippy” apprentice would brew a cup of tea and talk about things, involving me in their banter. But most of the day I was on my own, watching dad work, but mostly wandering around and amusing myself.
In fact, over the years there were many times and places when dad was there, but no words were spoken. At the beach he would join in swimming or playing at times, but many hours passed with him reading or snoozing. On long drives, after we had sung all the songs and tired of our chatter, my brothers and I would trundle along in silence, just watching the world roll by.
Those “silent” times didn’t need talk. They weren’t empty because there was no chatter. They were just as full in their silence as other times were in their raucous banter. Now, how could that be? The answer is simple. What gave our relationship meaning was not that we continued to verbally affirm our commitment or involvement with each other, but that our being together confirmed that the things we said along the way were true.
As I think about it I find that silence is as sweet a memory for me as those meaningful conversations. The long trip I made with my school buddies, driven to a remote gem field by one of the dads, was a sweet time. We covered a lot of miles in silence. At the creeks we each fossicked in silence, in search of our fortune. Those silent stretches were as much a part of a sweet weekend as sitting up and telling stories late into the night.
Open-hearted communication is a precious element of family life and relationship between parent and child, spouses and siblings. But family life can also be just as full and blessed in those silent stretches, even those “silent years”, where each simply enjoys being part of the family without the need to prattle on just to prove the point.
Susan and I often drive for miles without a word, holding hands or each passing the time with our own thoughts. Her “being there” speaks volumes in the silence. And me being there for her says just as much.
I encourage you to talk, and to express the reassurance that comes from hugs and physical touch. At the same time I encourage you to enjoy the silent moments, the reassuring smiles, the times when you are together but not needing to talk about it to make it valuable.
Here’s to the silent years!