Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Time choices October 11, 2015

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
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My WalMart watch photographs just like a Rolex, doesn't it? I did not edit this image, just in case you're wondering.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo

TO EVERYTHING THERE IS A SEASON and a time to every purpose under heaven…

Ever since the pastor read Ecclesiastes 3: 1 – 13 as a scripture reading last week at my church, I’ve pondered the words in verse 7: …a time to be silent and a time to speak.

How do you know? How do you know when to remain silent or when to speak?

I understand a time to weep and a time to laugh and a time to mourn and a time to dance. Those are easy. But how do you decide whether to open your mouth or zip your lips?

Taking that a bit further, how do you decide when to act or when to allow things to unfold as they may?

I believe that we are sometimes called to act and/or to speak. But how do we determine when we should talk or take action? President Obama, for example, recently stated in the aftermath of the deadly shootings in Oregon that “our thoughts and prayers are not enough.” I believe firmly in the power of prayer and I pray daily. Yet, I agree with the President. (I’m not taking a stand on gun control here, just the need to “do something.”)

As parents, especially, we struggle with how much we should say, if anything. It is easy when the kids are little. We are, mostly, able to curb negative behavior, keep our children from danger, and guide them by our examples, discipline, love and care.

Then our children grow into adulthood and they are in charge of their lives. We have given them, as my friend Kathleen says, “roots and wings, roots and wings.” How, then, do you determine when to speak or to remain silent? If your adult son or daughter was trapped inside a burning building, you wouldn’t just stand there and do nothing simply because they are adults, would you? I’m oversimplifying. But you get my point.

Have you witnessed a situation involving strangers that requires an instant decision? Speak up or remain a silent bystander. Recently, while attending a community event, I watched an angry young mother rage at her daughter. Yanking and yelling. I felt my blood pressure rise as the preschooler cowered in her mother’s presence and slunk into a corner behind a door. If the mother would have pushed an inch further, I would have intervened. I decided not to inflame the situation and was eventually able to comfort the young girl with soft words of kindness. Later I witnessed the mom once again yelling at her passel of children. And I wondered if she treats her children like this in public, how does she treat them at home? And why was she seemingly so overwhelmed? What was she dealing with in her life?

I don’t mean to judge. But you see the dilemma. Determining whether to speak or to remain silent is not always black-and-white clear.


© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


26 Responses to “Time choices”

  1. You are right to wonder about this poor wee mother feeling so out of control must be awful. I wonder whether offering the mother a smile and a kind word would have helped too. Maybe watching and finding a moment when she is feeling calmer then saying something gentle and nice. I remember being a single mother of way too many children – being overwhelmed is a terrible feeling – I knew it well. But a kind word from an older woman, the offer of help, sometimes this is all i needed to be reminded that this overwhelmed feeling is only short term that maybe accepting help is ok.

  2. Almost Iowa Says:

    “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
    The courage to change the things I can,
    And the wisdom to know the difference.”

  3. Dan Traun Says:

    I think this is where that”gut feeling” comes into play. But even so, I don’t always listen to it for whatever reason.

  4. chlost Says:

    These situations are particularly difficult, because, as you say, who knows what things must be like at home. Would the anger at being called out result in a more dangerous situation when the child is at home?
    A friend of mine worked many years as a “Guardian ad Litem”, the Court’s eyes and ears in child abuse cases. She discussed seeing this type of situation in public. Her response had been to talk to the parent, saying something to the effect of “It sure must be hard to handle the stress of being a parent to a young child sometimes. Is there anything I can do to help out? Would it help if I talk your child if you want a little break?” She also has offered to help with groceries to the car if that is the situation, or whatever she can think of in the situation that is stressing out the parent.
    I also have a family member who was rough with his children, in a way that made me uncomfortable. I know enough about the child protection system to know that any official report or even comment by me would have just inflamed the situation. It is a very difficult situation to be in. We cannot imagine the lives that some children are living.

  5. Gunny Says:

    There are times when it is appropriate to intervene, other times it is best to walk away or report the situation. Wives and mothers (sometimes fathers) are often under immense pressure which I feel is often due to their own carelessness with either time or financial management. A preschooler (any child for that matter) can be a pain in the – well you get the idea. However, often their attitudes and persona can be quickly changed when a situation is turned around. Even the “adult’s” whole perception and attitude can change if we can find just the right way to intercede The question to the onlooker, is “can my presence or intervention change the situation for the better and how am I to do that?”

    I am reminded of a similar situation in which a sailor found himself in a small restaurant. The table next to his was a bickering family, the parents had their own fight going on while admonishing the unruly children. It was Christmas but severely lacking anything joyful! A flower seller came in. Needless to say, no one in the family bought one! The sailor did. He bought a rose. He asked the waiter for his bill and talked briefly to him. As he rose up from his table, he headed to the irate father, and asked if he could give his lovely daughter (actually his wife) the rose, and that if he deemed it appropriate that the waiter would bring the children each a bowl of ice cream. With that, he wished them all a Very Merry Christmas and departed.

    I could write a book on gun control, drug / alcohol abuse, on child / spouse abuse, plain stupidity. Almost wrote one here! For the “average” American, as Kenny Rodgers song goes, You got to know when to holdem, know when to fold em, when to just walk away,

  6. Gunny Says:

    Oh, I meant to say the the family’s mood, even the staff at the eatery, changed with that simple gesture.

  7. hotlyspiced Says:

    I’ve got myself into a lot of trouble over the years from shooting off my mouth when I should have resisted. It’s a difficult one. I’m sorry to hear about that mother – those poor children. And yes, if she’s like that in public you do wonder what’s going on behind closed doors xx

  8. Thread crazy Says:

    That inner “gut” feeling that we all possess. I believe is an added bonus that God gave us to help direct our daily lives. Your post I s right on Audrey as I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a similar scene. In today’s world, I feel so for mothers that have to cope with more than one child, or those who are single mothers, for whatever reason, as the stress must be so over whelming. When situations don’t permit us to speak, sometimes a smile is all we can get across to an individual. What we can do now is pray for this mother and children that God will bring relief to her, and protect those children from any harm. We serve a mighty God and he’s able to do it if we just ask.

  9. Beth Ann Says:

    I doubt that there is anyone reading who has not been in a similar situation and wondered if it was time to step in or step away. It hurts me when I see things like what you witnessed with a mother and child unfolding before my eyes but it is also not always appropriate to offer my voice to the situation. My training in matters like this unfortunately leads me to know that often an intervention just escalates the situation and if the child is not in immediate physical danger I choose to say a prayer for the mom and child and if the chance occurs to actually interject myself into the situation in a non judgmental and helpful way I will do it. I think the encounters with kids are the hardest to witness because they are basically helpless and these events shape their lives. There are always going to be those situations that we witness that we can not address but we can ALWAYS pray. Always.

  10. Trust your gut! Absolutely. There are so many unseen influences on how people act, and we unwittingly pick up on those, which is why trusting our gut reactions is really important. Having said that, we also have to be so careful in our intrusions into other people’s situations so that we don’t shut off their communication with others entirely; that’s where I get hung up. The welfare of children trumps any embarrassment, of course. In our society, we are so worried about privacy and the idea that everyone should take care of their own lives, that we have little practice with appropriate intervention and compassion as ordinary people in public settings. Zipping our lips with our own kids is an entirely different thing; anything we say can be misconstrued under the heading, “overly involved parent”! But, as long as we act out of genuine love and compassion, I think we ultimately will do the right thing in most situations.

  11. Jackie Says:

    I agree with Dan, there are times when that “Gut feeling” wins and I’m glad I spoke up. But then there are times when I want to intervene but something inside of me ( I’m guessing the Holy Spirit) holds my tongue, a few minutes later when I’ve had time to think, I’m glad I remained silent. It’s a hard thing, really hard when it comes to our adult children!

  12. Kirk Griebel Says:

    My daughter recently shared this post about things people say to those in crisis that sound good but really are pretty worthless: http://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2015/09/28/stupid-phrases-for-people-in-crisis/.
    As this post points out, if you are thinking of intervening in a crisis it’s better to think of something kind to do for the people involved, as the sailor did, than to say something trite.
    And I maintain that the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is still golden. Ask yourself what you would want others to do for you if you were in crisis and then act accordingly. Then if what you do is criticized at least you can respond, “I only did what I would have wanted you to do for me.”

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response. It’s been interesting to read the varying and useful comments here. I checked out the link and the writer makes some really good points. I think most of us have been guilty of saying some of the things she lists.

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