You don’t have to be a mother to know what “Mom Voice” means. Chances are high that you’ve heard this vocal powerhouse come out from the woman in the grocery store chasing her offspring down the cereal aisle or perhaps the poor mama who thought it would be nice to take her children out for a meal and is now desperately waving down the waitress for her check. If all else fails, I’m sure you heard it from your own mother when you were a kid.
I was a mother for four years and four months before my official “Mom Voice” finally came roaring out and the momentous event happened on a white sandy beach, of all places, with the salty evening breeze from the Caribbean Sea blowing through my hair.
Back in December, our family went on a 5-week road trip, which included three glorious weeks in Mexico. Leading up to our escape, Sabine was on a tantrum tear. Meltdowns were never unusual for my two-year-old, but she was putting in overtime. I’m talking three or four massive tantrums a day, some lasting over an hour. These were the kinds of fits where there was nothing I could do to stop her from melting. I offered to pick her up? SCREAM. Would you like a new toy? SCREAM. How about some fruit snacks? Sometimes this helped, but often the chewy offering would lead to further screaming. In short, my stay-at-home-mom life was beginning to feel like a Stephen King book — a total nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from.
We left for New York to stay with my in-laws for a few days before leaving for Mexico and the tantrums only got worse. I was embarrassed that my child was acting like a little terror! Oh, please, my mother-in-law laughed, reminding me that she once dealt with Sabine’s father, after all. She encouraged me to be more firm with Sabine and I listened but still struggled to raise my voice. You see, I was convinced that rationalizing with Sabine and talking to her about her feelings was the best approach to the situation. My first mistake was thinking that a 2-year-old has the capability to rationalize.
Things will be OK once we get to Mexico, I kept telling myself. Warm weather, sunshine, beach, and pool — how can she be cranky in paradise?
My second mistake was thinking that there is any rhyme or reason to the way 2-year-olds function.
Our second night in Mexico, we went to one of the resort restaurants and Sabine pulled out the big guns. Her tantrum was so epic that her big sister ended up joining in out of sheer frustration. We caused such a ruckus that I felt compelled to ask for the check and call the evening a fail. We finished our drinks and were out the door when the tantrums escalated because neither child wanted to leave the restaurant. Let’s give it another chance, we decided, and asked for an outdoor table. The meal proceeded somewhat smoothly until the food was gone and Sabine commenced with her umpteenth scream show of the day. In her flailing and thrashing, a small bread plate came crashing to the ground and broke into a gazillion pieces.
That’s when it happened. Just like that, a voice rose out of me, one I hardly recognized, which I have now lovingly embraced as my very own personal “Mom Voice.” Oh, how I love the sound of my “Mom Voice”!
“THAT’S IT. LET’S GO, SABINE,” I commanded, reaching down for her wrist and heading back to our room. Leaving my older daughter with my parents to go get ice cream, I marched Sabine right out of dodge.
“That is not an acceptable way to act, Sabine. I’ve had ENOUGH,” I told her, pulling on her little hand, as she walked triple time to keep up with me.
This “Mom Voice” wasn’t yelling, exactly, just loud and firm. My mother-in-law’s advice circled in my head: Be more firm. This is what she meant. I could hear out my strong “Mom Voice,” loud and clear. Do you know why I could hear my “Mom Voice”? I could hear it because Sabine had fallen silent. She was running next to me, her fingers gripping mine, her eyes wide with wonder.
Back in the room, I cleaned her up, got her into her PJs, and asked her if she was ready to behave like a big girl.
“Okay,” came her hoarse response.
I put my “Mom Voice” away and used my regular voice then: “Would you like to go have a little ice cream with the rest of the family?” I’m sure you know what the answer was.
As we walked back downstairs to meet up with my parents and Violet, I doubted myself. Was I too harsh? Can this really be me? That’s when Sabine took my hand and hugged it tight to her body, gave it a kiss and smiled up at me, almost thanking me for putting an end to her tantrum.
That’s when it hit me: You may not want to be that parent, but sometimes your kids need you to break out that “Mom Voice.”
Sabine was spinning out of control in a maze of frustration that she couldn’t find her way out of during her tantrums and she wanted to wake up from the nightmare as much as I did. But she didn’t know how to stop. Two-year-olds feel a million emotions, yet they can’t control or make sense of what they are feeling. The cognitive skills just aren’t there. Sabine needed my “Mom Voice” to set her free.
Part of the reason that I didn’t want to be that angry mom was because I didn’t want other people to think I yell at my kids. How ridiculous is that! We all yell at our children; raising our voices is part of the job description. Does Sabine still have tantrums? Of course. She’s a child. But I’m done smiling through her out-of-control fits in public and trying to softly tell her that it’s OK while she screams and kicks at me. When she melts for no reason, my “Mom Voice” comes out, loud and proud, and the episode is nipped in the bud. No shame, no regrets.
So, if you see me at the library or playgroup or wherever and I’m telling one of my children that I’ve had enough in capital letters, don’t worry, it’s all good. That’s just my “Mom Voice.” And it’s exactly what my kid needs to hear.