September was the third month of a Year of Living Without.
In July there was no nail biting (I’m still pretty good except when I feel stressed and I bring that hang nail to my lips.) August there was no television (I rarely watch it now – there’s no time! But once or twice a week I’ll watch a show with my husband.)
These were good experiments of will power.
September was far harder: A Month Without Raising My Voice.
I failed. Many, many times.
Part of my failure was simply fatigue. We are all trying to juggle so very much. We are often trying to fun faster than we have strength. When I’m tired I’m much less patient. And part of my failure is that raising my voice is a deeply engrained habit.
Realizing this was a surprise to even me. I’m a pretty chill person; I don’t scream and yell; throw tantrums, plates, or children. I don’t like drama unless it’s in novels. I’m constantly saying, “lower your voice” and “speak kindly.”
So why was not raising my voice so hard?
Because I need an intercom system. Or a cowbell. Or a dog training collar for the four children under my care. I yell up the stairs for kids to come. I yell down the stairs for children to come. I yell out the front door, the back door, and the side windows for children to come.
This is usually not done out of anger, rather, necessity. Or because I’m lazy.
The first few days I was pretty good. I caught myself just before opening my mouth.
A few times I asked a child to go get their brother and sister for me. They would return half an hour later to ask what I wanted them to do again or with the message, “They won’t come.”
I would look up at all those stairs I was going to have to climb one more time to ask a child to come pick up their towel from the middle of the kitchen floor, or to come practice the piano, or to come do their homework, or to COME NOW before the train pulls out and you miss your ride to school!
Sometimes it was just too hard. Or I was just to lazy to do it.
And sometimes I was already on my soapbox about that wet towel that I didn’t want to stop. I had to make my point. But do I need to do it with a raised voice?
I failed this month. Even the very last night of September I had a very bad moment with my son. Night time is where I have all my bad Mommy Moments. I’m just so tired. I am frustrated and snappy and don’t see why brushing teeth is such a foreign concept.
But that night I felt particularly terrible.
I got down on my knees that night, put my head in my hands, and prayed that I could get up the next day and do a little bit better. I had to apologize.
He left for school the next morning, still salty, without saying good-bye. I felt devastated. Did he still love me? Does he still need me? Or am I just a nag who is always griping about dirty shoes and wet towels?
I never meant to be a witch, you know.
Charles Duhigg of The Power of Habit reminded me that it’s not always easy, but he rejects the idea that even the worst of habits, the worst addictions cannot be changed. Age doesn’t matter. A deep engrained behavior doesn’t matter, because “once you understand how to take a habit apart, you can then reconstruct it any way you want.”
I love that! So how do we take raising my voice apart? First, we must look at the triggers. Eliminate or manage the triggers, and the habit isn’t triggered. I’m considering getting a night nurse. That would eliminate many of my triggers.
Home was not the only place where I raised my voice.
I’m practically living on the soccer field right now. With five different soccer schedules, it’s a bit nutty (and fun!) I’m coaching thirty 7th and 8th graders by myself (with my two sidekicks, Brynne and Paige, in tow.)
I’m not sure you can coach soccer without raising your voice. The field is just too big. Of course, calling out a drill with a loud voice is far different than yelling at a kid. Which I don’t do. I’m nicer to them than my own children.
I’m on long bus rides where I have to turn around every 30 seconds to tell someone to get their head back inside the window, pick up their wrapper, turn around, stop taking phone pictures, stop poking, and for heaven’s sake, where in the world is your jersey? And middle school buses are a bit noisy. To be heard, voice volume must be elevated.
Oh yes, I raised my voice – sometimes out of necessity and sometimes because I was too lazy to do otherwise, and sometimes because I knew it would be effective.
A word of caution: If you’re going to raise your voice to be effective, then it better be in moments that are few and far between. Otherwise, it is not effective; it actually has the opposite effect.
I’ve noticed that kids don’t respect adults who yell all the time, whether it’s a parent, a teacher, or a coach. Use the loud voice sparingly.
Here are some lessons learned from the soccer field and home life:
1. Lower your voice. Whisper. Children AND adults LEAN IN to hear a soft voice. Soft spoken doesn’t have to be timid and shy. Be confident when you speak and your audience will shush themselves, and those around them, so they can hear you.
2. Wait. Imagine this: A coach walks onto a soccer field. She blows her whistle. She waves her hand for players to come. They dribble towards her. She points her finger down. They sit. Some listen and stop. Most of them don’t. They wrestle each other to the ground. They bounce soccer balls. They talk. She waits. and she waits. and she waits. They realize she is waiting for THEM. She doesn’t have to say a word. The kids will start to govern themselves and their teammates – “Listen to coach!” Coach waits until there is not one sound. When she speaks she has the whole team in her hand.
And if that doesn’t work:
3. The Hairy Eyeball. My mother-in-law is the master of the hairy eyeball. You wait and wait, but occasionally there is still that one kid who is bouncing the soccer ball. Wait until that kid catches your eye, and then lower your head like a bull, raise your eyebrow, and give him THE LOOK. He’ll stop. Works every single time. Home or the soccer field.
3. Tone is far more important than Volume. Sarcasm is a relationship killer. Condescension builds resentment. Mimicry enrages.
4. Less in More. Nina wrote a fantastic article for Brain, Child on how we moms enable our children’s helplessness. Moms, stop doing so much! Kids can get their own breakfast, make a peanut butter sandwich, put away their own clothes, make their beds…
When I am constantly trying to micromanage my children, I get angrier more easily. My voices rises. I resent being the family slave. SO STOP. ENABLE your children to succeed in life without you. Remember that we are trying to work ourselves OUT of a job.
5. Love is spoken in quiet spaces. Saturday and Sunday we listened to some fantastic talks geared toward one thing: Finding joy in family life through the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am convinced that soft voices is where the spirit lives, where we can hear God, and our own thoughts. The quiet is where we can discern what our brothers, sisters, husband, wife, and children are needing.
And so we shall keep on trying. I’m mulling the muzzle option.
Next Month: Not checking email before noon. Oh man, this is going to be another hard one because I am an addict.
It’s only been a few days, but I can already tell you it’s been a life changer. Can’t wait to tell you all about it next month.