When I was an English teacher, I learned how to use a “teachery” voice—one that was no-nonsense and business-like. Neutral in tone. When you’re teaching seventh graders especially (which is what I did for over half of my seven year teaching career before I became a mom and stayed home), you need a fast way to let everyone know that it’s not a good idea to mess with you. The sound of your voice is the way to achieve that end. I learned from some of the best people in this area. Yes, you mix in some humor (the drier the better because it makes students pay attention to catch the “Easter eggs” in the class session). And you make good use of inflection so that you don’t sound boring. But when you open your mouth, it needs to be full of assertiveness and full of the feeling of let’s-get-down-to-business. Not too high and flakey (we aren’t kindergartner teachers here), and not too low and grovely (we aren’t gym teachers, either). But somewhere in between so that the facts that we are short and female aren’t disadvantages. The voice we use sets the stage, sets the tone. And it communicates in a moment whether we are up for the task of wrangling and leading and inspiring adolescent minds.
Well I say all of that to say that the voice I had developed as a teacher was clearly not entirely my own voice. It was learned. It was developed, crafted. It was calculated. But in a professional setting, we sometimes need to do that so that we can be more effective in our jobs. This was one of the areas of greatest pride for me because it seemed to unlock many mysteries of secondary teaching that had been just out of my grasp up until then. Digging deep to grow my voice—to give it other dimensions to serve multiple purposes—grew me up in a certain way because now I had a choice in how I came across to my students. I chose how to sound, how I wanted them to perceive me as being. But the cost was that, daily, I truly had to step into a persona that I had created for myself. This persona worked for me, but it wasn’t me. I think that many of us have to do this for our jobs.
And so now that I’m home with my kids, it has taken me some time to realize—really realize—that I don’t have to be anyone else except myself. And what that means is that I can drop the teachery voice. I can use my own voice. I don’t have to worry about how my authority is perceived by my students or what parents think of my management style. None of that matters anymore. The only thing that matters, to quote Uncle Jesse from Fuller House, is connecting with our kids. So the next time we feel like we have been run ragged by the day and we are facing rising frustration for any given reason (having to clean up yet another mess that I did not make is coming to mind), instead of switching on the haggard-mom voice, let’s just try to use our regular, sweet voice. I say to myself (and to anyone else who needs to hear it), “Be you. Don’t worry if you don’t sound like you mean it (Isn’t that why we turn on the mean voice? So that our kids know that we mean what we say?). Just be the nice person that you know you are and always want to be. Don’t let the externals pull you down. Don’t let anything cause you to trade your beautiful, resonant, uplifting voice for something that sounds ugly and produces a negative effect. Don’t fall into the domineering mommy trap where moms think that they have to “sound tough” in order to be good moms. You know better! We moms are good moms because we are patient and loving and kind and good. You don’t have to manage 25 students at a time anymore—so let the stakes fall! It’s just you and your kids. Who cares what anyone else thinks (about anything!). You know that you are doing a good job. You know that your kids are just being kids (which is the greatest compliment to any parent anywhere!). You know that this is why parenting is so hard. Because it requires us to choose how we are going to be instead of being reactionary all the time. The meanest, nastiest voice in all the world isn’t going to make your kids do anything. You know what’s going to work? You own voice! When you use your own voice, your children hear the love in your heart. They hear your acceptance of them. They experience the grace that is a trademark element of your home. So don’t, for one second, think that you have to use someone else’s voice with your kids. There are no evaluations here, no professional development reports to fill out. It’s just you and your kids. You get to be you! This is a true gift and the real reason why you are on this path—because you were meant for this!”