The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


April 24, 2014

Sarah Coyne: Frog in throat means a change in parenting style

JOPLIN, Mo. — After a weekend spent being nagged by a fever and rampant sinus-related stupidity, I'm taking the final leap into a miserable spring cold: I'm losing my voice.

I've developed the voice of a smoking baritone. That is troublesome because I know that the impending enforced silence is going to throw a serious wrench in my mothering.

Without a voice, I can't explain, lecture or warn my child that she has exactly three seconds before my head explodes. I can't yell across the house or the back yard. My usefulness, and therefore my identity as a mother, completely changes.

While I wait to be rendered mute, I can't help but remember a time a few years ago when the same thing happened. I was nearly voiceless, then; even a whisper was too difficult. Instead of speaking, I resorted to hand gestures and facial expressions, which became increasingly charade-like with every new conversation.

Although my kids became more attentive versions of their usual selves for those few days, I had to get right into their faces every time I wanted to express a thought.

If they were across the room, I traveled. If they were busy, I waited. If they were embroiled in a bitter My Little Pony custody dispute, I physically intervened. As the days progressed, I started thinking twice before trying to say anything at all.

It's my leadership style, apparently, to speak so exhaustively that my audience eventually just checks out. But being without a voice, I couldn't do that anymore.

The effort to share a message was so much more complicated that I began to wonder if most of my thoughts were worthy of expression in the first place. This point was made especially clear when I noticed that my children paid much closer attention to me when I had no voice. It was as if they actually wanted to know my thoughts.

For an over-talker like me, the idea that I should sometimes withhold direction, emotion or explanation was life-changing. Plus, all of that personal silence proved to me how much of my own noise contributes to the sense of chaos and loudness in our family.

Each time I wished I could raise my voice to be heard over the kids' already unbearable yells, I realized how much worse I would have been making the situation. But being robbed of any noisy gasoline to throw on the fire, those yelling moments just sort of fizzled out naturally and peacefully.

Even though I've always heard it said that the best way to get a kid's attention is to speak really quietly right in front of them, it took involuntary voicelessness to make me try it. And now, here I am again, years later, wondering why I forgot how effective it was.

So this week I've decided that I'm going to be quiet, even after my voice returns.

Will you join me? What if this week, we conserve our voices for moments in which speaking is truly necessary, and try expressing direction, care, guidance and concern in ways that don't require a raised voice?

Maybe the silence will do more than make our springtime throats feel better Ñ maybe it will make our entire families feel better.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog, http://thisheavenlylife.blogspot. com.

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