The Decline and Fall of the Mom Voice

(Note: This post is 100% SCIENCE-FREE. There are no studies to support anything I am saying. It’s all just anecdata and ranting. If you are looking for facts supported by good clean scientific studies, hoo-boy are you are in the WRONG PLACE. I am not a child psychology expert or teacher, nor do I play one on TV. Although I AM a mom (although I don’t play one on TV, which is a shame), with a fairly loud Mom Voice, apparently. I’m just saying.)

I know I have posted about this before, but… whatever happened to the Mom Voice?

You know what I am talking about. You remember it. It was that voice your mom had, a certain tone, that made you stop in your tracks and think, really THINK, before you took another step. It may have been a word or two that, along with the tone, roughly translated to “carefully consider your options before you make one more move”.

We all have memories of the Mom Voice, or at least those of us who knew moms do.

(There is a Dad Voice. But that is an entirely different thing.)

It seems to me that, for all intents and purposes, the Mom Voice has become extinct.

I remember hearing it as a kid, some days more frequently and from more moms than others. But I do remember hearing it. It was the voice of caution, of reason, of prudence. It was the voice that kept us out of trouble and kept us from being pains in the ass to all and sundry.

I don’t hear the Mom Voice much anymore; it has been replaced by something decidedly less. Today’s mom voice is more of a preschool teacher voice. A sing-song, I’m-your-friend, sometimes whining, ineffectual voice. It is a voice that insists on bargaining, or negotiating, or reasoning. It is a voice without power.

I hear it all the time, usually as some ill-behaved child is doing something in public that they would not have been allowed to do in our parents’ time. And, often, they still should not be allowed to do in OUR time, quite frankly. But somewhere along the line, moms lost the ability to actually Make The Rules And Enforce Them, or perhaps lost the feeling of the need to bother. Or maybe they’re too busy doing their own thing to notice.

But you see it all the time. A kid is running loose in a grocery store or behaving like a baboon in a restaurant or running wild and trashing someone else’s belongings, and there’s no Mom Voice to intervene and Stop The Insanity. No, instead there’s a sing-songy negotiation of “now Aiden/Jaiden/Caiden/Braiden/Satan, we don’t do that, do we?” and “please make good choices” and lots of other nonsense that goes in one rampaging child’s ear and out the other.

If a parent bothers to intervene at all, that is. Because I’m a little shocked at how infrequently they actually do.

Me, I love the Mom Voice. It sets boundaries, it enforces rules, and it is clear and simple and direct. And I use mine.

I have, apparently, a good Mom Voice. It is loud and clear and has a tone which indicates that I Am Not Fucking Around Here, So You Had Best Listen. It can be simple, it can contain “please” and “thank you”, and it still works.

And most moms in the wild Don’t Approve.

I posted about it before, but a few years ago, I was at swimming lessons with Stinkerbelle, in the years when I actually had to accompany her in the pool. (I hated those lessons. Anyway.) One day, after class, we went into the changing room to get changed to go home. The changing rooms were busy with moms and kids, from a couple of classes being run at the same time, as well as other women using the pool. And the door of the women’s dressing room was directly facing the door of the men’s dressing room, about 6 feet apart. And it was summer, and humid, and the doors were propped open.

As I usually did, I got Stinkerbelle changed first, and then she could toddle about and play and look in the mirror while I got changed. So, as I was standing in my altogether, Stinkerbelle was playing with a little girl, and the two of them started heading in the direction of the door.

So I got out the Mom Voice, and, in a clear tone, simply said, “Stinkerbelle! Stop. Come here. NOW.”

She stopped, turned, and cheerfully came back. No big deal.

Until I noticed that the change room had become completely silent. Several kids and moms had stopped and stared. And then I got a Mommy Drive-By from some other mom in the room who said, in a slightly mocking tone, “WELL. THAT was quite a MOM VOICE, wasn’t it.” And started to make some other comment, but I just cheerfully said, “Yes, thank you. And now she is safe, and not running out into the men’s dressing room or the hallway” and put her on ignore.

I hadn’t shouted. I wasn’t mean. And my daughter did exactly what I asked, without incident. And she was safe and knew her boundaries.

But I did hear some of the women begin to talk about me as we left the change room. Even over the din of their children hollering and running around.

I still use the Mom Voice. I used it today, as we were leaving our Speech Therapy appointment, and Stinkerbelle had dashed ahead of me out of the office to get her coat and boots. She was out of sight, and in a strange office building. I got out the Mom Voice.

But today, in a waiting room full of parents of kids with speech issues? At least two of them GOT IT. And they smiled, and one mom told me exactly where Stinkerbelle was and what she was doing. It was nice. There was no Judgy McJudgypants attitude. It was like they understood how important Mom Voice is.

I’ve used the Mom Voice ever since Stinkerbelle was tiny. With language acquisition delays, it’s not like you can rationally explain the whys and wherefores of rules with your kid. You need rules, simple and effective and easy for everyone to understand. The Mom Voice employs tone that shows her I’m serious, with a minimum of discussion to cloud the issue.

For example, Stinkerbelle was raised knowing the bounds of where she could play. She was not to go further than the edge of the neighbours’ driveways on either side. If she got to that point, I used the Mom Voice and told her to Stop, and Come Back. And she did. One of our neighbours marvelled at how well it worked, as her son would barrel off down the sidewalk without listening to her following after him, pleading with him to turn around, come back, play with this new toy, be redirected… By then, the message was long since lost, and he was gone.

And I know, some kids don’t respond to the Mom Voice. But I have to wonder if that’s because it’s not something used right from the start. You can’t introduce the Mom Voice when all else fails. A kid’s not going to take it seriously when the pattern of sign-song negotiation is already established.

One of the neighbours’ kids is an indulged little madam. Her mom says she’s “impulsive” and “headstrong” and blah blah blah, but after spending some time with her and her family, what that really means is that this little girl rules the roost. But she and Stinkerbelle are friends, and in the same class. And one day, I made the stupid mistake of offering to have her over to play after school.

This little girl has NO boundaries. She was taking my personal papers and scribbling on them, trying to break Stinkerbelle’s balloons, jumping on the furniture, taking Stinkerbelle’s toys and not sharing. And, because she’s not my kid, I struggled with how much I should “parent” her by my rules. So I would politely but firmly try to correct her behaviour when she did something that didn’t fly by our house rules.

She ignored me. Or she sauced back.

But when it came to running around shrieking and jumping on the furniture, I decided it was enough. I got the Mom Voice out, but good. Stinkerbelle immediately stopped, apologized, and started playing quietly. Little Madam got sulky and began to play at “I’m going to cry”, which I assume is how she gets what she wants at home. So I told her that these are the rules, and if she wants to continue to play here then she had better abide by them. And I took her home.

She hasn’t been back, and I don’t know if she wants to. She doesn’t like the Mom Voice.

And that’s fine by me.

We like our structure and our rules around here. We are strict (-ish) and we have rules, but it’s important. Kids NEED boundaries, firm rules and regulations. And they respond. They may not LIKE it, but they often do. And I think it’s important, because Life Is Made Of Rules. And if you want to raise a good global citizen, then it’s important to have rules, and structure, and discipline.

There’s a time and a place for pushing back against the rules, and challenging authority. But that time is not in early-to-middle childhood. I think in order to do it effectively you have to first understand what rules are about, and why they are in place, and what is good and bad about them.

A five-year-old is not able to do this. And allowing them to run roughshod over parents, teachers, and others with the lame excuses of not wanting to curb their creativity or letting them “explore their environments” or whatever other parenting psychobabble is out there right now, looks a lot to me like lazy parenting. And in a world of structure — schools, employment, community — it’s setting kids up for failure.

Women need to go find their inner Mom Voice, and use it more often. It’s a good thing. Really. I know it’s rapidly becoming extinct, and I don’t mind feeling like one of the last elephants on the savannah — but it sure would be nice to hear someone else trumpeting from time to time.

3 thoughts on “The Decline and Fall of the Mom Voice


    Yes! So true. I may copy this whole post down. Onto my forehead. To explain to other moms why I am the meanest mom they have ever met.

  2. You probably can’t hear me, but I’m shouting Alleluia & nodding my head. I too will have a mom voice, just as soon as I can get my son home with me….

  3. You are completely right.
    I´m that kind of mom that say the things very clear. The others mother tell me I,m very hard or my dougther is only four years old.
    But when I say to me baby Wait for me. She stops and the others are running for her children. Then I say ” I´m too old to run for her it´s better to be a good girl”.

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