The quieter you become, the more you can hear.Ram Dass
Losing My Voice; Literally
Last week, I lost my voice. And I mean that in the literal sense. I went to bed with a sore throat and woke up the next morning to a scratchy voice that declined throughout the day until I was left with nothing.
As a former teacher, I am no stranger to laryngitis. I would lose my voice twice a school year, every fall and every spring. My fourth graders fared better, since they could read my written directions. But my first graders, with a more limited literacy skills base, had to bear with me as I croaked and cleared my throat. Eventually, I was always reduced to a whisper and forced to call in a substitute to take over until my vocal chords were revived. There was nothing to be done about it; no good to come from it. All I could do was pray I was able to return to work before the class wreaked too much havoc on the poor sub.
I haven’t lost my voice since I stopped teaching. I’d almost forgotten it could happen. Until it happened. We drove up to the mountains to ride the Santa train with some friends that day, and by the time it was over, I could barely force out a full sentence. But, when laryngitis had hit me before, it was usually gone in a day or two. So it was no big deal to be home on my own with the kids the next day. I might have to whisper through the morning, but I was sure my voice would resurface soon enough.
NOPE. It stayed gone. I was exhausted from trying to silently direct and orchestrate and mediate and coordinate. All things I do on a daily basis with minimal frustration, but at volume zero and with no vocal power to make anyone listen to me, I was ready to throw in the towel; to leave the goldfish crackers out on the table and let the kids fend for themselves.
We made it through the morning by way of snapping my fingers and clapping my hands loudly to get their attention, but by lunchtime, my kids were testing the waters. Sneaking a dirty look at the other, giving a kick under the table, and downright going at it over a Target catalog. My patience, and my peacemaking, were wearing thin. And then, a funny thing happened. The Type-A control freak in me just shut down and shut up.
Lessons Learned from the Quiet Zone
Maybe you already do these things. Maybe it doesn’t take laryngitis to compel you to put these ideas into practice. If that’s the case, I admire you and your forward-thinking! But for me, gaining some perspective about myself as a parent occurred when I was forced to be quiet and observe what was happening around me when my voice wasn’t commanding the situation. Here are two major things I learned from losing my voice.
1. Wait to Intervene
As parents, it is so easy to step into our children’s squabbles prematurely. When we do this, we rob them of the ability to work through their problem solving process. I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but remembering this in the moment can be tough. It is annoying to me to listen to my kids bicker. It’s unpleasant to hear my daughter cry the second her brother does something she doesn’t like. And it drives me nuts when they coming running up to me, tattle-tales on the tips of their tongues. But does my discomfort justify my intervention?
At a recent family gathering, I found myself intervening as my 3-year-old started to melt down over sharing a toy with her younger cousin. As I began to step in, my sister-in-law reminded me to wait, to let them work it out on their own first. And sure enough, though not without temporary tears and frustration, one lost interest in the toy and they moved along.
As adults, we solve problem after problem, whether big or small, on the daily. Sure, it would be nice to have someone older and wiser swoop in and solve it all for us, but that’s not reality. So I’ve got to quit doing my kids the disservice of taking away their ability to reason through life’s challenges.
2. Spend More Time Listening
One thing that losing your voice will do is prove how much time you spend talking each day! I take breakfast orders, I bark out commands to get little people out the door for the day, and I chat with other parents at my kids’ sporting events and activities. I pay bills over the phone, cheer for my son’s team at basketball games, and sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” before bed. Not being able to do any of these things was frustrating, to put it mildly. But it also forced me to LISTEN.
In the space where my voice usually was, I could now hear my children more clearly. I could witness the ways in which they coexist when they’re not fighting; how they would voluntarily say “I love you,” to each other. I could appreciate their humor and their laughter. Instead of rushing them through their reasoning so that I could prove my point, I stayed silent long enough to finally hear them out. My voice was (shockingly) not the sole source of their existence and happiness, and in its absence, there was peace and calm and understanding. Talk about feeling humbled!
Now that my voice has returned, I’m going to try my best to hold tight to that lesson. Instead of talking over everyone, I’m going to challenge myself to stay quiet and listen to the little voices within my atmosphere; the voices that should always matter the most. The outcome of good listening is almost always infinitely better than making yourself heard. And by modeling this type of listening, the type which truly seeks to create understanding, aren’t we teaching those around us to do the same? That seems a much more powerful and farther-reaching skill.
So, it looks like I’ve found some good use for my laryngitis now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m thankful my voice is back in working condition. But, I feel like there was a purpose for its loss this time around. A gut check and a needed re-evaluation of the effectiveness of my parental voice. I’m hoping that I can carry these reminders with me from now on. So, if you need me, I’ll be over here, watching my kids duke it out over the latest amazon.com magazine and then staying quiet long enough to give them the chance to nurse each other’s wounds and find their own, authentic apologies.
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This is so poignant whether there are little kids at home or not! We are encouraged, almost everywhere in life, to respond quickly, it’s a sign of being efficient we’re told, yet as you learned that may not be the case at all! As I read your piece I thought about the scriptural mandate from James, “…take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry…” I realized as that scripture came to mind, I might think of ‘slow to speak’ and ‘quick to listen’ as taking a few more minutes before a response, but I think the challenge is to make silencing our voice a pattern rather than an occasional happening. There’s wisdom, perspective and peace to be found there. Really appreciated your blog Holly!