I myself used this ubiquitous expression the other evening when my five year old insisted on telling the whole dinner table about his spectacular achievement in the washroom, at full volume (“It was huuuge”). As we sat there in that quiet restaurant I found myself facing the ironic frustration of not being able to use MY inside voice to shut this tirade down immediately.
You see, I have a confession to make – my INSIDE voice is far, far louder than my OUTSIDE voice. My outside voice is full of dulcet tones and cheerful restraints such as “Oh darling, don’t wipe your nose on your sleeve. Mommy’s sorry she forgot to bring a tissue”, and “Nicholas I know you love nature but put that lovely stick down and Mommy will give you a big hug”, while my fishwife/inside voice tends to run more to “Bridget! Stop doing that on your shirt! You’re disgusting!” and “If you hit her one more time with that thing I’m taking your blankie and putting it in the fireplace!”
I don’t think I’m alone in owning this dual personality; all of us are guilty of having a public parenting persona (“Look there’s my husband pretending to enjoy playing tag at the park and not looking at his BlackBerry!”), and a private (“Can I just have two minutes alone without you brats???”) parenting side.
But I think the kids themselves are perhaps the guiltiest of being different people for different occasions. My son Nicholas recently won the “Cooperation and Cheerful Attitude” award in his kindergarten class. Literally ten minutes after leaving that the award ceremony (where he was beautifully behaved, of course), Mr. Cooperation was red faced, screaming and stomping through the grocery store issuing threats of pulling down entire end-aisle displays…and his pants. So I asked him why he could be so well behaved for his kindergarten teacher, and if he would ever pull a stunt like this with her. He said “No. But I know you better, Mommy.” He’s absolutely correct. He knows me, and I know him, better than anyone knows either of us. In fact, the very first time we laid eyes on each other he was this same screaming red faced demon, and I was, well shall we say, not showing my best side when he looked up in the delivery room. I think this set the standard for my relationship with him, and my other three children as well.
It is my experience that from babies to teens, the behaviour children display with others (teacher, coaches, grandparents, babysitters, friends, total strangers, public transit officials) is far far better than the insults, snarls, biting remarks and general miscreant shenanigans that they display for us. I will also admit that I quickly lower myself to meet this standard with my inside/outside voice quickly and viciously issuing threats, judgements and comments I simply wouldn’t use on anyone else.
They can push our buttons, and we can push theirs. The only button I can’t seem to find is the volume control; on both them and me. In the meantime, this might explain why kids are always anxious to go outside and play – it’s where that nice quiet voiced Mom turns up.
Kathy Buckworth’s latest book, Journey to the Darkside: Supermom Goes Home is in bookstores everywhere. Read Funny Mummy every month and watch Kathy on Slice Network’s “Birth Days”. Visit www.kathybuckworth.com