Your inner voice

whisper“Eat some fruit before you plow into the Doritos.”

“Enough Minecraft. Your brain is going to turn to mush.”

“No, Rose! You’re going to kill yourself up there!”

“Get out of bed, you lazy bum!”

“Bring up your dirty clothes. Your room smells like a sewer. And make you’re bed while you’re at it.”

“No more cookies. I am putting a lock on these cookies.”

“Rose, seriously, stop it! You’re going to be lucky to live to see your second birthday.”

“I think I’m throwing away $400 every month on all these music lessons. No one ever practices.”

I’m pretty sure I said all of these things yesterday.

Then I saw this quote on Facebook: “Be careful how you speak to your children. One day it will become their inner voice” –Peggy O’Mara. My first reaction was, “Great, one more thing to feel responsible for.” Which was followed quickly by, “Whatever, that’s not true!” And then I remembered back to my own experience, early in the week, where I found myself sitting at my computer, open to the Boden sale page, squinting at photos of models who make every dress look good, and wondering what might work on me.

And then I hear the voice: “Let’s look at dresses with drop waists, Shelah, because you have a little bit of a tummy.”

When I look at clothes in a store, this is the voice I hear. When I look at myself in the mirror and suck it in, this is the voice I hear. Looking back, the comment seems pretty gentle and innocuous, but for the first thirty years of my life, it was the voice that told me I’d always be a little bit chubby, and for most of the last decade, it’s been the voice that’s scared me into staying skinny.

It is, of course, my mother’s voice.

I hear it when I bake. I hear it when I feed my family cheese quesadillas for dinner. I hear it when I don’t put on makeup or choose not to dry my hair, or braid my girls hair. I hear it when I make decisions about how to decorate my house. I hear it every day.

I guess I’ve known for most of my life that my inner voice is my mom’s voice, but it scares me to think that my kids’ inner voice might be my voice. It’s one of the responsibilities of parenthood that no one tells you about at birthing class. Yesterday was just a normal, easy parenting day, when no one cried because they hadn’t been invited to a birthday party or had deep questions about the state of their existence. If I can be so flippant and harsh in my everyday interactions, I worry about how I sound when there are hard questions. I worry about the damage I’ve already done– the phrases I’ve already put in their heads that they will hear when they’re 38 years old.

I hope my kids come away hearing:

“Make good choices.”

“Work hard.”

“Don’t get yourself into dangerous situations.”

“Take care of your things.”

“You can do it.”

But if I want them to hear those things, maybe I need to actually say those things.

I can work on that. I might even be able to do it. Eradicating my mom’s voice in my own head will be a little harder.

 

About Shelah

(Editor-in-Chief) lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and six kids. She has a BA in English Teaching from BYU, an MA in American Culture Studies from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MFA in Creative Writing at BYU. Her work has been published in Dialogue, the Mormon Women Project, Irreantum, BYU Studies, and Segullah. When she’s not writing or wrangling, she can often be found running through the city in the pre-dawn darkness.

19 thoughts on “Your inner voice

  1. “You’ll be happier if you lost 10 lbs.” I hear that one every day. Thank you. I’m going to work on being a better voice in my kids’ heads.

  2. I know you well enough to know that’s not all they hear from you. Nor all they feel. We can all be a little kinder, a little more patient. Rather than focus on the things we shouldn’t do, a good approach could be to think of specifics that we CAN do, and focus on that.

    We’ll never be flawless, but we can make a daily goal of making sure they (and we) feel a little more loved, known, accepted and completely fine just as they (and we) are. That’s something anyone can succeed at. Plus we have the perk of feeling more of that sweet spirit when we are striving in this manner. I think you’re doing a brilliant job. I am so grateful to know you. ♥

  3. My inner voice is another me (the one I don’t let interact with real people because she’s a nasty piece of work <_< ) and not my mother. I think this is because I think in English and my mother doesn't speak English.

  4. I think our inner voice can change.

    Growing up, I heard almost nothing positive about myself. In fact the first compliment from my mother came second hand after I went to college (she bragged to a neighbor about my scholarship– I was shocked).

    But since my mother’s death, I’ve head more of her true voice– ‘you’re doing great’ you don’t need to lose weight’ ‘I love the way you are raising your children.’

    I think that’s what she always meant to say.

  5. I think my inner voice lately is not my mother’s voice, but my own insecurities and fears run wild. I know what you mean, though, and I wonder about what inner voice my children will have.

    Michelle, I love the insight that inner voice can change.

  6. Thanks. Great thoughts.

    I agree with Michelle that we can change our inner voice.

    And I love what Blue says. We can be kinder. I’m going to do that right now!

  7. my and my sisters’ inter voice is our father’s critical comments. It is very hard to hear our gentle mother. I always wished she had spoken louder and more often. I need to step up my positive vocal praise also. very good suggestion for the new year.

  8. I believe it. Luckily, my mom said good constructive things that I don’t mind having be my inner voice.
    I think I do a pretty good job with my kids in this regard. I know what I want them to learn and I stand behind 99.9% of what I say.
    For instance, with my daughter who seems to never be satisfied, I focus on telling her she needs to practice being grateful. For instance, with my son at the doctor’s office when he asked if my son got along with his sister, I said yes for the older one, but for the younger one I said “He works hard to try to get along with his younger sister even though it is hard. I really appreciate him trying since it is important.”
    That is what I want as his inner voice.
    But then, I tend to live life literally. My husband jokes around and doesn’t seem to realize that if you mispronounce words like tortilla, Illinois, etc. as a joke, you just end up raising kids who say them the wrong way as adults because that is the first pronunciation that comes to mind.
    Also, I have a child who had a severe language delay and some lingering learning issues (without him knowing). Since most of the things that frustrated me about him over the years are exactly what his testing shows that he is special needs, it seems cruel to get mad at him for it. Instead, I think about how to help him cope with his limitations and learn to successfully work around them. If I point anything out I say “this is something you can practice and get better at” and work with him. Maybe other kids, or a boss, or maybe even a spouse someday might treat him badly because of his brain chemistry, but not me.
    Not that I’m perfect.
    But it really was nice having a mother who raised me in love and kindness and reasonable expectations and I’d like my kids to have the same thing. My mother liked herself and didn’t spend time criticizing herself, her husband, her kids, or even the neighbors, ward members or strangers.

  9. It is my dad’s mocking voice that I hear about everything I do. Now I hear my husband’s mocking voice. I long for sincere compliments.

  10. “Heavy.” That’s the word my mom used. She said it about other people but whenever I see a pound or two start to creep on, I hear her saying “Amy is starting to get so heavy” and then I freak out a little bit.

    But my inner critic doesn’t only speak in my mom’s voice. For me it just depends on what it is criticizing.

  11. SECR, I love you for your honesty and I understand. I can’t say more right now, only that there are so many of us who have that voice in our ear any time we attempt to succeed, and I think that there will be a special discussion in the eternities for those voices. I hope mine will not be among them, because I’m pretty sure that the the inner voices I have which keep telling me to sit down and shut up, to quit talking so much, to stop being so loud, and that even if I could make a living writing or with music, it wouldn’t be worth it. Why is there a Victorian grandmother in my brain? Why does she expect me to obey instead of following my heart, and following the Spirit of God that is trying to direct me to say, write, and sing the things that I’m being directed to do? I have fought her my whole life, and I think I’m doing a good job, and then she begins talking to me over again. And why is her voice so familiar…. (at least I used to ask this, before I realized who she was. Now I fight everyday to make sure I never become that voice, and that’s a harder quest than I would have ever thought possible. I’m blessed with supportive, compassionate and caring parents….which was one of the reasons that identifying my inner voice was so difficult for me. It took me years of failing before I realized that my failures were seemingly on purpose, pulling away from success at the last moment, listening to some preprogrammed answers. Now, I struggle every day to make sure that I don’t limit my kids, and anyone in the sound of my voice, in that same way. And then everyday there are voices all around my children, telling them how fat, stupid, and weird they are. I can’t prevent them from coming near, and I can’t seem to insulate against them. I hope I can only provide a stronger voice in the mists of darkness, one piercing point to follow back into light.

    And the woman behind my inner voice? Was raised by an emotionally abusive father, and a kind and compassionate mother, who worked her hand and hearts off for her children. But even I can hear that her voice came from the man who expected her to appear one way no matter what, to do what girls were supposed to do, and to be loyal to him even when he wasn’t loyal to anyone else. I hope he realizes where his voice has lead….and I hope that someday I can forgive him for it.

  12. I appreciate this post, Shelah. It is so real and reflects what I think all of opus fear.

    I love Michelle’s comment, not only because of the notion that the inner voice can change but because time and the Spirit can help us see and hear and understand with more compassion what our moms really would have said more if they weren’t so buried in their own mortalness and struggles. Maybe our inner voice can teach us about some of what those struggles have been?

    One thing i’m learning about myself is that the more I fear what my kids might struggle with because of me, the worse of a mom I am. The more I point them to the true Voice (and trust it myself in my own fears) the less burden I feel and the easier it is to say and feel nice things.

  13. Wow this struck me. Totally my experience (I can repeat verbatim phrases all throughout the day) BUT I can equally repeat the great things too – of which I’m sure is your kids’ inner voice too. Great post!

  14. Thank you for this post. Absolutely heartfelt and sincere. I love the vulnerability and courage shown so regularly here on Segullah.

    Michelle, your comment melted my heart. The only thing that has allowed me to forgive my own parents for their abuses is to know that they would have wanted to do it better. They couldn’t see their own children’s needs as their eyes were continuously blinded by their own pain. The truth is…we all parent in our own crucible of shortcomings, weaknesses, issues, wounds, and mortal limits. No matter how hard we try as parents, there will always be mistakes and regrets. We raise our children in a fallen world. As we do that, we are susceptible to physical fatigue, postpartum hormones, grief, losses, and emotional upsets. God somehow can make up the difference between our desires and hopes and the reality of executing them. I am a sincere believer in apologies and forgiveness and the healing power of the Atonement in our relationships. In the end, only love will remain. Christ can make our offering enough.

  15. This post really makes me think because I sort of lost my mom to divorce when I was nine. I have a mom and a stepmom, and I will have to pay attention to which voice is prevailing, or whether either is the guide. I will say, I think stepmom prevails in the household cleanliness inner voice.

  16. Hi Shelah,
    Love your writing. Love your blog. Would love you to review my book! Couldn’t find a way to contact you on your blog so I’m sending happy thoughts your way in my comments to your article. I’ve also been published in Segullah a few times (poetry) and love this magazine. Gosh, I love a lot of things, don’t I? Well anyway, my website is nelsonjuliek.com and I can send you a watermarked advanced reader’s copy or the publisher can send you a hard copy in the mail when it is released (March 12). It’s called, “Parenting With Spiritual Power” and is for the LDS audience. The book examines the lives of parents in the scriptures (all standard works) and how their examples of interactions with their children teach us principles of parenting. Here’s an overview:
    •Experiences in the lives of parents in the scriptures,
    •Doctrine taught by those events,
    •Supporting statements by prophets, apostles and general authorities,
    •Illustration and application through persona examples.
    Looking forward to hearing from you. Congratulations, by the way, on your new adopted daughter!
    Julie K. Nelson

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