• T. W. Emory

The Mom Voice

My brother occasionally refers to what is called “the mom voice.” It’s not an original term with him, of course, and when he uses it, he’s usually half-joking. But only half. My brother (to quote him) likes to characterize “the mom voice” as “the civilizing force for humankind,” and he contends that “without it echoing in the backs of our heads, few would remember to say, ‘thank you,’ ‘please,’ and fewer would remember to wipe their feet or even clean the lint filter or take out the garbage.”

Whether a person has given this much thought or not, most of us who have had moms, know this “voice”—i.e., that imposing tone and manner in which moms interrogate, deliver commands, rebukes, reproofs, and authoritative verdicts. It’s a “voice” developed and seasoned while rearing children, and which continues to be used on grown children, husbands, grandkids, relatives, as well as strangers, be these salespeople, service people, doctors, lawyers, or various Grand Poohbahs and Big Kahunas.

Curiously, “the mom voice” (whether coming from one’s own mom or not) seems to continue to evoke a response in people well into their adult life, and long after the woman using it has finished raising her family. My guess is that response to “the mom voice” is a kind of Pavlovian reflex and reaction, since most of us grew up with some version of this “voice” being regularly employed on us, so that we’re sort of conditioned to “sit up and take notice” when our ear happens to catch it, even if we might not always hear and heed it as adults—or at least, not in the same way that we once did. Thus, “the mom voice,” with its she-who-must-be-obeyed vibe, is one of those you-know-it-when-you-hear-it kind of things.

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