“It’s your tone.”
I heard it growing up, and I hear it in my own house. Mostly coming out of my husband’s mouth, but occasionally out of mine.
- a musical or vocal sound with reference to its pitch, quality, and strength
- the general character or attitude of a place, piece of writing, situation, etc.
The way your speak and the energy your put forth can make or break a situation. This is quite powerful. And in the environment of my family, it is also quite accurate. And if anyone sets the tone, it’s me.
Mom sets the tone.
Let me give you an example. Last week my family and I were on what was “supposed to be” a beach vacation on Cape Cod. Alas, it rained. I kept it together as best I could, trying to smile often and plan indoor fun. I tried to set a positive tone.
It worked for almost four days. Then, it didn’t.
Being stuck in a small cottage with three small children and a stressed out husband is really flipping hard. On the fifth day of our trip, I had an outburst that rivaled my youngest’s tantrums. Then I watched as my kids fell like dominoes. I set the (negative) tone, they responded, and it was terrible.
With great power comes great…
There is a phrase, “with great power comes great responsibility.” The president of my alma mater attributed this dictum to Saint Augustine, but I have always associated it with Spiderman. Your preference.
As a parent, there is great power in being the person who can soothe tears with a simple hug. I realized that in my earliest days of parenting when I, and I alone, could calm my colicky baby. This extends to so many “only mommy can do it” situations in our home.
Sometimes, this feels very empowering. But most of the time it feels very overwhelming.
The same goes for setting the tone. I know enough about Bandura’s Social Learning Theory to understand the science behind children following a parent’s example. Additionally I believe that the energy I emit affects those around me. I watch my children follow suit when I am not at my best and observe them flying particularly high when I am in a silly and joyful mood.
Of course, it cannot always be sunshine and rainbows. In reality life has ups and downs. Sunny beach days and cold and rainy grumpy days. I try (pinkie swear) to set a positive tone even on those dark days. But it is draining, tiresome, and ofter just too hard.
Mom has crappy days, too.
80% of the time I succeed and watch my family respond. The other 20% I observe myself pout and stomp my feet like a train wreck I cannot stop, and see my family break down. So much power in this concept.
An alternative plan
I had great expectations for my family vacation. In the end it was a good vacation, but nothing like I expected it to be. (Expectations-aargh!) I tried to push down the sadness, anger, disappointment, stress, and exhaustion in hopes of setting a positive tone. But that wasn’t reality. Eventually, the feelings pushed their way out. In a big, loud, ugly way.
What if I had given these feelings some attention as they crept up instead of trying to deny them? Would I have exploded the way I did?
Perhaps I could have journaled or called a friend to complain/unload/release. Then maybe my Thursday night meltdown would have been less intense. Not to say it wouldn’t have happened-I was after all stuck in the rain with 3 small humans-but perhaps it I could have expressed myself in a less childish manner. Maybe if I would have acknowledged my disappointment as it crept up, I would not have undid any positivity gained in a moment of negative verbal explosion.
Because there is power in telling your kids, “Me, too. This is hard for me, too.”
I still wish I could have spent the week basking in the sun at the beach instead of staring out the window at the rain. No idiom about lemons and lemonade going would have changed that. And even if trying to be Sally Sunshine didn’t work out too well, either, I give myself credit for when it did. Mostly, I pat myself on the back for learning that this Mom can only set a realistic tone. And hope the dominoes fall accordingly.