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What to Do When Your Kids Don't Listen to You

It Sucks to Be the Voice My Kids Don't Hear

There's something unexplained going on in my house.

It's my voice. I seem to be the only one who can detect it much of the time. I feel my vocal cords vibrating and hear the words as they pass through my lips. But then? Those words just float through the air like one of those silent, odorless farts: inaudible (to anyone but me, that is) and unnoticed. With a fart, that's a good thing. But when it's a request to my kids — something I, in fact, meant for them to hear — that's not so great. It circulates in the air. It plops flaccidly against their seemingly-deaf ears. I wait with bated breath for some sort of response, but nine times out of ten I'm forced to follow it up with a throat-searing roar of, "DID YOU HEAR ME?!"

"You don't have to yell, Mom," they huff. "Gosh."

Ohhh, but I do.

Nine times out of ten I'm forced to follow it up with a throat-searing roar of, "DID YOU HEAR ME?!"

I don't say things because I like to hear myself talk. I don't say them because I've got an abundance of excess breath I need to get rid of. I don't say them because I enjoy repeating myself! (Repeating myself! Repeating myself! Whee!) I say them because somebody has to, and seeing as I'm the one who's always here with the kids, that someone is always me.

If my children would simply be perfectly-behaved at all times and always pick up their crap (that's a totally realistic expectation, right?), I wouldn't have this problem. Yet they can't seem to grasp the fact that the more responsible they act, the less I'd have to harp. I mean, it's not rocket science. Just put the dirty socks in the hamper. Don't call your brother a booger-faced moron. Stop leaving the milk sitting on the counter. And if you pee all over the seat, for the love of Khal Drogo, wipe that nastiness UP.

I'm the one who answers all — and fulfills the vast majority — of their requests. They need something, I'm the person they come to. Can I have a Band-Aid? When will dinner be ready? Will you help me get this gum out of my hair? But when it comes to the things I request of them, it's an entirely different scenario. They couldn't be more oblivious to my voice if they were wearing earplugs and noise-canceling headphones and had their heads buried under stacks of feather pillows. To add insult to injury, when their dad speaks, they answer immediately. Even though I'm the one who spends the most time around them and caters to their every need, he can say one word and they're all over it like piranhas on a pork chop.

I don't get it, but I know this much: it sucks to be the voice they don't hear.

I've read the tips and the columns written by parenting experts. Ask gently and politely, they say. Make eye contact. Be brief. Ask them to repeat what you've said. Show them attention. Talk to them, not at them. Sure, that's all fine and good, but asking my kids in a sweet, quiet tone to, say, clean the toilet isn't going to make them any more enthusiastic about it. I have a feeling that no matter how I approach it, they won't really listen unless I'm saying something like, "Hey kids! Time for cake!"

. . . Or unless I start sounding like my husband, which is pretty much impossible unless I take up chain-smoking.

I guess they tune me out because I do a proportionately larger share of the nagging — er, reminding. Since I'm home with them, it falls on me to be the disciplinarian, the righter of wrongs, the teacher of lessons. And everybody knows kids have been tuning out teachers for centuries.

It's sinking in anyway, the stuff I tell them, even if it seems to float in one ear and out the other. The cumulative years of my instructions will help make them into functional adults. And then they'll have non-listening offspring of their own, and they'll call me for advice, and I'll just laugh and laugh.

Once I answer their phone calls, that is.

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