Note: Originally published on Qz.com.
Ah, Mother’s Day. It’s the one day a year when moms are explicitly fêted and appreciated for their boundless love, sacrifices, and wisdom. But are we celebrating moms the way they need to be?
I’m a strong believer in honoring moms on Mother’s Day by leaving them alone to enjoy much-deserved peace and quiet. (Because let’s be real, parental burnout, which is felt disproportionately by women, is no joke). But if solitude isn’t an option, children of all ages can celebrate their mamas in an equally peaceful, meaningful way.
While every mom is unique in her personality and parenting approaches, I dare say there is one shared, universal wish among us: to be heard. Yes, really. For one whole day, just try listening to us.
And I don’t just mean the physical act of hearing. Listen mindfully to your mother (or the mother of your children)—without interrupting. Our ability to form full sentences without interruption is a luxury so rare, it’s difficult to articulate, especially for those of us with young children. Believe me; as the mother of a two and five-year-old, it’s been several years since I’ve had a conversation or expressed a full thought without them interjecting and out-voicing me. It is exhausting and frustrating, to say the least.
Trust that we know what we’re talking about. Whether we’re issuing a directive not to eat another piece of candy (it’ll cause a tummy ache) or to stay off the swing set (because suddenly we just know the kiddo will get hurt), believe us. Hear the words we are speaking and heed them.
A mother’s intuition is renowned for a reason. That’s not to say we never make mistakes or misspeak sometimes (we’re human, after all), but anecdotal and scientific evidence indicate that a mother’s “gut” instinct is often on point. (As it turns out, women have more blood flow to the parts of the brain that control emotions and mood, which allows us to feel things deeply and possibly sense things might happen before they do.
Indeed, a mother’s wisdom—whether it emanates from a sixth sense or from lived, personal experiences—plays a central role in parenting across cultures. There are countless books, articles and even TED Talksdedicated to a mom’s ability to intuit and pass on nuggets of wisdom to her progeny.
Which is why the constant interruptions and second-guessing are especially exasperating. If it’s universally accepted that mothers have eyes on the backs of our heads (that are filled with knowledge on all sorts of matters, I might add), why are our words so often ignored or cut short?
For small children, the answer may simply be age-related. Toddlers and preschoolers, for example, are notoriously impatient. Developmentally, the concept of waiting to have immediate needs met is foreign to them. It’s not that they’re being disrespectful; they just are hyper-focused on themselves.
However, as children grow older, they learn cues from adults around them. And the sad reality is that we live in a culture that doesn’t value women’s voices; we are habitually interrupted at home, in the workplace, and as we interact in other public spheres.
As The New York Times reported (paywall) last year, “Researchers consistently find that women are interrupted more and that men dominate conversations and decision-making, in corporate offices, town meetings, school boards and [even] the United States Senate.”
A 1975 study, for example, concluded that “there are definite and patterned ways in which the power and dominance enjoyed by men in other contexts are exercised in their conversational interaction with women.” And a 2014 study found that a woman is more likely to be interrupted than a man by both men and women.
If kids are observing adult interactions (and they are, whether we realize it or not) that commonly feature and normalize women being interrupted, it’s no wonder they feel it’s acceptable to do the same.
In my house, it’s striking just how willingly my children will interrupt me versus their father. There is a marked difference: nine times out of ten, they will not disturb him if he is speaking or otherwise busy. Conversely, ten times out of ten, they will interrupt me if given the chance.
I make a point to voice my displeasure when it inevitably happens, plainly telling them it’s not okay to talk over me when I’m speaking. (I likewise do the same with adults, so I’m consistent if nothing else!). Sooner or later, they’ll understand and act accordingly. In the meantime, the greatest gift they could give me this Mother’s Day is peace, quiet, and an extra dose of respect.