We have our own brand of mashed-together parenting strategies and styles going on in our house, as I’m sure most moms do. Honestly, between being a geriatric millennial mom (a term I resent infinitely), a mom to a kid with a disability, and a pandemic mom, it’s a small miracle that a consistent parenting philosophy exists in our house at all. 

I strive to be — and genuinely put a lot of effort into being — a “gentle parent” while disciplining and redirecting our kindergartener.

Before the heavy sarcasm sets in here, I want to make it very clear that I do actually try. I’ve even gotten the “direct but still gentle” voice down. To any of you who know me personally, you know how long of a journey — and how big an accomplishment — this has been.

Am I always able to keep my “yelling voice” in check? Absolutely not. Do I always try my hardest? Yes.

So here we are. I’ve been sincerely attempting the gentle parenting strategy for more than a year now. Let’s take a minute to reflect and check in. 

    • Am I confident I’m using the proper tone of voice? Yes.
    • Am I sure I’m using the “right kind of words”? Yes, with the disclaimer that I use the “Massachusetts edition.”
    • Am I approaching the situation with compassion first? Mostly.
    • Am I positive I’m using this strategy at the appropriate times? Also yes. 
    • So… Is this strategy working in my home? No, it most definitely is not

Wait. That took an unexpectedly sharp turn. Why hasn’t the gentle parenting philosophy worked in our home?

Sorry, kid, it’s not you. It’s me. 

The answer is very unsurprising. The root is the same affliction that has gotten me in trouble many, many times as a child and as an adult. If you ask my parents, it’s what made my ghastly teenage years even more unbearable. It’s the same complication that has challenged me as a teacher, a friend, and a spouse time and time again. 

My facial expressions don’t have an inside voice.

They have a mind of their own and possess absolutely no self-control whatsoever. My face looks angry even when my voice is calm, critical when my tone is merely inquisitive, humored when I definitely need to have a straight face, and sad even after all has been forgiven. 

And thus, we are led back to my my “trifficult” parenting dilemma. The “consistent and clear, but still compassionate and understanding” parent is good to go, and then my facial expressions go rogue.

While my words calmly but clearly say, “It is not OK to hit Mommy; I will not let you hit me,” my facial expressions say, “Kid, I swear if you hit Mommy again you will be in a supersize load of trouble, and you don’t even want to know what that looks like.”

Obviously, the result is ineffective at best and downright terrifying at worst. 

Looking angry while yelling is one thing. But we know things get REAL serious when someone who looks pretty mad starts talking very, very calmly. 

Naturally, I turned to Google for help. In what could have been a conversation fresh out of a Victorian era finishing school, I searched for ways to soften and control my facial expressions. Nevertheless, I found a few tips that I’m putting to the test.

So, my friends, if your facial expressions also need to learn how to use their inside voices, this exercise is for you.

  • Close your eyes gently. If you’re squeezing them, it doesn’t count. 
  • Relax your shoulders. For reference, this means they should be below your neck. 
  • Take a deep breath, or 10. 
  • Close your mouth and relax your jaw, which hypothetically should make your face look “neutral.”
  • Make a very slight, half smile with your closed lips. 
  • Continue on as if it were feasible, at all, to maintain this level of composure on a regular basis without losing every shred of sanity you have left.

Wish me luck!

Chelsey Weaver
Chelsey is a "central Mass" girl who married her 7th-grade sweetheart. She attended both undergraduate and graduate school in Boston, then taught high school on the North Shore for seven years. After living in Winchester and Melrose for several years (and moving too many times), she and her husband finally settled in Groveland in 2015. She loves the North Shore and everything it has to offer, and she enjoys raising her daughter there. Chelsey is the community engagement coordinator for Boston Moms and is mostly a stay-at-home mom. She spends lots of time advocating for children with disabilities, arguing with insurance companies, and looking for disabled influencers, inclusive companies, and materials that celebrate neurodiversity. She avidly listens to audiobooks, hates everything about coffee, and, most importantly, loves being a mom.