motherhoodWe don’t spend a lot of time being funny on this blog, for obvious reasons.  It’s hard to laugh when you’re in the midst of the despair of postpartum depression.  But during this holiday season, which can heap even more stress on the already-stressed, I thought I’d give it a try.

Earlier this year, I did an analysis of the most important and oft-used tools in any mom’s arsenal: the warning phrase.

Don’t act like you don’t have one, because I know you do.

I have two. I call them my shot-across-the-bow phrases. They are what I say when my kids are getting on my nerves and I want them to know that if they keep it up, there will be trouble. Or, at least I want them to think if they keep it up, there will be trouble, even though sometimes I’m really not all that committed to carrying through, truth be told.

My first shot-across-the-bow phrase is “Don’t peeve me.” I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve said it. I use this one when I need them to go amuse themselves, or they start doing something they know annoys me. Sometimes I add the word “child” to make it slightly more ominous, as in “Don’t peeve me, child.”

Another one of my favorites is “Don’t make me beat you.” It’s a solid step up from “Don’t peeve me.” I warn them that if they are bad, I will beat them senseless with my Senseless Beating Stick. The Senseless Beating Stick is famous in my house, and has an aura of mystery as it’s never been seen before. The kids are beginning to wonder if it even exists. I’ve explained to them that, if they’re lucky, they’ll never have to find out.

I asked a few other moms to share their fave warning phrases with me, and, when they did, I was surprised at how much each saying made me want to chuckle.

“You’re on the edge, mister.”

“Watch it, young lady.”

“Do I need to put you to bed early?”

I can picture the mom screwing up her face, brows knitted, arms akimbo, delivering her message with the utmost in HUMORLESS VOICE. Warning phrases are serious business.

As it turns out, I found through my very serious investigative research that they also seem to fall neatly into categories.

The first type of warning is the Probing Question. These warnings focus on logic, with moms trying to get their children to think through how they are behaving.

“Are you making a good choice right now?”

“Do you want to rethink that?”

“What do you think you’re doing?”

Next, is the old-school Meaningless Threat of Bodily Harm. “Don’t make me beat you” would fall squarely into this category. Here are other examples:

“I’m gonna take you to Whoopin’ Town.”

“I will knock you into next week.”

Some are slightly more subtle and don’t reveal the type of harm that will surely come if the behavior continues:

“Don’t make me come in there.”

“If I have to tell you again, this day isn’t gonna be fun anymore.”

We don’t know what will happen when she goes in there, or why the day won’t be fun, but it sure sounds scary.

Then there is the time-tested Name Call. This approach involves simply calling the child’s name, usually with the voice starting out low and rising quickly at the end. Some moms call the full name. Some just use the first and middle. Some even do the first name and middle initial. I have yet to come across anyone who uses the first name only, but I did find one who just goes with the generic “Child!”

About as popular as the Name Call is the Numerical Caution. There are various iterations of this form of warning. Some moms count up:

“1, 2, 3.”

Some moms count down.

“3, 2, 1.”

Some go to three, some to go five and some even go all the way to 10. (Not sure what moms have against even numbers.) Some moms just warn that they might start counting if things don’t improve.

“Don’t make me count to three!”

There’s the Guilt Inducement. This mom wants the kids to know their behavior is impacting her ability to find any sort of happiness, whatsoever.

“You’re going to drive me to drinkin’.”

“You’re riding my last nerve.”

“How much more do I have to do to get you to listen to me?”

I don’t know why, but I find myself very fond of the Exhortation! The moms who use this warning phrase method are all so adept at using exclamation points.

“For the love of God!”

“For the love of Pete!”

“That’s enough!”

“Knock it off!”

“Listen, Bucko!”

And finally, my last category of mom warning phrases is the Exasperation. I totally get where these mothers are coming from. Sometimes you just have nothing left. No names, exclamation points or numbers. No reasonable discussion about the merits of behaving. Just complete vexation.

“Really? Really, dude?”

“I’m done with you people.”

How about you? What do you say to your kids? What did your mom say to you?