Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Month Without Yelling. Then: Yelling.

I lasted all of January, which surprised the hell out of me frankly. Some kind of weird determined energy possessed me this first month of Two-Aught-Fourteen. I created - and have actually kept up with - a weekly list of chores that has the house in pretty decent shape. The yoga studio is seeing my shadow twice a week, and I’ve added a little cardio here and there. Whatever the cause, it was a month of improvement and positive energy. And no yelling, until that last day.

It snuck up on me. There were toys EVERYWHERE, as usual. Toys and pajamas and books and shoes and jackets and construction paper and little plastic IKEA snack bowls everywhere. I had a full list of chores plus dinner to prepare, so I asked the kids to pick up one room, any room, while I cooked. Fifteen minutes later there is laughter and then screaming but not a thing picked up. I remind them more firmly that they need to clean up before dinner. Ten minutes go by and again nothing is done. This time they whine. “It’s too haaaaaaard,” they say. “You need to help us. It’s not faaaaaaaaair.”

And I lost it. A full-on screaming tirade. An angry list of all the things I do for them, have been doing on my own all day, still have to do, and they need me to pick up their toys? Pick them up into a garbage bag is all I’m going to do! I screamed at them to put their hands on something, and put it away. Simple as that. Put your hand on something, and put it away. I shouldn’t have to stand here and tell you what to do. I don’t have the energy to direct your every move. I was loud, angry and relentless.

And the worst part: It worked. They hopped right to the task of picking up. It’s the terrible truth of parenting. Yelling works.

But at what price? Adele was cleaning through tears. Lucas had fear in his eyes, which later settled into a hard, strange look of bitterness. They were doing as I demanded, but it pushed us apart. Just a bit, but year after year of yelling will move things in only one direction - away.

Another thing about yelling is that you need to keep doing it. It’s a short-term solution. I don’t want to have to scream uncontrollably every time I want something done around here. The better way is to guide the kids to make smart choices and let them deal with the consequences - good or bad - of their actions. This is a much, much harder way. It is a long, slow lesson. The dividends are paid over a lifetime. They are of little help right now as I’m stepping on raisins, tripping on the Candyland box.

The mysterious energy that carried me through January is gone. Every day is a struggle now, and the yelling is creeping back. The change in Lucas has been sobering, though. He calms himself down instead of exploding. He parrots my parent-speak: “I was upset, but I’m turning it around and trying another way.” After the explosion that ended my month-long streak, I told the kids to finish up on their own while I calmed down in the other room. After a few minutes, Lucas came up and put his hand on my shoulder. “You’re doing a very nice job of staying calm. I’m very proud of you. Good for you.”

Besides showing me how patronizing I sound, and also finding a way to sneak out of cleaning (I noticed that right away), Lucas showed me that all this is sinking in for him. Today the floor is still a tangle of socks and stuffed animals and legos, but we have a future than doesn’t require constant anger. February hasn’t been easy, but Lucas is working with me. Even as we’re both frustrated and tempers flare, we have a place to bring it back to. I can say “I shouldn’t have yelled. Let’s try this another way.” He can say, “I’m very mad and I can’t stop screaming, but I want a hug.” Things are still rough, but we’re moving closer, not apart. Even with my increasing slip-ups, we’re making this work.


  1. Obviously this is speaking from a point of no experience at all, but I think it's gotta be meaningful to the kids to know that you don't have only one mode, yelling, and that if you get to the yelling stage, you tried and failed at the other stages first. Right?

    1. Definitely. It sounds a bit hippyish, but I talk through what I'm thinking so they can see that though I'm way pissed off, I can regroup and handle it a better way. It's funny hearing Lucas do the same, a little sobering to hear how it sounds when it comes back at you, but better than the alternative.

    2. Another way to look at it is, if you went to yelling as the first recourse (that you verbalized at the kids, instead of talking it through), you'd be teaching them learned helplessness, in that there is no point in trying to negotiate a middle ground between "mom is not mad" and "mom is mad." My mom was and is an insta-yeller, and all it taught me was that there were two options: tiptoe around her to keep her not mad, or yelling. Not very helpful.

  2. Sadly, yelling does work. Sometimes to let off steam and let them know you mean business. No yelling all the time of course. But I do think it serves a purpose. We always try to talk about what happened once everyone is calm. That seems to help a great deal and then there's less time between yells :) hang in there lady! You are a good momma