I grew up in a house of yellers. It never struck me as abnormal since it was what I always knew, but I never gave it much thought until I had my own children. Then one day my voice went hoarse, and I earnestly wondered if yelling was a pretty damaging thing for both me and my kids.
Yelling is not always about getting frustrated and shouting out demands for everyone to do this or do that. Sometimes it is about literally trying to get heard over the din of chaos that comes with the territory of having kids. No matter what the cause, once yelling starts, it becomes a painful and ridiculous habit of children shutting down and not listening and parents feeling both angry and guilty over using yelling as a parenting tool. Vicious cycle.
So, one day, I decided to quit.
I thought for sure that quitting yelling would be easy until I realized that it was exactly like quitting smoking or swearing. It is bloody hard, and you fail a whole lot of times before you finally hit a streak of success.
The biggest key to successfully quit yelling, for me, was realizing that the reasons why I yelled, to begin with, were complicated. It started because I had no idea how to handle kids, which as a parent is really hard to admit. No amount of babysitting or being a camp counselor could prepare me for the day when my own child would literally do exactly what I told him not to do because he was pushing boundaries — a totally expected and natural thing for a kid, but something which throws every single new parent for a loop — and generally inspires some raised voices.
I also had this belief that as the parent, I was always right and my kids had to respect me and my rules. And while it is true that I do demand respect from my kids, the big life lesson in quitting yelling was realizing that, even in parenthood, the concept of respect is a two-way street. I cannot confuse fear for respect, and then be surprised when my kids don’t listen to me.
When my kids act out, this is usually because they are tired, hungry, or expressing their emotions in some primal way and are too young to articulate themselves yet. Sass talk? That is just the sound of my kid attempting to assert some independence, albeit in a fairly dysfunctional way. But instead of taking a deep breath, looking at the situation, and realizing that, as the parent, my job is to help guide my kids through their feelings and situations, I would just yell because to me, in those moments, it felt more like an issue of control than a teachable moment. Or I was just too exhausted to put in the extra effort, which is a feeling I’m sure we can all relate to at some point.
Treating every moment like a teachable moment for my kids is what truly brought home the big truth that yelling is about me and my emotional responses and not about how my kids are behaving. When I want to explode because I just finished cleaning the house and my kids just dumped a box of 7,000 Legos onto the floor, it has nothing to with the kids and everything to do with me. I have to tell myself to stay calm, assess the situation, decide if I need to give a direction to my hooligans who just turned my nice living room floor into a circus, and then proceed —without yelling. It’s not always easy. In fact, most of the time, it’s damn hard because it’s a natural impulse that I’m still learning to control.
Taking yelling out of the parenting equation has meant having to look closely at what makes me tick as a person and as a parent and to give myself space and compassion to truly understand why I feel the need to yell. I’m learning that I have control issues, that I have fear issues, and that sometimes — just like my kids — I am simply tired or hungry. Learning how to identify what is happening in my head and heart at the precise moment that I want to erupt in shouts at my kids is the only way I can be successful.
Yelling doesn’t make me (or anyone) a bad parent, but deciding to find another way has given me the opportunity to dive deep into myself to discover what it means to have relationships with my kids that are based on respect, trust, and compassion. I’m no perfect parent (far from it), but I am working hard to be the parent who my kids need right now in this moment. And it seems like they need a parent who yells less, and listens more.
This post first appeared on Scary Mommy