Does my face really look like that when I yell? This is the question I asked myself this morning, as my reflection snuck a peek at me right at the moment I began shouting at my most strong willed child. Shouting just comes so naturally for me these days, I have to tell myself every morning, “I am not gonna yell at the kids today.”
I don’t have problems with yelling at other people, I actually consider myself to be a non- yelling type of person. But I always yell at my kids and frankly it’s starting to make me feel really guilty. You know that bad mom guilt that is laying there waiting for you to screw up every day. Especially when I saw my face as I was shouting, my eyes blazing and rimmed with last night’s mascara, smudged just enough to give me that Goth look I never appreciated. It took me by surprise to see my frown lines so deep and furrowed. It looked like I was the victim of a party prank and someone had drawn cartoon lines above my nose while I was passed out drunk. I spend so much money and time slathering on anti- aging creams that you would think I would just stop making that frown face that causes wrinkles in the first place.
After I finished yelling today, and believe me the irony of the therapist mom doing the yelling is almost too much for me some days, something my dad said to me over Christmas really resonated. It’s been stuck in my head ever since he said it, but not in a good way, in a way that has made me uncomfortable. My dad looked at me with such directness that when I looked back into his eyes, I felt like I was shriveling up into that scared 7 yr old I used to be, “Your children don’t have enough fear” he quipped. Fear. Fear? Is that what it takes for them to listen and obey? Is that what I am trying to do when I yell or am I just being lazy and not controlling my own emotions? Should my kids be afraid of me?
My dad continues to lecture that kids need to have so much fear that they don’t dare talk back and argue, they need to be too afraid to throw a fit because they know they are gonna get their butts spanked. Just like we did with you, he points his finger at me. As I rolled my eyes (yes I still do that at my parents) and began to defend my tough love and fear invoking abilities, my disheveled 4 yr old daughter, willfully stomped down the stairs at 10: 28 pm with her hand full of sheared Barbie hair and toothpaste smeared on her cheek like war paint. She melted into the stairs and cried "Mommy now you giving me a headache! I hate bed! I’M NEVER SLEEPING AGAIN!” I lose again. I exhaled out all my proud feelings of having been a semi- successful parent for the last 7 years, sat back and thought - there has got to be a better way.
Looking back at my childhood I was afraid of my dad and as a kid I didn’t dare talk back , sneak out of my room after bedtime or god forbid interrupt him at the dinner table. I was a pretty well behaved kid during those pre- teen years (teen years were a different story) because I was afraid not to be. However, that night sitting next to my dad on my couch, in my house with my 4 yr old screaming in protest, my feelings of uneasiness switched over to feelings of inadequacy. I realized my kids are certainly not fearful of me and seem to always push the limit. If the limit was a glass window my kids would be covered in stitches and gashes by now.
So now after answering my first question of the day – yes my face does really look like THAT when I yell, the next question is, how do I get my kids to listen to me without yelling, demeaning or threatening them? Notice I didn’t mention bribing because – hey – that’s just smart parenting. Part of my frustration with being a parent and raising kids is that by now I should be an expert. I am a licensed therapist and have been counseling families and children for over twelve years, plus I have three fascinating children of my own, yet why do I have to repeat myself six times just to get them in the car so we can pick up the new mail key because one of them flushed the old one down the toilet. (I know it was you my little crafty 18 month old) Thus my yelling begins around the 7th time I have to repeat myself. Seriously, I just start to lose it. I’m standing there with a squawking baby on my hip, my foot in the wet dog bowl, screaming at my other two kids to stop fighting and just put a shoe on- any shoe! It was not supposed to be this hard, I don't know what I am doing and I have told countless numbers of families what they should to do- man is it hard to counsel yourself and practice what you preach!
One of my friends who is the kind of friend you can count on for Dunkin Donuts coffee at 8am followed by a beer at 11 am, said it best- We want our kids to enjoy us. Not be our friends or like us, but enjoy us. I wonder to myself, “huh- do my kids actually like being around me these days?”
I think I have to remember what kids who are fearful act like. From my experience, I know that it stifles their creativity, passions, and hilariousness. That’s not what I would ever want for my own kids. It’s not our destiny or that of our children to engage in a fear based life, to quote my favorite little green Jedi, "fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering".
So my answer, besides just drink more wine (best answer ever!) is to focus on less talking and more action. If there is one thing I stand by, it’s less gabbing at kids and more praise and ACTION. I know that kids are not really listening to parents when they yell. If I want them to listen to me, I have to stop talking so much. So I am making check marks under the early bedtime chart and taking marbles out of the “special treat” jar. All without saying a word - aahhh to think of the energy I just saved.
I think I’m not the only one struggling here, as yelling, shouting and grimacing has taken over many households. I want my kids to keep that pleasure for me that they were given inherently. The kind of delight on my baby’s face when I get him up from his nap, (I wish I could bottle up his nap breath) he starts banging on his crib and jumping so hard he falls down and giggles. Nobody taught him that, I hope I don’t take it away. It’s something that is precious and that is often taken for granted because we know they’ll still love us; they have to because we’re all they’ve got. But what kind of love is a needy love that is there because it has to be. That’s not what I want to teach my children and it’s not the kind of love I wish from them. I don’t want them to need or love because they’re afraid not to, but because they want to.
The real answer is, it starts with me. I have to be the one showing patience and respect to them, even when I want to be lazy as I shout orders from the couch and hiss threats when I’m on the phone. It starts with me. So it’s time to look at my face again, how do I want my kids to see me and remember me? The truth is my dad was wrong and it’s ok because he was right about a lot of other things, but for me, part of figuring out how to be a good parent is knowing when your own parents were wrong or right. When I’m presented with a speck of truth I can either learn from it and make a change or spend my life running from it. I choose to change it. I hear my baby stirring from his nap- time to go practice what I preach.