Tuesday, February 1, 2011

We Interrupt This Blog

For a bout of stomach flu and a couple birthdays...but hope to get part 5 up tomorrow! And some birthday pics later in the week!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Confessions of a (Mostly) Reformed Yeller Part 4 of 7

Part 4: We need to relinquish our unrealistic expectations, both of ourselves and others.

I have to tell you, that to this day, my expectations not being met is one of the surest ways for me leave Compassionland and enter into the Kindgom of Damnthem! Nothing can get my ire up as quickly as walking into the house after running errands to a complete disaster, after asking those left behind to straighten up while I was gone. Nothing can make my teeth clench so quickly, as offering detailed instructions about what needs to be done and then having it only half done or done improperly. If you were a fly on the wall in my house for any length of time, you'd be sure to hear me say "Gah! Expectations are the killer!"

Leaving things for other people to do, or allowing them the freedom to make choices requires a voluntary surrender of power. We actively have to release control of a situation, if we are going ask others to do things. As you will recall, habitual yelling at its root stems from a lack of a sense of control and a feeling of disempowerment. Granting freedom to others is a monumental challenge for Yellers. We do NOT want to be disappointed.

For the first four of our children, the first seven years of motherhood for me, I relinquished almost no parenting control of the babycare to my husband. At the time I really believed that I was just better at it and more hormonally and biologically adapted to caring for our small children and babies. While on the one hand that is true, it is also true that what was really going on was me not wanting to feel powerless when the baby was fussing or someone was having a meltdown. I would perpetually swoop in to "save" my husband and the baby. Voila! Control restored.

What I didn't realise was that I was undermining myself as well as my husband to actually be the most effective parents we could be. Only with our fifth child did I surrender my absolute rule and allow my husband to find his own way, with his own techniques and skills to comfort and nurture the baby. I decided that as long as the baby wasn't crying alone, but in someone's loving arms where they were nurtured and safe that I would not offer to help unless I was asked. I had no idea what a revolution that would cause in terms of the entirety of my approach to parenthood.

In my first post I wrote that I believe most Yellers to be people who take their responsibility as parents very seriously. They feel very deeply the desire to raise their children "right". Wherever they fall on the parenting spectrum, I think Yellers tend to be people who want to do all of the things prescribed by that particular style or styles of parenting to a T. I think categorically they have high, often inflexible, expectations of themselves and of their children.

One inadvertent side effect of these high expectations is an ever present need to actively control situations and our children. Another is that people and events seem to persistently fall short of our expectations. Yellers tend to have pretty firm ideas about what their children "ought" to be doing, and how their life "ought" to be. You might hear them say things like "My children ought to just listen to me." Or "My baby ought to be able to fall asleep on their own by now." Or my own seemingly perpetual mantra,"My children ought to be able to pick up after themselves."

One of they keys, I firmly believe, to overcoming habitual yelling is to build on the compassion and self compassion we've learned and practiced, and begin developing realistic expectations. When we view others and ourselves as works in progress who are all learning and growing, we can move to a place where we can alter what we once would have viewed as "failure", with the perception of it as "part of the learning process."

I think one of the very greatest uses of time and internet you can employ as a parent is seeking out and firmly understanding what age, or better yet, developmentally appropriate behaviour is reasonable to expect from our children. For example, six week old babies generally do not have the basic neural ability to sleep through the night. While we might be exhausted and wish they'd sleep, most babies that age simply do not have the capacity for that behaviour. It would be setting up falsely high expectations to try to set out on a program at that age and developmental phase to try to achieve that end. Another example might be a toddler grasping, reaching and pulling out things on tables and shelves. At that stage of development they are hard wired to exercise their new skills and to explore their environment. If we leave things in reach which we do not want broken or touched, we are setting up unrealistically high expectations which are doomed to failure.

On the whole as a culture, I think we have very unrealistic expectations in regards to the behaviour and ability of children. We want our babies to sleep longer than they're really able to, toddlers to be able to control impulses better than they're really able to, pre-school aged children to begin academic undertakings they're not really ready for, kindergarten aged kids to be able to sit still for much of the day, school aged kids to relinquish playing long before they're ready, tweeners to manage the massive hormonal shifts without big emotions rising to the surface, teenagers to balance vast amounts of responsibility, and so on.

Besides allowing my husband to learn to parent our young children his own way, there were two other major breakthroughs for me which helped me begin to cull my expectations to more reasonable dimensions. Both experiences were born from having a very colicky third baby. She would literally cry for three hours every.single.night. For months. At the time, my husband was working mostly nights and was away for bedtime. I somehow had to manage bedtime for the older two kids and deal with the cry-o-matic infant. After having tried everything I could to make that little girl stop crying I got to the point where I realised that it is NOT my job as a parent to make sure my children never cry, but rather just to be with them as they cry, offering a place of safety and unconditional love. I am just an emotional midwife, so to speak, who is there as someone to help them facilitate working through, as well as bearing witness to their big emotions. This understanding has extended now far beyond babyhood for me, into the entire emotional lives of my children. It is not my job to make sure they are never hurt, never cry, never experience disappointment, never struggle; but it is my job to be with them as they process through all of these things. I don't need to control what they feel and how they feel it, I just need to control how I respond to it. The second massive shift during that colic time was an understanding that I was just going to have to surrender my expectations of what I thought bedtime ought to entail. I gave up the nightly bath for the kids. Accepted that most nights I would not be able to read them a story. Acquiesced that every night would not have lullabies and long, gradual transitions to dreamland.

Surrendering those expectations of what I thought I needed to do to be a good mother, helped me deal with the situation as it truly was and get creative about working things out. Surrendering those expectations immediately decreased the stress level and my sense of being in a situation completely out of my control. If I could realistically look at what I was capable of, I could find ways which would still meet the basic need of creating a gentle transition to sleep for my children. So I would just put socks on dirty little feet for bed if a bath wasn't in the cards before colic time set in, sing one little lullabye, and learned that books and stories on tape were a wonderful thing! There was suddenly very little left to yell about.

The most crucial component of what I was doing, was changing my expectations about what I was supposed to do. It was hard, because it felt like capitulation and failure. Being raised in a household where perfection was expected, relinquishing my own perfectionism about myself, my children, my parenting and out life was massively conflicting for me. I didn't understand then that it was healthy resilience. Over the next few babies and the next few years I came to understand that my expectations for what I could successfully manage needed to be always flexible, adjusting them for the situation at hand. I am sick and tired? Okay, this week we're gonna watch a lot of TV. I am really pregnant or have a new baby? Okay, the house is gonna be kind of a disaster for awhile. I have lots of meetings this week? Okay, we're gonna have quick, but not so healthy food for a few days.

There was a shift in my thinking from always parenting for twenty years from now (If I let this behaviour stand, she's going to be an irresponsible, ungrateful adult!), to just doing the imperfect best I could in the present. My firm belief and hope is that my children will walk into adulthood taking the entirety of their experience, and that each and every moment of their childhood taken individually will matter very little. I am sure there will be a handful of individual moments which stand out, but the overall general impression of their upbringing I think will be far more important in terms of the adults they become. So if we need to have popcorn and ice cream and fruit snacks for lunch because I haven't made it to the grocery store yet, that in no way means that my children are going to enter into adulthood obese and with a messed up relationship with food.

We have their entire childhoods to teach and impart values and wisdom. Just because my two year old can't sit on his bottom for meals, doesn't mean he is going to be jumping up and down when he is out on his first date a decade and a half from now. Just because my three year old will not consistently use the potty does not mean she'll be wearing diapers in college. Just because my baby doesn't sleep very well, doesn't mean that I'll never get sleep ever again. We have to take the longer view, and release that immediacy of needing to control our environment and behaviour if we are going to move away from habitual yelling.

Two last thoughts about expectations. First, I want to be clear that I think children generally live up to the expectations we have for them. I still believe that I'd rather set my beliefs about them too high, rather than too low. However, I think that emphasizes the need to ensure that our expectations are developmentally and situationally appropriate. I also think that it means that I have to remain ever flexible in my expectations, being open to setting them higher or lower as the present demands.

Finally I want to address our expectations in regards to the transition from Yeller into a reformed Yeller. I sincerely hope that you will walk away from reading all of this and that things will be immediately and permanently better for in terms of yelling at your children. However, I believe most change is more of an ever-expanding spiral, rather than a linear path. There will be times and days where will do just awesome. But there will also be times and days where we completely fail. If we can keep trying to practice self-compassion and forgiveness and asking forgiveness throughout this process, those bad days will space further and further apart, and our yelling outbursts become more and more infrequent. Give yourself time to enact change in your life. Set realisitc expectations! Your entire lifetime up to this point has yielded to this behaviour, it's probably going to take you some time to consistently replace yelling with other ways of communicating.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Confessions of a (Mostly) Reformed Yeller Part 3 of 7

We need to learn and practice self-compassion and compassion for others, forgiveness and the readiness to seek forgiveness.

So now we've dredged up all of this ache and hurt and pain and shame from our past. We've come to the realisation that if we're yelling habitually, we're trying to control situations and other people for our own ends of feeling empowered. Quite frankly, things can look pretty darn grim. And hopeless. And like it's all beyond saving. And the best we could do is sit curled up in the corner just rocking ourselves and moaning.

Where do we go from here with all of this mess sitting on the plate before us? How do we move through all of it to actually make it usable and serviceable to us? How do we go from the big gloppy, formless mess we're stirring in the pot to that crossover moment when it all suddenly turns into play doh which we can mold and shape into wonderful and fantastic creations?

I think the key is learning and putting into practice forgiveness and compassion, both for ourselves and others. Employing the ongoing practice of compassion, forgiveness and seeking forgiveness is how we take these immensities and begin to act in a way which is free from our past. Compassion and forgiveness for ourselves and others is the key with unlatches the padlock on the chains which bind us. We still need to unsnake and wrangle out of those chains, which will take time, immense effort and skill; but we cannot even begin that attempt without first opening that lock.

I don't know about you, but when I really looked back, putting words to and calling to mind all that had happened to me, I felt angry. Really angry. Rage angry. Fury. When I admitted I had a problem, and realised why I was yelling, I felt angry at myself, and pretty much like I just completely sucked as a human being. It tore me apart; for awhile things were actually worse than they had been because I was just cloaked in pain, without knowing how to move forward.

One night about six or seven years ago, sitting with a bunch of college aged young men and women at a prayer group, two very fundamental things happened which began to change all of this for me. The first was the idea which came to me while sitting in meditation that my brokenness was my greatest gift to share with the world. It would take many more years to understand that this was a giant step in self compassion, which has been admittedly the very hardest part of this third step for me. Secondly, a young woman said something which just radicalised how I was viewing my own up bringing and my past.

What she said was essentially this: "I know my parents did the best the knew to do at the time, out of the very best motivations. It just happens that what they had to give wasn't what I needed." Boom! Crash! The lightning bolt hit me. Yes! From that moment I had a workable context in which to view my past. I could forgive the wrongs and hurts I had held onto, without diminishing those wounds in any way. Forgiveness didn't mean that I had to forget or downplay all that I had endured, and that was vitally important to me. Once I began to view things through this lens, I could also extend a knowing camaraderie to those doing the best they know to do at the time, even when their efforts are imperfect. Because , holy cow, did that ever sound like exactly what I was doing in my own life! Thus, the infancy of compassion also came into being in my life.

The word compassion , when looked at its root parts, literally means "suffering with". If there was one thing I understood, it was suffering. At this point in my mid-twenties I felt like suffering was key component and defining factor of my life. I began extending this understanding to reach a place where I deeply understood that we ALL suffer, that we ALL fall short of who we want to be so often in our lives. Conceding that we ALL have past hurts and wounds and broken places pulled me out of feeling isolated in my pain, which made my own hurts which seemed infinitely vast and unapproachable, almost magically and immediately more manageable. Feeling alone in our pain, I believe, is one of the key factors which keeps us from healing. Acknowledging that all of humanity is in this together with the very same struggles has been and continues to be completely and totally empowering for me. My suffering can now build and forge connection, rather than foster disconnection and destruction.

I began to view my parents and other people in my life very differently. Things no longer seemed so personal to me. It wasn't that people had wounded me with malice and foresight and design, but rather as a side effect of their own ongoing struggles with their own sufferings.

Once this began to really set in and resonate, it came to me that because this struggle is universal, it is imperative that when we wrong or even inadvertently hurt others that we must humbly and sincerely seek their forgiveness. To me this is nothing more than simply living out that axiom which is found in so many religions and cultures: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Seeking others' forgiveness is the bridge between our personal chasms of hurt; it's the precise mechanism by which our wounds can become the building blocks of connection. When we ask for forgiveness or apologize to anyone, we are essentially saying to them, "I recognise and honor the suffering within you which I have caused. I understand how much that hurts. Let's try this again, but this time working together, rather than as adversaries." In my own life, from the moment I realised this, I began to always ask my children's forgiveness when I yelled at them, or was grumpy, or detached or did anything which caused them hurt.

Even in those cases where I was doing the right thing, I became dedicated to acknowledging that hurt which they experienced, finding that common bridge between us. "I know it is so hard and frustrating to not get that cool toy you want right now. It's hard for me when I see things I want and have to wait to get them, and I'm a grown up. I know you feel sad and mad about this decision I am making. When we get home, we'll draw a picture of it and put it on your birthday list." I have tried really hard to NOT apologize for parenting (i.e. not saying things like "I'm sorry that it's bed time." or "I'm sorry we have to go."), but rather to save my apologies for when I had truly done wrong. "Wow! I really flew off the handle there. I was feeling really frustrated and upset that the dishes weren't getting done the way I wanted them done. I yelled at you. That was unjust and I bet really hurt your feelings and made you feel scared. Will you please forgive me? Can we start over?" I actively tried to learn to acknowledge the kids' big feelings about the parenting choices I was making. I was putting compassion into practice. We have had days, both past and present where we have had many, many do overs. I firmly believe that my personal commitment to seeking their forgiveness and forgiving them has kept us very closely connected over the years, even though there have been times where I was just an absolute mess.

When we remember that yelling essentially comes from a feeling and sense of having no control, we can see the immense potential power of forgiveness, compassion, and seeking forgiveness. We can choose how to view our past and present. Feeling as though we have choices, any choices, moves us a long way down the road to empowerment.

This brings me to the cultivation of self-compassion, which I have conveniently left for last, because it has been by far the most difficult, long and arduous part of this process for me. I really only feel like I have made measurable strides in this area over the past two or three years. It's an area where I am still really actively growing and developing an understanding of how this manifests in my life.

Unfortunately, self-compassion in our culture is very often pegged as selfishness. We receive the cultural message that '"good" moms are completely focused and centered on their children and husbands. Complicating things, we also receive the cultural message that in addition to being completely other-focused we are also supposed to be fit, skinny, interesting but not outrageous, alluring but not slutty, readily employable-though also completely content to stay at home--and all of this not for ourselves, but for our men and our children. Doing anything for self is completely verboten.

Reflecting now upon this, I see the connection between these ideals and why so many women eat or shop emotionally or become addicted to things like exercise or religion in ways which are destructive rather than constructive in their lives. It's just like the lying or refusal to do homework I mentioned in my previous post. These disordered behaviours come as an attempt to exert power in an environment where we feel powerless. They are merely misguided attempts to right a very fundamental wrong.

I lived for many years as what I thought was the dutiful wife and mother. Everything I did was at he service of others. As a "good" wife and mother I forgot myself completely, except when I would act out in some sort of negative way. Nearly five years ago now, my marriage pretty much completely fell apart. My husband wasn't really sure he wanted to stay married to me. And I have to tell you now in retrospect, that it was one of the very best things which EVER happened to me. I recognised that I was miserable; I was so divorced from who I really was that honestly,I wouldn't really wanted to have been married to me either. Having nothing to lose, I just decided that I was going to figure out who me was,
start just being me, and make sure that I mattered in the scope of our family.

I found the courage to insist that I had needs and wants. I was not only a member of our family, but just as important as every other member of our family. Being an adult my needs might not be as immediate as those of the children, but they were not somehow less important. Because I was dedicated to trying to be a good mom, meeting my needs developed as something complimentary to meeting the needs of my children , rather than in conflict. I began to dress how I wanted, rather than how I thought moms should dress. I began to wear my hair crazy, because that's how I liked it. I began to make sure I ate healthfully and exercised regularly. I began to devour fiction again rather than endless parenting books. I began to write again. Eventually, I would make friends with people who I would make sure I spent time with in a regular way, because I am a complete extrovert and am really fed through interacting with others. I began listening to music I loved, even if it was loud and obnoxious and not at all mom-ly.

These external changes, really paved the way for the interior conversion of viewing myself through a compassionate lens. When I yelled at my kids, I learned to not only ask their forgiveness, but to honestly forgive myself. When I failed or made bad choices, I learned to look at that objectively but with understanding rather than self-degradation.

Over time that self-compassion in the immediate, began to extend to myself throughout my past as well. I could now look back and say "Wow! I really caused that person a lot of hurt. I didn't know at the time how much damage I was causing. I really regret doing that, but if I had known then what I do now, I would have acted differently", but simply as a statement of fact rather than as berating myself.

Which now brings me to the present on my journey of self compassion. This is where the concept of my brokenness being my gift to others is coming to fruition. I can look at my hurts and wounds and subsequent behaviours and offer them up to others to be able to say "Oh yes! I recognise that in my own life! I am not alone. Maybe I can enact some change, too." I can see value in my failures and struggles, rather than just how badly I have messed up. Also in the present I am working on putting self compassion into practice when things get rough. When the kids are refusing to clean up, or everyone is wild for bedtime, or the house is in complete chaos I am learning to step away rather than immediately reacting, breathing deep and reminding myself "You are safe. You are worthy of love. You have a voice. You have power in this situation. You have the ability to make choices to build connection rather than destroy it. You are safe."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Confessions of a (Mostly) Reformed Yeller Part 2 of 7

Part 2: We need to understand where we've come from, and what the behaviour is truly about.

We Need To Understand Where We've Come From
his step, I think, can be very misunderstood. I believe there is a time in everyone's parenting life when we have to really look closely at how we were parented. We reject some of the practices and ideals with which we were raised; we accept and choose to implement some of the practices and ideals with which we were raised. Reading this makes it sound so objective and straightforward, but this step is often fraught with much heartache and grieving and release.

The point of looking backwards is not to cast and assign blame, neither is it to get mired in the past. At least one person I know is very reluctant to examine the past, feeling like it is a waste of time, that the present is all that matters. But I firmly believe, with all of my being that if we do not understand our past we can never be truly free from it and actually move to living in the present. If we leave wounds and scars festering and unhealed, we drag them into everything we do in the present.
If we don't go back to make sense of our past, and understand how it has affected us, we can never move forward. We will always be bound by it and remain unable to enact lasting changes in our lives.

For me, this part of this step took a long, long time. After we moved to Georgia, we were so broke I often didn't have gas money to do anything more than go to the grocery store each week. For the first time in my life, I was forced to stay put. I had no friends. I spent a lot of time alone. It was so, so, so hard for me. In retrospect it was also very critical for me to have that forced isolation and lack of distraction. In this desert experience I began to really reflect on my past, beginning to understand how I had ended up where I was.

To say this was easy would be a complete and utter lie. It crushed me. It was additionally difficult to begin to understand some of the parts of my upbringing which I saw were very hurtful, while at the same time watching myself repeat some of those same patterns. That dissonance of a growing awareness of how much it has wounded me, but in turn creating the same kind of environment for my children really broke me.

During this time I realised that I always felt like I had to hustle for love. I believed that if I did, said, and performed all the right ways then people might love me. But in cruel irony, if I did start to feel loved by them I would shut it down, fearful that I would eventually no longer perform as I was supposed to and they'd realise how unlovable I was. Rather than risk the hurt of rejection, I would just flee.

I also realised how much my childhood involved walking on eggshells. There was a lack of clearly defined boundaries in all areas of our life. Something which might be okay one day, would meet with punishment the next day. Everything was dependent upon the emotional state of the adults. During this time of reflection, I came to understand how living like this was a constant source of stress and fear. I also realised that this is exactly what is was like for my children living in my home.

Over the next several years I would learn a lot. I really struggled to research and understand dysfunctional relationships. I read and read and researched and read. I needed to dissect it all so that I could make sense of it and understand just how it all was related to the behaviour I was having here in the present.

We Need To Understand What The Behaviour Is Truly About

This part of this second step is the whole purpose for delving into our past in the first place. I also think that it is a very, very scary part of the process, because we have to tap into feelings which are dark and deep. It is not just enough to stop after looking back at how we grew up and the major events which shaped who we are, if we want to enact change and rid our lives of a behaviour we don't want. We have to understand the why of the behaviour, so that we can begin to address the root cause. All behaviours, even negative ones, serve a purpose in our lives. In this case, if we can figure out what purpose yelling serves, what it does for us-then we can begin to make different choices to meet the same ends.

I think often people fail to enact lasting change in their lives because they skip this step. They simply try to change the symptoms. While that can work and be effective for the short term, in times of high stress or difficulty they end up falling back into old behaviour patterns. This is most definitely true for me over many years in regards to being a Yeller. I honestly believe that this step was one of the crucial ones I was skipping over, which kept me mired in the place where I knew without a doubt what kind of mom I did NOT want to be, but unable to consistently be the kind of mom I DID want to be.

I remember specifically a real breakthrough moment for me. I was sitting on the floor in the kitchen ranting and raving about the house being a disaster and reorganizing the tupperware which had been strewn about, and cleaning six other things at the same time in a frenzy. And this lightbulb went on in my head: "You feel like things are out of control, you feel powerless and so you are being the Whirling Screaming Dervish of Clean to impose control and a feeling of power."

And with that came a flood of new understanding. Not having a sense of control or power was one of the predominant characteristics of my life. As a child, there was the eggshell environment, as well as having things like chores re-done by someone else because they weren't done well enough, not just my bedroom needing to be clean, but even the drawers inside my desk, there was no sense of privacy. We moved when I was 11 and that was a huge blow, whhich left me feeling completely powerless over my life.

My reaction to those things was to seek ways to impose a feeling and sense of power and control. I would lie about where I was going or where I'd been-not because what I was doing (at that point) was in any way 'bad', but just simply to impose a sense of reclaiming power over my life. I would just refuse to do homework, again just to impose a sense of control.

When I was 14, just a few weeks shy of 15, I went to a party. There, while I was intoxicated, I was raped by two men. Though it would take me almost ten years to say and understand, "I was raped the first time I had sex", this rape was like the death knell for any hope of me developing any sort of deep sense of feeling safe and in a position of control. Even the very essence of my personhood wasn't safe from someone else exerting their will and dominance over. Once again, my behaviour pattern emerged as one which was negative, but served the positive (though misplaced)purpose of imposing a feeling of power, control and safety. For the next 4 years or so I was very promiscuous. I didn't understand this then, but it was an attempt to be the one in control of sex, to be in a position of power in regards to my body--sort of an attempt to rewrite the wrong which had been done. That rape really set into motion some very destructive behaviour patterns which simultaneously helped me feel some sort of control or power, as well as would reinforce the fundamental idea that I was worthless and unlovable. I needed all relationships to serve those two fundamental aspects. If I began to feel loved, I bailed. If I began to have to relinquish some position of power, I bailed.

Sitting on the floor in the kitchen that day, it all suddenly made so,so much sense why I was yelling and what that yelling was truly about. The first three babies we had were all very high need, but all in different ways. None of them slept well. I had no control over something as fundamental as my sleeping or bathing habits. I was living in a place I didn't want to be, in a house I didn't want to be in, with a man who didn't really like me, with no money and really no way to change any of these externals. So yelling at my kids was like so many other destructive behaviours before; it served the purpose of trying to impose a sense of control, power and safety.

I truly believe now, that all habitual yelling comes precisely from these same motivations. The particulars of why an individual feels powerless, out of control and unsafe vary widely; however, I think that it all stems from these same three basic principles.

Once I understood where my yelling was coming from, I was finally in a position to actually do something about it in a permanent way, because I could now address the root causes, instead of just the incidental triggers.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Confessions of a (Mostly) Reformed Yeller Part 1 of 7


Over the past several weeks, I have been involved in four separate discussion about yelling at your kids. It's something I can deeply relate to, as during the first 8 years of my parenting life yelling was my greatest struggle. I plead with heaven to miraculously remove this defect from me. I went to counseling to help me. I read all the right books. I wept bitter tears about how much I was failing as a mom because of this embedded defect. Interestingly, relief only came as a side effect of things getting to a really, really low point in my marriage. Now that I have some distance from it all, I understand it all much better. I will share some of my story and what I believe to be the road to joining me in the Reformed Yeller club.
I will break each of these steps down in separate posts, and finish with a conclusion which will include why I think some yelling actually gets a bum rap.

Initially, let me offer what I believe to be a portrait of a Yeller. First and foremost, I believe that most people who yell at their kids are very committed to being good parents. They feel deeply the responsibility they have to raise their kids up "right". Secondly, their own childhoods probably contained some sort of dysfunction, from mild to massive. In addition, I think Yellers are people for whom feeling powerless is very scary. In a way which is very real to them, the feeling of things being out of control makes them feel unsafe. Yelling is a way to regain a sense of power, re-establish a feeling of control, and restore a sense of safety.

As with all undesirable behaviour we would like to change, we need to do six things:
  • 1.) We need to be honest, identify the behaviour, and admit we would like to change it.
  • 2.) We need to understand where we've come from, and what the behaviour is truly about.
  • 3. We need to learn and practice self-compassion and compassion for others, forgiveness and the readiness to seek forgiveness.
  • 4.) We need to relinquish our unrealistic expectations, both of ourselves and others.
  • 5.)We need to learn new skills and tools, both to stop the unwanted behaviour as well as to constructively fill in the void left by eliminating the behaviour we no longer want.
  • 6.) We need to cultivate the practice of awareness, mindfulness, and being immersed in the present, so that we can effectively apply the skills and tools we've learned and acquired.

Part 1: We need to be honest, identify the behaviour, and admit we would like to change it.

As they say, the first step is admitting you have a problem. However getting to that point, often means that things have gotten pretty bad. That is after all, sort of the definition of "a problem". It sounds so easy when you read it, but I have found in my life that it is often very difficult to look at yourself squarely and say "Self. This sucks. This behaviour isn't serving you or others. In fact, it's causing you to be the exact opposite of the person you want to be. Let's rally here and change this!"

When Tim (our oldest) was just shy of age 4, and Lucy was around nine months old was my first real stark awakening in regards to my yelling. I mean, I knew I yelled, but I don't think I really understood the scope of it. My husband had been working overnight for much of the time Lucy was a baby. He also delivered newspapers in the afternoons and weekend mornings. Essentially, I saw him for about one or two sleepy and grumpy hours every day. Tim never slept more than two hours in a row for two years. Lucy slept even worse, being up every 45 minutes until around 18 months--but also really hating the sling. I was tired. I was worn out. And I didn't know back then how to ask for help. And I also didn't know that massive post-partum depression consumed me after every child.

The summer when Tim was about to turn 4 and Lucy was a baby, my husband left Annapolis and went down to Georgia to work in anticipation of us moving to where he grew up. I stayed in Maryland so that Tim could celebrate his birthday in September with his friends there, and so my husband could prepare the way for us. It was so, so, so stressful. The house we were moving to was a disaster, my husband was taking a HUGE paycut, I was giving up all of the really close friends I made, we were moving out into the sticks. It was just immense. I felt utterly consumed and entirely powerless in my life. And my children bore the brunt of that.

Two of my very best friends at the time, came over one day that summer. They staged an intervention. They said , "Shannon. You are struggling. And your yelling is just no good. We're here to help." I am so eternally grateful that they had the courage to do that, and loved me enough not to just let me go on down the path I was headed down unchecked.

That was the first time that I admitted that I had a yelling problem and that I would like to change. It would be many years until I was able to enact long term effective change, and I had to make that admission many times. I had no idea about how to get from who I was to who I wanted to be. Over the next several posts I will share that journey with you.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Poetry Fridays

It's Poetry Friday. Let's go into our weekend prepared "to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life". Every Friday post a poem- yours or someone else's.


This mountain is her temple, to which she
ascends through briar-tangled valleys of shadow,
where she waits greedily to suckle from
the sun as it rises, filling her belly with fire.

Satiated, the tips of her hair glow,
emblazoning her with a halo infused with
ancient power, raw and elemental.
Handmaid of the cosmos, her soul is magnified.

Shaman wizard woman who holds the light
of a thousand generations before and after.
Outstretched Orans hands radiate the prayer
of touching birth and life and lovers and death.

Crowned heraldess of the stars, she calls forth
the serpents and dragons to stand upon their backs.
They carry her down to the world of men,
returning , disguised again behind wrinkled eyes.


Thursday, January 20, 2011


........be very, very quiet. And definitely don't call. Undisturbed stillness, quiet and the telephone are the quintessential kid magnets. Nothing beckons kids faster into a space than silence and a freshly vacuumed floor. Nothing assures children to arrive at your side faster than picking up the telephone.

It's not that I don't like my children, mind you. I really, really do. We mostly have a great time together. We're loud and messy and laugh a lot and fight with passion. We listen to lots of music and dance and create lots and lots of stuff. We all are pretty up front with what we want, and pretty vocal about when our needs aren't being met. They're awesome people who I like being around. But it's loud and messy and obnoxious and emotional. And there are just.so.many. of them.

So in the late afternoon when there are girls at gym practice, and the baby is sleeping, and the other two are playing together or watching a movie--this is my time. It's the pause, the inhale before the craziness of pick up times all conveniently one hour apart (just enough time to come home, take my coat off, and go out again), of dinner time (I swear to you if there was just one food that they all liked I think I would serve it every day), and of bedtime (which, being a slacker is no big deal to me--but my husband insists that our children actually go to sleep. Tyrant!).

I used to feel so selfish taking these moments. I used to be unable to sit and enjoy a cup of tea and a few pages of a book. I used to be unable to just be still- body, mind and soul when I knew there were chores undone, and laundry to be folded, and dinner to be started, and, and, and... But not any more. Those things will always be there for me to do. Taking these few minutes to only do what I want to do, to practice and submerge myself in awareness and the present and mindfulness is one of the greatest tools I have to take these things with me into the evenings to cultivate joy and rumpus.

So don't let them hear you come in....the kettle is on, there's some cheese and crackers on the table. Sit down. Breathe. Be. And then get ready for all hell to break loose in about 10 minutes.

And yes that is still my Christmas tree up which will be up for a couple more weeks, and we won't discuss what's on the floor around the corner.