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.