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I Have to Stop Yelling at My Kids

Photograph by Getty Images

"You yell at the kids too much," my husband said to me. This criticism, lobbed as gently as a softball and light as a feather, nonetheless hit me in my solar plexus as if he were a Red Sox pitcher.

I stared at him to see if he was joking, but he went right on eating nachos and watching Pawn Stars, as if he hadn't just said the most damaging thing possible to me. You see, I'm a stay-at-home mom of two under 2. I taught preschool for six years as if I were training for motherhood; wiping snotty noses, cheerleading my students through potty-training and hugging them when they suffered separation anxiety from their parents. In my mind, all of this hard work and heartache should have prepared me to be a perfect mother, or at least one who didn't resort to screaming at a 2-year-old.

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Before I had kids, I used to cross the street when I saw women like me yelling at their children, feeling embarrassed for their raw emotion. I know now that what I thought parenthood would be like, and what it actually is, are two very separate things. It's like the time I watched too many Drew Barrymore movies in the '90s and thought a white-blonde bob would look cute on me and, well ... it didn't.

That's not to say there aren't approximately 1,875 moments in the day when I am being loving, forgiving, and patient. But if I'm to be honest with myself, when my toddler sits on the dishwasher door for the millionth time and breaks it, or crushes graham crackers in his brother's hair, it's true, I yell.

Instead, I bit back my words.

Still looking at my husband, who—in fairness to him—helps me a great deal on the weekend despite working insane, 70-hour weeks, I thought about my comeback. It would sound something like this: "How dare you criticize me? The only reason you don't yell is because seeing the kids is a novelty to you. I had two babies in two years, which is enough hormonal up-and-down to drive any sane woman to the loony bin!"

Instead, I bit back my words. The sun was shining, I had two healthy kids, and a husband who suddenly put his arm around me and said, "You are an amazing mom. It's just that I grew up in a house where my mother screamed all the time. It wasn't a happy childhood."

So I decided I'd try and yell less. The funny thing was, when I stopped (only about once a day now) I felt better. Less stressed. Sometimes I take deep breaths before responding. Other times I ignore him. Sometimes I call my mom. My toddler still drives me bananas, but by not screaming I feel like our relationship is improving. I give him a really scary look instead, which seems to work just as well.

Do you yell at your kids?

Explore More: discipline, tantrum, Am I Ruining My Kid?
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