"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.
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.