My husband is fond of saying, “There are two kinds of parents: those who yell at their kids, and liars.” But I had never wanted to be the screaming mother. And this summer, it appeared that was who I had become.
I realized it had gotten out of hand when I found myself yelling at my oldest to stop shouting at his little brother. And I vowed to try my hardest to stop yelling all together when after a particularly loud outburst my two-year-old looked up at me with his big brown eyes and asked, “Mama, you’re not angry anymore?”
In response to that heart-wrenching question, I challenged myself to go a full seven days without raising my voice. I’m not going to lie, it wasn’t easy and I failed several times, but I learned a lot in the process.
1. Less yelling, more walking. I realized that half my hollering was due to laziness on my part. I repeatedly caught myself about to shout from the other room instead of directly interacting with my kids. Multitasking and not yelling don’t really work. I had to give up my habit of barking orders while doing dishes or fixing breakfast or any number of other tasks that need to happen through out my day. Instead I had to stop what I was doing, walk over to my child, make eye contact, and speak in an inside voice. This is clearly better, but definitely more time consuming.
I realized that if you rarely raise your voice, yelling has real power.
2. Outer calm, inner turmoil. I thought that lowering my voice would also lower my blood pressure, but I often found that wasn’t the case. It was super frustrating, especially because everyone else in the house was still yelling. And there were times when I really struggled to get my point across. I found myself wanting to curse, desperate for a way to impart the importance of what I had to say.
3. Dangerous combinations. One of the most helpful things I discovered are my triggers. Namely, feeling rushed and stressed. One day we were running late for an appointment and my toddler started having a tantrum. I think I could have kept my cool if I was handling just one of these upsets, but the combination led to a serious outburst. I can’t control the tantrums, but I can try to be better about not feeling rushed.
4. Exceptions to the rule. On day four we went to the county fair. It was among the carnival music and crowds that I learned, sometimes you really need to yell. Not only because it’s hard to be heard, but because your child’s safety is more important than keeping a level voice. If you can take two kids to a bustling public space and not shout, you are some sort of mothering legend and my hat is off to you.
5. Potency is power. When the week was all over and we were once again running late, I raised my voice and something surprising happened: my kids listened. I realized that if you rarely raise your voice, yelling has real power. And for me, that might be the very best incentive for keeping the shouting to a minimum.