Monday, June 24, 2013

I'm going to stop yelling at my kids...for the next four days.

Image credit m4tik via Creative Commons

I confess to Almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have just had a Great Big Mommy Tantrum.

I stayed basically calm all morning, despite having milk thrown at me twice, all the toilet paper unrolled and dragged down the hall, food splattered on the wall and smeared into one child's hair by another child, and the same cabinets completely emptied three times. I kept my cool through five child tantrums (four of which were from the same child) and a full day's worth of whining from one other child condensed into a three-hour block. I did not lose it with SuperSam when he scaled a stack of cardboard boxes filled with baby clothes headed for our shed (right in front of me!) and they all collapsed, spilling clothes everywhere.

I gave one fairly successful haircut, made two meals and two snacks (with two toddlers screeching, "EEEEEAT, EEEEAT, EEEEEEAT!" at the tops of their lungs) and braved a trip to that most dreaded of places, the post office, to return some mis-delivered mail. The visit didn't go well...the postal worker was crabby and condescending, and my kids screamed the whole way home.

I do not like going to the post office, but I went anyway. I am a good citizen.

Unfortunately, I am also a yeller.

Not all the time...but when I've had a long day or a tough morning, when the volume level in the house goes up and up and up, when I've asked nicely three or four times and I'm not getting any cooperation, when I'm completely overwhelmed and I feel like no one is listening to me...I yell.

I start out quietly, just like I know I should, but it escalates. I get a bit louder and testier-sounding.

And sometimes, like this evening, I explode.

There's a rising feeling of panic in my chest. I feel hot. I get kind of twitchy and upset, and out it comes...the loud, mean-sounding voice that makes my children's eyes widen. I can feel it coming, and sometimes I don't stop it. I let it out, unleashing the Loud Angry Voice on whoever is pushing my buttons. I usually feel a little better for just a second...a little vindicated...but it never lasts long.

Sometimes, yelling isn't enough. Sometimes I slam down things that I'm holding in a forceful way. Sometimes I slam cabinet doors or the dishwasher.

Tonight, I dropped a stack of stainless steel mixing bowls on the floor, just because I knew it would be LOUD...and it was. I felt better for a tiny second, until I saw Nora's little face.

Her eyes were wide. She slowly held up her hands to cover her ears- a skill I just taught her last week so she could cope with the abnormally-loud automatic flush toilets at Costco- and she murmured, "Dat's noisy."

I felt like I'd been kicked in the stomach. Guilt seared through me as I looked at her, then at her brother, standing quietly on the other side of the room, eyes gravely watching me.

I apologized to them, of course, but saying "sorry" doesn't undo what's been done.
Remembering it now, telling you about it, I want to go into each of their rooms, scoop them up, smell their hair, and whisper "sorrysorrysorrysorry" as quietly as I can into their ears, as if that would make up for the loudness of my voice there earlier.

I remember how it feels to be yelled at by an adult, especially one you trust.
I do not want my children to feel that way, especially because of me.
I don't want them to grow up trying to avoid making Mama angry so she won't yell.

There was a song we used to sing as kids about the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22...the fruit of the Spirit's not a banana...if you wanna be a banana, you might as well hear it, you can't be a fruit of the Spirit...

Oh, never it is. Brace yourselves.

'Cause the fruits are Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control-ol-ol!...

Anger isn't a fruit of the Spirit. Neither is yelling or throwing or slamming things.

Anger isn't wrong or bad. It's just an emotion, and all of us have it sometimes. But yelling is wrong, at least here in my house. It assumes my feelings are the most important. It assumes it is okay for me to express those feelings at the expense of everyone else. It is intimidating, and it destroys the peace and joy in which I'd like our family to live.  

Yelling makes anger seem wrong and bad. Yelling makes anger scary for everyone around. By yelling when I get reallyreally mad or reallyreally overwhelmed or reallyreally frustrated, I could be setting my children up to be unable to cope with their own anger and frustration.

Besides, SuperSam told me this evening that "when people yell, it feels like they don't love you."

Things around here need to change.

I'm done with the yelling. I don't want to be a mom who yells. I need to develop some of that gentleness and self-control-ol-ol.

I have to figure out how to keep from getting to the point of being out of control. I know yelling, like any other behavior, is a choice. The thing is, by the time I'm yelling, it doesn't feel like a choice anymore.

It feels inevitable.

Have you heard of The Orange Rhino? She is a blogger who made a deal with her children that she wouldn't yell for 365 days. She has now been going for over 500 days. She has inspired people to try to stop yelling at their own children by sharing her struggle. She has started a kind of movement.

I'm not trying to start a movement...but it is nice in some ways to know I'm not the only parent struggling with this problem.

I can't start a movement based on my own struggle and my efforts to stop yelling, because I need help. I cannot do this all on my own. I think I have too much baggage to deal with and heart-attitudes that need changing and grace. I think I need a lot of grace. Going into this thinking about how I'm going to fix this problem by myself is going to fail.

I think that God wants me to be the best parent I can be...and I know God-as-Parent isn't losing God's cool and blowing up and striking down toddlers who unroll toilet paper. This isn't about their behavior and their need to be corrected. It's not about my authority or my duty to teach them to be virtuous.

It's not my children who have the problem here. It's me.
So I'm asking God for help first, because I know God loves my children even more than I do and that my not yelling at them is in their best interests.

Having said that, I do need a plan for how I'm going to change.

For right now, I'm doing these things:

  • I'm ordering this print from Katie Daisy and putting it in the kitchen (the room where 80% of my tantrums happen). I'm also going to write the same phrase down and put it in the car where I can see it (the location of another 15% of my meltdowns, usually in direct response to someone else's- does car travel actually cause tantrums?).

  • I'm writing "Gentleness and Self-Control" on the back of my hand. This is important enough to me that I want to be able to see a reminder all the time. It might get awkward at the grocery store, but I can always gesture at my children and say, "I'm sure you have noticed that I have my hands full," or something equally witty and original.
  • I'm praying every day at certain times (every time I refill my water bottle or start to prepare food, for starters) for help to control my temper. Is there a patron saint for yelling, overwhelmed moms? I once read that Susannah Wesley (mother of John and Charles Wesley and seventeen other children) used to sit with her hoop skirts pulled up over her head when she needed to be alone for a moment to pray. Maybe I can appeal to her?
  • When I feel myself getting angry, I'm going to take three deep breaths before I say anything at all.
  • Finally, I'm sharing this commitment with you. It isn't easy to do, but it is important. I always end up writing about what's really going on, so you were probably going to find out, anyway. Telling you up front is better so you can hold me accountable and pray for me (if that's something you do). Besides, if you happen to be at the post office on our next trip and hear me starting to raise my voice at my kids in the parking lot, at least you'll know I'm working on it.

My first goal is to get through the end of this week without yelling at all. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. On Saturday our vacation starts. I'll have backup all week, which will make things a lot easier.

I have always had a short fuse. I once threw a pasta strainer in George's general direction during an argument in the first month of our marriage! (Not at him, exactly, but still...short fuse, impulsive behavior!) When I had just one toddler, however, I never used to yell. I think that learning to survive this stage of these children's lives is a good opportunity to learn to deal with a character flaw I have always had.

There. I've told you. Be gentle, please. I welcome your prayers and positive thoughts this week- I'm certain it won't be easy, but things worth doing almost never are, right?