I don’t hit my kids. I don’t believe hitting kids is a rational thing to do. If I’m not legally allowed to strike a fellow adult as a form of discipline I can’t imagine how that can be an acceptable thing to do to a child. But that’s a whole loaded topic unto itself that maybe I will address another time. I bring it up solely because it’s an example of something I have decided is not something I want to inflict on my children and I am capable of following up on that decision. I have made the choice that I am not someone who will hit my kids and therefore I don’t hit my kids.
But yelling…. I can’t figure out why I am not able to have the same level of control over myself when it comes to yelling at my kids. I am always ashamed of myself when I yell at my children. I don’t mean raising my voice so they can hear me from a different floor of the house or down the block, or even to snap them to attention if they are in danger because of traffic or touching something hot. No, I mean when I’m frustrated or annoyed to the point where I blather in a loud, scary voice intended to reduce my kids to a more submissive state. I hate that. It makes me feel like a bully.
It’s better now that Ian is home. When he was deployed and I never had more than maybe two hours a week away from my kids (literally Quinn was on me 24/7 except for an occasional mandolin orchestra rehearsal) it was extremely stressful. The talking and touching is cute until it hits an overload moment, and when you are with your kids all the time that feeling of overload comes up often because there is no real chance to cool down. So I would yell at my kids at least once a day because I was too tired to keep repeating myself nicely and it was the only thing that seemed to get their attention sometimes. Most of the time it was about getting dressed or into the car because we were late, and sometimes it was about simply following up on something they promised to do (usually picking up toys or clothes). The most idiotic thing in the world is to yell at them about making too much noise. Even as I hear myself shouting up the stairs, “I told you to be quiet because your brother is sleeping!” I think to myself that it would be hard to be more ridiculous. What is the point of that? Why do I do it?
Now that Ian is back and we can take shifts with the kids I don’t yell nearly as often. If I’ve been at work all day I miss them and everything they do seems charming instead of annoying. I’m able to write about them sweetly when I blog because they aren’t in the room with me when I write, so I miss them, and there is nothing left but fondness for them in their absence. When I get a break from them I’m able to appreciate just how good they are.
My frustrations with them don’t come from them being disrespectful or mean or anything actually bad. Anyone is annoying after an excess of contact, and it’s hard not to want your child to stop saying, “Look at me!” for the millionth time at the playground even though it’s meant with sincere love, simply because it would be nice to finish a thought of one’s own and not be interrupted all the time. Familiarity doesn’t breed contempt toward my children, but grumpiness, yes. And even now with breaks from my cutie pies I still lose it from time to time, and I never feel okay about it. If I yell at them before bed it haunts me all night long.
I think a lot of parental guilt gets misread as good parents obsessing over an inability to achieve perfection. I don’t think that’s it. There is guilt inherent in knowing you should be grateful and appreciative of extraordinary things every moment, and it’s not humanly possible. I’m acutely aware of how fortunate I am to have the life and children I do, and when I’m reduced to petty emotions about mundane things it feels wasteful. I strive to be a better person, a better parent, than the one I am, but there are limits to patience and sometimes small problems evoke disproportionate responses. I think parental guilt stems from feeling resentful and angry over things that look meaningless out of context. It’s hard to justify yelling at your child over spilling a cup of water by mistake, even when it’s the last straw in a long chain of events. We feel guilty when we know we are being unfair.
And I do think most of the yelling I do is unfair to my children. I apologize later and my kids always forgive me, but I want to get a better handle on it. I know I would not yell at other people’s children even if I had to tell them a hundred times to pick up the legos, but the third time repeating it to my own children I lose it. The fact that I can make a conscious decision to stay calm with everyone else in the world is evidence that I shouldn’t need to resort to yelling at my own kids whom I adore, and yet I keep doing it.
I think to some degree it’s how the kids have trained me, not that that’s an excuse.
The truth is I only really yell at Aden. If I raise my voice at Quinn or Mona they are instantly reduced to quivering puddles, so not only do I feel like a monster but it’s counterproductive. They only really get caught in the crossfire of the yelling. Aden can get so distracted and lazy that it pushes me to the brink, but she just stands there and takes whatever shouting I apparently need to get out of my system and then does the thing I wanted her to do that would have prevented all the yelling in the first place. So with Aden the yelling works, which is probably why I repeat it, but I don’t want to do it. There are other, better ways to accomplish the same end, I’m just too lazy myself sometimes to pursue them.
For instance, as I’m working on this, my kids are supposed to be cleaning up their toys. I took a break from writing a few paragraphs back to help, and what we did was get out the video camera and turn the cleanup into a magic act. I would film Aden pointing a wand at a toy, she would freeze while I stopped the camera, and Mona would swoop in to pick up and put away the toy, and then I’d restart the camera. When it goes right the movie looks like Aden is making toys vanish, and when it goes wrong (and Mona doesn’t wait for her cue) we see bits of Mona blink in and out as well. It’s hilarious, and a much more fun way to clean a room, but it takes forever and has to be an event in itself. Some days I’m up for making the chores into magic, and other days I just want the silly toys picked up already.
I’m nowhere near perfect, but I only feel like a bad parent when I yell. Today, like on so many other days, I’m resolved to cut it out. I want to show my children that I think better of them than that. I don’t want to teach Aden that part of being loved involves people screaming at her. I want her to steer clear of people who act like I do when I’m yelling. Like everything with parenting, I have to learn to be the right thing in order to teach the right thing. It’s hard, but it’s worth it. (Maybe I should go buy a punching bag….)