I know many really good parents. All of them confess to yelling at their kids at some point. All of them regret it to some degree. It feels out of control and inappropriate. Yelling at your kids makes you feel ashamed. We want to be better than that. Since we know we don't want to be that and we do it anyway we feel like we've failed every time it happens. Arguably there are moments that's true.
I yelled a lot more back when Ian was deployed and I was doing everything alone and under great stress. I wrote about it on Babble when I was blogging there, and got a lot of interesting feedback, mostly from other moms who were relieved to know they weren't alone.
However, my kids are now 12, 10, and 7, and I want to share something I've learned about the yelling: Your kids train you to do it. Most of the time we do it because it works and that's that. We don't yell because we are out of control, we yell because it's efficient.
How do I know? Because yelling only works with one of my children.
There is no point in ever yelling at Quinn. There are moments I want to, but it never helps. We have dubbed Quinn "He who shall not be rushed" because at whatever pace he's doing something is the pace at which it's going to happen. The other choice is for it to be slower. If he is slowly and deliberately looking for his shoes and you yell at him, he will either burst into tears and everything simply stops, or, more likely, his passive aggressive wiring kicks in and he moves more slowly. I've tried to hurry him up, and he gets this determined look on his face with flickers of humiliation and resentment running across it, and just keeps at what he's doing the way he's doing it. So if we are in a hurry do we yell at Quinn? No we do not.
It is equally pointless to yell at Mona. It might hurry her up, but she will definitely cry, which at some point slows things down, so it's useless. Mona freaks out if she's merely in the crossfire of any yelling, so on occasion we yell at her that we are not yelling at her, which is about the dumbest thing ever, but we're human and these things happen. She is utterly destroyed at the thought that she may have disappointed us, so yelling is so over the top and out of proportion to anything Mona might do that we don't do it.
Now, Aden.... Let us speak of Aden, who I will wager is more typical of the average child. Aden needs to be told to do things again and again. And again. And then those things still don't happen. She's a wonderful and capable girl, and if you ask her to do something that interests her then by all means it will get done and done well. But loading the dishwasher does not interest her. Nor does picking up the !@$%*#!$ laundry off her floor. We have very few rules in our house, and even those are barely rules and more like good ideas, so when she doesn't do the couple of things we ask of her it gets annoying.
Because I could be Mary Poppins and lead her with a game and a song and have a wonderful bonding moment of mother-daughter love and fun over picking up her clothes, but I can't do that EVERY TIME. That's ridiculous. At some point she has to have respect enough for my time to simply do what I ask when I ask.
So the other day after asking her nicely five times over as many hours to pick up her laundry so we could get it in the wash and it wasn't done I looked at her and said, "Do I actually have to yell for this to happen?" She looked at me sadly and nodded. I sighed, and said, "Please don't make me do that. It hurts me to yell at you and ruins my day." A little of the laundry got picked up. I didn't have the energy to yell about the rest of it, but I may this weekend.
It's an interesting thing to know that the yelling isn't quite the loss of control that it feels like. If it were, it would be indiscriminate, and it isn't. In our house we sometimes yell at Aden because it works. (And occasionally at the dog, which doesn't really, but sometimes just UGH stupid dog.) But if I were really a maniac I would be yelling at Quinn and Mona, too, and then everything would grind to a weepy halt and we would never get anywhere.
Still, even with Aden I'd like to avoid it whether it works or not. I find the biggest factor for me for curbing the yelling is getting a break. When I work long days, and the time I get with my kids is limited, my patience for everything about them is increased to a point where I am more likely to just overlook a lot of issues and just hold them close. The Mary Poppins song and dance routine is easier to muster when all I crave is time with my kids. Other days when all I have with them is time, and I feel like I've been reduced to a maid and a cook, then my fuse gets shorter.
I will say, though, that even at those times I try to remind myself of one of Aden's wiser moments. Ian was deployed the first time, she was four, Mona was two, I was pregnant with Quinn, and I was at my wit's end with the mess of toys on the floor. I found myself flailing my arms around and barking about how my whole life was consumed with nothing but picking things up, that all she did was play and all I did was clean. Aden smiled up at me sympathetically, surrounded by toys, and said, "Why don't you come play, too?" That kind of stopped me dead in my tracks.
This same smart and sweet little girl, however, apparently prefers at times to be yelled at. I don't quite get it, and I'd be happier if things were different and I never yelled, but I no longer feel as if I've failed when I do.
Because we train each other, parents and children. It's not a one way street. But some days it is a noisy one.