A few months ago, I put Spot the baby (age 2) down to bed in her crib. It had been a long day, with a missed nap (hers) and frantic errand-running (mine). Sally was bunked down on our bed, where she reads or sleeps until Dick carries her into the room that she shares with Spot. Susan, the middle child, is the only person in our house to have her own room. Everyone is happier with this arrangement.
I settled myself on the couch, my shabby fabric sofa that conducts heat from the registers up to my weary body. This is my favorite time of the day. I turn the TV on low and nestle my (also-warm) laptop on my lap. Dick is beside me on the couch, laptop on lap, or upstairs in the loft on the family computer, doing freelance work. (Yes, our lives revolve entirely too much around the personal computer).
Only another parent (a primary-caregiver parent at that) can appreciate how precious are those first moments after all the children are in bed. It is a relief not unlike the release of tension and preparation and exertion and anticipation that follows labor and delivery. (Okay, it’s not quite as dramatic, but it is similar.)
For a few minutes there are muffled ruffling sounds from Spot in her crib. Then silence. Golden, longed-for, prayed-for, hoped-for silence.
Twenty minutes later, there was crying, just-woken, unhappily-woken, wish-I-were-asleep crying.
In Spot and Sally’s room there is a lamp, a match to the lamp on my nightstand. A lamp that Dick lent to Sally for the odd nights when she reads in her own room instead of ours. The lamps, lamps that belong in the master bedroom, match the quilt and the pillows on my bed. They are the only piece of furniture in my entire house that I bought new. Not on sale. At Wal-mart, sure, but full price, to specifically match the quilt my sister passed on to us.
On this night, Dick is upstairs, just outside Spot’s closed door. Sally is on our bed, and Susan is in her room.
Only Sally is not on our bed because she has gone into the room she shares with Spot, and she has woken her up. Mr. Oblivious has allowed this to happen.
(You know what’s coming, right?)
I marched upstairs in a self-righteous fury and picked up that lamp (my lamp, remember) and smashed it down onto the dresser.
“How could you wake your sister up” Smash, smash.
“How could you let her wake her sister up” Smash, smash.
A couple minutes later I decided I need to change.
When New Years came, I made No Yelling my single resolution.
For many years, I have accepted that being a mother means getting angry. Not all the time, of course, but when the kids won’t put their shoes on or won’t get dressed or will cut up important papers or color on the walls or spill their dinner ON PURPOSE, it’s only natural to get angry.
And I have embraced, as my right, the right to express my anger. I don’t hit them (except for that regrettable incident with the hairbrush and Sally’s every-bopping head during hair-doing time when she was four), and I don’t chain them in the basement, so surely it is okay if I EXPRESS MYSELF.
Except it doesn’t make me happy. It makes me feel like crap. It makes me look at myself in the mirror and wonder, Who on earth is this MONSTER?
Especially since yelling doesn’t work. It doesn’t make kids listen better or work harder or want to please or feel loved or feel safe or obey quicker.
If yelling succeeds, it makes kids feel scared, it makes them feel ashamed, it makes them question your love (and your rationality). And there might well be instances when I want my kids to feel scared and ashamed. But not before they’re teenagers, I’m pretty sure.
So I have been working on No Yelling for a month now.
I have fallen horribly short.
And yet? It has already changed things.
I thought the secret to no yelling was self-control. It’s not. (Though it does help to have a blanket “no-yelling” rule).
The secret to no yelling is to not get angry. To take care of yourself (get enough sleep, water, nutritional food, exercise) and take care of your kids (sacrifice so they get enough sleep, water, nutritional food, exercise). And to plan, prepare, prevent. Identify the things that infuriate me (lost shoes at the last minute; unresponsive, unhelpful TV watchers; fights over toys) and plan ahead to eliminate or better respond to them.
The biggest thing is to choose. To choose to be happy instead of angry. Patient instead of impatient. Understanding instead of (wilfully) incomprehending.
The connection between telling yourself you cannot get angry and how you feel is like the connection between making yourself smile and how you feel. Sometimes going through the motions is enough to jumpstart the real emotion: peace, happiness, and more determination than ever to become the sort of person I can look in the mirror.
Thanks to Kimberly at Realistic Idealist for sharing her own not-admirable moments with me.
I’m submitting this to MamaBlogga’s Group Writing Project on “Choosing Happiness.”