“Hey, honey, I’m proud of you for coming over here and staying near the car and not running around,” I say to Emma as I take her hand and guide her near the car. I was done with my Friday morning Bible Study and we were leaving. One of the ladies had just brought up that the parking lot was usually full of running children and had gotten unsafe. I wanted to reaffirm to my daughter that staying near the car was the safest place to be.
“Mommy, I’m proud of you for not yelling at me,” she said.
“Uh, okay, thank you,” so what do I do with that?
I guess that I was in denial a bit about the fact that I do yell at Emma. I like to think that I’m just stern. Apparently that’s not how it comes across.
But wait, she felt comfortable with me enough to tell me that she was proud of me for my behavior. She feels safe enough with me to let me know that she doesn’t like it when I yell at her. No one likes getting yelled at, no one. So why do I do it?
I’ve seen this article circulating around Facebook. I cried when I read it. I cried a lot. Especially when she talked about her children fearing her. When I read that part to my husband he said,
‘But shouldn’t they fear you? Like we fear God?’ I see his point. We should have some kind of, ‘I mean it or else’ rapport with our children. I think so many of us have grown so afraid of harming our children that fear to discipline them. We’ve grown almost apologetic as parents, fearing what tales they will tell their therapist. I think it’s taken the teeth out of some of our relationships, parents have now lost the power to speak into their children’s lives, telling them truth when they need to hear it. Instead we go to tertiary relationships and paid therapists to seek truth, rather than the people who raised us.
I know that in my mind I have this vision of 'perfect motherhood,' a madonna of grace. Head tilted in gentleness, no harsh word ever falling from loving lips. If we were good mother's that is what we would be. We would always smell like vanilla and have chocolate chip cookies always available for our children's consumption. (Oh, and our house is always spotless, but livable.) That vision was smashed early on for me, when I established breastfeeding. I had bought the smiling madonna pictures of nursing mothers, what I didn't know is that nursing hurts, and it's hard, and those little guys might not know how to do it, and you have to teach them, and you don't even know how to do it yourself.
There, I said it.
The other day Emma had absolutely destroyed her room during her rest time. I had just read a study about trying to love your child with God’s love and not your own. Having heard the ruckus I went in to her room prepared to not yell, knowing I would find some kind of mayhem. So I didn’t, I just spoke sternly and turned on my heel and walked out in frustration. She followed wailing, when I turned back around to see her red and rent face I could have killed myself. It might have been better if I’d just yelled at her. I hugged her and we cleaned it up together.
What power we yield over these little ones. What power that we have to use so carefully. Or else they really will end up on a therapists couch instead of on the phone with us. I don’t like to yell, it’s not very effective. Just like when my husband and I yell during a fight, we shut down, we don’t hear what the other person is saying. All you hear is the big nasty anger. Children need to know that their actions have the capacity to make people angry, or they will continue to behave in an angering way throughout their life. Unfortunately so much of the stuff that they do is angering. Like whining, breaking things, shrieking for attention.... The balance is to communicate that the behavior is bad and unacceptable, not that they themselves are bad and unacceptable. The choice to pull down the curtains in their room is not okay, not that they are not okay. As a parent recognizing that pulling down the curtains probably means she is bored or needs attention, like a dog left chained in your backyard that dug up your roses.
I would like to yell less, because I don’t think it works well. I don’t think she hears me. I don’t like myself when I do it. I will try more to tell her my expectations of her behavior rather than landing at angry when she just does what comes naturally. I will try to count in between each command to give her time to react. I will try…I will try….I will try….
Some days I know I will be able to take a breath and not yell, other days I will crack and shout.
She felt comfortable enough with me to tell me that she was proud of me for not yelling at her. She feels safe with me. Hopefully she has felt all those kisses more than she has heard those misplaced words spoken in anger.