I’m tired of all the ways we guilt ourselves as parents. Kids misbehave? Our fault. Bad grades? Our fault. We don’t spend enough time with our kids. Guilt! We don’t protect our kids well enough. Guilt! I, for one, am done with the guilt.
The latest thing? Yelling. The New York Times has over 300 comments on a post about the horrors of yelling at our kids, how guilty we feel about it, and how to make it all go away.
Don’t worry, I’m as guilty of yelling as anyone else. I have done it and no, I’m not proud of it either. I’ve gotten frustrated and angry and I’ve raised my voice. More than once. News flash — parents are human. We get frustrated. We yell sometimes.
Sure, there are alternatives. I’ve tried them. And I can say first hand that strategies like reminding, nagging, and counting 1-2-3 don’t work. Apparently, for my kids, yelling does. It startles them out of their constant reverie, the glazed-eye tune-out mode (you know what I’m talking about — kids really do hear wah-wah-wah when adults talk, just like in the Charlie Brown cartoons).
Now, as Lylah Alphonse (The 36-Hour Day) pointed out in her piece over at Boston.com, the New York Times piece doesn’t make a distinction between yelling, “You’re a terrible kid! You’re stupid!” and plain-ol’ yelling that comes from frustration and a desire to get the kid’s attention. That’s the kind of yelling that went on all day at my next-door neighbor’s house growing up, the ones I referred to as The Loud Family. Some people are just loud.
So I’ll be clear — yelling things that are hurtful, denigrating, or demeaning, that’s not okay. But yelling? In and of itself? Is that the same as spanking?
We’ve lost touch with our own sense of what’s right and what’s not for our kids, and instead we scour books, TV shows, and one another’s brains, looking for the expert to tell us how to be a good parent. I know all about this — when I was pregnant with my first child at the tender age of 20 I assumed I knew nothing and turned to Penelope Leach (Your Baby and Child) for answers. Twelve years later, doing it all over again, I threw the book away. You know how that goes.
So why the guilt? Why not just yell a little, be okay with it, and life goes on? No harm, no foul. Sure, I’d like to find other ways of expressing my frustration or anger than yelling. But that’s because I’m not yet 100% comfortable with those feelings in myself, let alone showing those “imperfect” feelings to my kids. But I also know that I’m headed for a world where I feel okay with my emotions (even the messy ones) and where I feel completely comfortable showing my kids everything that I am — which means letting go of the image of “perfect mom” I’ve been holding on to. And the more okay I am with everything that I am (and everything that I am not) the better a model I make for my kids.
So, with my permission (not that you needed it), yell away. With the following caveats:
1. No shame, no game. If you feel guilty about the yelling, your kids will feel it too. Which sends a mixed message. Gonna yell? Fine. Just do it loud and proud.
2. No playing dirty. I meant it when I said that words like “You’re stupid” aren’t cool. They’re not.
3. Keep it light. Play with this a little. I love the comment to Lylah’s post, which said (in part, and please go read the whole thing: I yell “I LOVE YOU” when I am leaving, I yell “OK, NOW I AM REALLY LEAVING”. Which has “playful” written all over it.
So what about you? Are you a yeller? Hanging on to any guilt about it? How do you feel about the whole yelling thing?
[photo credit: fireyes, SXC]