I have a confession to make. I am, at times, a yelling mother. I am ridden with guilt for my inability to control my outbursts.
You know what’s funny? I hate screamers. Raising your voice at me is a no-no; I cannot tolerate yelling and screaming. Makes it real hard to live with… myself.
He was on top of the coffee table playing with a measuring tape as a distraction from the task at hand – sorting the hundreds of pieces from about a half dozen puzzles which got mixed up because my 3-year old is still learning to keep things organized and tidy. He helped me for about five minutes but it was clear from the get-go that this attempt at tidying up together would be a failure. There were a couple of instances where he spastically threw some puzzle pieces around and I calmly told him that if he showed me once more that he didn’t want the puzzles anymore we would donate them. He was squirming on the table, measuring an imaginary object, when he kicked a couple boxes filled with freshly sorted puzzle pieces knocking them off the table. Without even thinking I shot up to standing and shouted “You go to your room right now!” Before I finished my sentence he was already off the table, backpedaling away from me. Continuing in a raised voice and mean tone, “Are you going or do you want me to take you upstairs?” He was crying now and pleading with me “No, I don’t go to my room…” I looked at him with what must have seem like crazy eyes and shouted at the top of my lungs “Go!”
Who the heck does that? An overwhelmed mother does. It’s hard to tell exactly where the overwhelm comes from, but that must be it. Hormones running havoc (I am four months postpartum), lack of sleep, less time for myself, little adult-only social interactions, domestic stressors (finances, marriage, what’s for dinner, we’ve been out of TP for two days etc.), they all contribute. While I understand that I should be kind with myself because there’s a lot going on in my body, my mind, my life, I cannot accept the fact that I have zero control over my reactions. It’s 1.30am and I cannot sleep as I keep replaying this last horrible episode in my head.
I made amends as I always do. I told him I was sorry, I tried to explain that I was tired and hence not patient enough, and while I wished that he would be more helpful and less defiant, I still loved him to the moon and back for the beautiful soul that he is. I then laid next to him for a few minutes before lights-out.
I’m a huge proponent of a mix of attachment-RIE parenting. I used to be quite successful at it, remaining poised and keeping calm, patient and understanding even when my biggest buttons were pushed. That all went out the window a few months ago, perhaps a month or so before the little brother joined us, and it has gradually escalated to instances like the one lived yesterday. I’ve made promises both to my son and to myself that I would work hard on controlling myself but so far I have failed at keeping my promise.
I realized that while I did not intend it, my promise was an empty promise. Because I did not spend any time figuring out what needed to happen in order for me to (re)gain some self-control. Instead, I would dive head-first and float in a puddle of shame and guilt and self-pity until I would fall asleep and wake up on a new day hoping for the best. Some days are better than others, but no matter how bad a day, my children do not deserve the worst of me. So, over the past three-four hours while in bed listening to my husband snore (a serious domestic stressor!) and my baby nugget suckle in his sleep, I made a list of things that may help me in the heat of the moment:
1. Acknowledge when I am tired, upset, distracted or in any other state of mind that I know is conducive of bad behavior on my part.
2. When I find myself in such a state, initiate activities that are certain to keep the kid engaged, happy, and calm (currently my son’s favorite activities are coloring and painting). It is ok to even offer TV or computer time, Horga! (Ours has been a no-device household for the longest time, nowadays there are days when he can watch something for about 30 min a day. I guess even two hours of Daniel Tiger would be less damaging than a raging mother…)
3. If he has done something with forewarning about consequences, I should follow through no matter how inconvenient it proves to be. (Note to self: do not threaten to give the dog away when the kid is pulling on his tail.)
4. Take a time-out. Next time, as I feel the blood starting to boil, and my eyes bulging out of my sockets, I will leave the room for a few minutes. I’ll use some of the breathing techniques I’ve recently learned from my therapist, and return to my son when I feel I can address him in a collected voice.
5. Journal. Whether I succeeded at stopping the yelling monster from emerging or not, I should make the effort to journal the episode. Another tip from my therapist: whenever a difficult situation arises and passes, write it down; briefly describe what happened, your emotions around it, and your reaction to it; then, and this is important, write down how you would like to have handled it. It’s been proven that by doing this exercise regularly one is able to change habits, and before you know it, you would become and act like the “you” described in the perfect scenario.
6. Share my shame and guilt. It does not serve me any good to stew in my own self-beating thoughts. My husband, my parents, my mommy friends, they all know how demanding being a parent can be and can quickly remind me that I am human, and humans make mistakes. It’s all about how you handle the consequences.
The yelling momma can show up any time. Even at the end of a beautiful day, after you’ve been to a martial arts class try-out where you had a blast, had a good nap cuddled up in the big-boy boat-bed, and cooked a complete meal together for the first time. With practice and an extra ounce of self-compassion, I am confident I can tame the unwelcome monstrous part of me, and be the balanced, approachable, understanding, supportive safe haven that my children are seeking when overwhelmed by emotions bigger than them.
I know I am not the only parent who throws a raging fit every now and again. It sure feels like it though, because nobody talks about it. You won’t hear it at the park or at a kid’s birthday party: “Oh, man, I just lost my shit this morning when Riley drew on the carpet for the third time this week. Third time!!” No, we’re too busy focusing on and bragging about our kids’ milestones reached ahead of time, or laughing at their funnies, which, while important and celebration-worthy in their own right, are boring and have little to no value. We, as the community of mothers learning the craft of parenting as we go, would have so much more to gain if we would be open to being vulnerable, admitting our shame of being less than perfect, and talking about the messy and loud imperfect moments life is made of. That takes a lot of courage and it requires us all to stop seeing motherhood as a competition in which we struggle for a medal (while “doping” like crazy…). Instead, let’s join hands, hearts and minds as a team – that proverbial village, where we offer each other support on all levels, and work together towards making our children the winners.
Writing this post hasn’t been easy, and I am definitely out of my comfort zone publishing it, but I believe that starting a conversation around my shame of being a less-than-perfect mother will, on one hand, help me to accept the fact that I am flawed and do have weaknesses, and, on the other hand, motivate and inspire me to break through my limitations and better myself. Are you comfortable talking about your own parenting flaws and regrets? What is your biggest struggle? Have you figured out a plan to change that which needs to be changed? I would love to hear from you in the comments below, or feel free to get in touch via email or on Instagram.