Yelling

I didn’t read the Tiger Mom book, just the WSJ article and then of course the huge media flap that followed. And as I’ve said before, I’m more of a Tigger Mom than a Tiger Mom – I sort of bounce around from place to place, and wish that we could all just hug it out on a regular basis. What I wonder is, does Tiger Mom yell a lot? All that sitting at the piano or working through the math problems or throwing out the inadequate birthday cards…was there yelling?  Is yelling part of Tiger Mommying? Because if it is, then I maybe need to own my stripes.

I yell. I yell more than I ever thought I would, when my childless self would imagine myself as a mom.  I yell and I hate that I yell and I try and try not to yell, and then there I am, yelling.

Tonight, after a longish bickerish day–Sunday of a long weekend, Husband traveling since last Tuesday, and it’s cold cold cold again–I yelled at Liam for grabbing the water glass away from his brother who needed to rinse the toothpaste out of his mouth.  I didn’t yell because he grabbed, actually; I yelled because had Caleb done the same thing to Liam, Liam would’ve wanted him thrown to the wolves or at very least brought up on federal charges.

But actually, it doesn’t matter who did what to whom, now, does it? Isn’t that exactly what I tell the boys? That I don’t really care who started it (unless we’re dealing with bleeding from the head or the loss of the proverbial eye, but thus far, knock wood, that hasn’t happened. Of course, we have an entire week of vacation to look forward to).  I tell them that what matters is how they choose to respond, that they are in charge of their own behavior and…

blaaah.  I imagine that in their minds, I sound like the grownups on the old  “Charlie Brown” cartoons: “wanh-wanh-whanh-whawhawha.”  And besides, if I can’t take my own advice, why on earth should they?

Liam complains that he’s trying to control his reactions to his brother’s teasing, and I suppose that he is, despite his protestations of mortal injury due to the fact that his brother is breathing on him: “maaaaaaam, he’s being so aggravating, he’s just… god,” complete with a hand flick and eye-roll that are worthy of characters in a Verdi opera.

I’ve been trying too, really I have, and so I sympathize with my older son more deeply than he will ever know. Because of course, no one ever sees you trying. They see only the lapses.  And I know, as I’m sure Liam does, the insidious pleasure that worms inside a moment of yelling, a tiny little moment where it feels so good to let go, to just give in to the angry feeling.

“STOP IT! HOW CAN YOU BEHAVE LIKE THIS!” is a lot easier, in a way than “Okay, guys, come on, let’s figure out something else to do, Caleb stop poking your brother, c’mon over here and let’s build a lego castle together.” Or rather, it’s easy to find that alterna-voice the first ten times but on the eleventh? or the fifteenth?

Don’t get me wrong – despite the “let’s build a lego castle,” I don’t want to be my kids’ best friend; I’m their mom, not their buddy, and I don’t need to be interested in every little thing they do. Nor am I particularly invested in the boys being the prize-winning pigs at the state fair–prizes are nice and shiny and all, but what I really want is for them to learn how to be friends.  A little bickering is okay but I don’t want to live in a family of yellers. (Let me make the inevitable pun for you: that now, at 47, I am an old yeller.)

Yelling bring bad karma, it makes us all tense, it creates negative energy–none of which I want in our lives, if I can help it.  I mean, we already live in New York, so all that stuff is waiting for us right outside the door. Why create it inside, too?

I wish I had some grand resolution here, some vow that I could make about just saying no to yelling or something like that, but I’m not sure I can. All I can do is dredge out the standard issue one-day-at-time thing: I won’t yell tomorrow. I can do anything for a day, right?

That sound you’ll be hearing from our apartment tomorrow? That’ll be the sound of me, not yelling.

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6 Responses to Yelling

  1. Susan Williams February 21, 2011 at 10:00 am #

    In similar situations, my mother used to cry. Usually got the attention of the squabbllng sibs, at least long enough to staunch the flow of blood.

  2. a guy February 21, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    I feel this way for myself, so I don’t mean to let you entirely off the hook. And I don’t see you asking for that. (And it’s not my hook to begin with.) But with all of that said, there’s yelling and then there’s yelling. My mom yells and she’s also mean, vindictive, competitive, jealous. My sister-in-law Corinne yells and she’s funny, generous, loving, and forgiving. When my mom yells, it’s a sign that there is terrible anger underneath which will now linger like cancer. With every one of my siblings, there’s been a time that my mom was so mad she didn’t speak to them for 2 or more years. My sister, for instance, took an extra day to mail a package at the post office. When Corinne yells, it means she wants you to understand that we’re not just teasing now, that you’re crossing a line or hurting her feelings or just acting in a way she thinks you can control but are not. And then it’s over. I think what my nephew learned from Corinne is that people get mad and then they very obviously still love you immediately after–which, by the way, doesn’t mean you weren’t wrong!

    To repeat, I don’t want to yell, and I do. Much more importantly, I don’t want to boss with my sullen forceful controlled body movements–and I do that ALL the time. So I hope you can take some deep breaths and say a 12th “let’s build a lego castle.” But since people do get mad and they do act it out, you might do an invaluable service by showing your boys that it’s possible to stay a loving family even if the stress sometimes flows over.

  3. Susan Hoadley February 22, 2011 at 8:28 am #

    The Tiger Mom book is well summoned here. I did read it, and couldn’t wait for it to be over — it was a little like what I might imagine the experience of reading “Pinheads and Patriots” might be … I was getting agitated at every turn and counting the pages until I could start “Life” by Keith Richards. Here’s why.

    Amy Chua uses as an undercurrent the belief that parents that yell are strong and those that broker and sculpt the healthy sides of our children’s emotions are squishy and spineless. That yelling is for the strong. That yelling is for the bold. That yelling is for the best.

    My thoughts are on the other end. There is nothing in life more challenging than the scenes that you describe. It’s so easy to just take a pass, pull out the get out of jail free card, pull the choke, and yell STOP when the din has reached fever pitch. Because you know what? IT STOPS. It’s so beautifully, ironically effective. It works. It’s easy. It’s quick. It’s a silver bullet. But is it strength? No, it’s not. It’s easier.

    Following your beliefs that yelling is best reserved for those times when nothing else works is a matter of opinion. But let’s get back down into the trenches with the topic. And say: the less you yell, the sleeker its silver bullet when you do. And there’s an incredible life lesson for the kids in that one too. For them to unpack … by example.

  4. Deborah Quinn February 22, 2011 at 9:06 am #

    Thanks for these thoughtful comments. Am wondering what kind of parent Keith Richards was to his growing up children–a yeller? or too stoned to notice? I think there are different kinds of yelling–or at least, I’m hoping that my kids see that my yelling doesn’t have malice undergirding it. I guess only their therapists will know for sure. And I do think it’s important to learn that anger doesn’t mean the whole house of cards is tumbling down–that parents can be angry or unhappy but it doesn’t mean the end of the world. I guess it’s making sure kids feel that affirmation that’s the tricky part…A long time ago, a woman who was my supervising teacher when I was a student teacher told me that once every trimester she liked to swear, loudly, at her class (calling them “damn idiots” or “jackasses,” something like). She was a mild-mannered matron in crepe-soled shoes, so her outbursts got a LOT of attention, while the teacher down the hall, who ranted at her kids all the time, didn’t demand half as much attention. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
    I’m fully aware of the irony of asking Liam to stop SCREAMING at his brother, even as I am too quick to let my own temper fly. But hey–I got through yesterday without screaming. And now I will tackle today.
    Thanks for the responses.

  5. Ann February 22, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    These are smart and kind comments. (Thank you, Susan Hoadley!); they help me think about my own yelling. I think raising your voice as an expression of honest frustration — not the scary “I’m about to lose it and smack you” kind of yelling, but rather the “enough with the being jerks to each other, already” kind — seems pretty healthy to me, in small doses. You know when you’ve crossed the line from irritated to borderline (or actual) out of control, and it’s the latter that has to be prevented at all costs. . . sometimes by yelling a little once in a while.

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