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Sunday, July 31, 2016

How I Became and Stopped Being a Yeller (A 60 Day Reflection)

Yelling at children goes against everything for which I stand, for which Zen Parenting stands.  It's abusive, damaging, ineffective, and unnecessary.  And yet, somewhere along the line, I started yelling.  I don't recall it happening.  It sneaked in while I wasn't being vigilant.  Then, like a fungus, it spread.  All of a sudden, I found myself yelling at my son on an all-too-regular basis and I hated myself for it.  He wasn't a big fan either.

I grew up with yelling.  I grew up being yelled out, I grew up yelling at and with my brother.  Fighting was a way of life.  It wasn't until my late 20s that I started therapy and began questioning, well, everything.  One thing was for sure: I no longer wanted to be a yeller.  Alas, decades of conditioning aren't always that easy to break.

I went a full 3 1/2 years of motherhood without even raising my voice.  Then it happened.  And once the first one slipped out, it left room for the second, and the twenty-second, until I could no longer count...and felt I could no longer control myself.  I reverted right back to what I had grown up with, what I had once been.  

Just over 60 days ago, I yelled at my son for the last time.  I made him cry.  I refuse to not acknowledge this.  I refuse to sweep it under the rug.  It's ugly, it's real, it's honest, and I hate it all.  It broke me.  It breaks me still as I type.  I cannot fool myself into believing it didn't also break him.  I broke my son.  Not totally, no, but some and that's too much.

How had I let this happen?  How could I look into the eyes of someone I love unquantifiably and tear away at him from the inside with my volume and venom?  How did I let myself get so out of control?  How did I become what I vowed I never would?

Something had to be done.  After many thoughtful conversations with my now five-year-old, we teamed up to take The Orange Rhino Challenge.  We went to the office supply store and picked out a calendar together.  We posted it up right next to the bed where we cosleep so that every night we could, together, write the number of days it has been since I yelled.  We printed and cut out a large Orange Rhino and pasted it to a thick piece of foam-core board so that he could hold it up for me as a reminder of my commitment if and when he thought I was getting close to yelling.  Nightly, we discussed my progress and our thoughts and feelings about that and about our relationship with each other.  Regularly, he told me how proud he was of me, how good things felt for him.  In fact, he told me it was the thing he was most proud of in me.

I messed up twice.  I did.  It was at the beginning when things were hardest, the adjustment took the most effort.  So, I took my days off my count, I apologized, we discussed, we continued on.  It has been far from easy.  I mean, no matter how much you love someone, they're still going to bug you from time to time.  He's absolute perfection in my mind, but he also knows how to make my eye twitch.

Taking on this challenge has not only brought us closer just by virtue of me no longer yelling, but by opening up conversations that hadn't yet taken place.  One of the reasons I used to yell was that I felt triggered.  He used to lie on top of  me if he didn't want me to get up from where we were sitting together or run in front of where I was trying to walk and tell me he was an "immovable boulder" while physically blocking my path.  This would instantly trigger me.  Instantly and hugely.  I would freak out.  As a survivor of sexual assault and rape, having my body controlled, even if just in perception, sends me over the edge.  He didn't know that, though.  How could he?  He's five, innocent, naive, and completely ignorant of what rape and triggers even are.  So, we talked about it.  We talked about triggers, we talked about what triggers me, we talked about why.  And he hasn't done either thing since.  He got it immediately.  We're closer for it.

Another trigger for me was sound and certain physical and visual cues.  I have misophonia.  The Misophonia Institute has spectacularly informative and clear videos explaining misophonia both the person afflicted and those around us affected.  Once my son understood triggers, he was then able to understand my misophonia far better, as he was then able to grasp that certain sounds were far more than simply "irritating" to me.  As a result, he's more cognizant, we talk more about it, and we're closer for it.

Look, I'm as fallible as the next person.  Just because I'm Zen Parenting doesn't mean I don't lose my zen from time to time.  The goal is to grow.  Progress, not perfection.  I fell.  I took several steps back on my path to where I want to be as a parent, but I'm on my way back, I'm 60 days deep, I'm a better mom and person for it.  Most importantly, my son sees me working, is growing and learning right beside me, knows unfailingly that he is loved.

I don't remember the day I became a yeller, but I recall vividly the day I stopped being one.  It was one of the best days of both my and my son's lives and I refuse to let that go.


  1. good for you! i suspect that most parents, no matter how aware and caring and compassionate, go through a similar issue at some point with their children. i certainly did it with my daughter...i practiced attachment/evolutionary parenting, was not previously a person who yelled at or hit others, and certainly had every intention of parenting my child only with gentleness. but a day came when there was yelling, and her reaction gutted me. i apologized to her and explained that even grown-ups make mistakes and lose their tempers on occasion, but that it's never right to act like this. there were a few more incidents, at long intervals, and i would repeat the apology and reiterate that it was not the way i wanted to act. after that handful of occurrences, it simply didn't happen again. even during her teen years! i think we all fall down occasionally under the stress (and sleep deprivation) of parenting, especially when other aspects of life are being unusually stressful also. and i think that kids need to know that sometimes they are pushing buttons, and that the reactions they elicit aren't entirely their fault, and that they can work together with the parent to minimize such situations. sometimes i think we learn as much from our children as they do from us...lessons in self-control, in starting over, in apologizing, in forgiveness. pretty big stuff, when you think about it. and hopefully, they will take these lessons forward into their own parenting, and maybe it will even be a little easier for them.

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