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.
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.
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.