Yes, I Yell at My Kids…

To be honest, I didn’t really think this was news. Is it? I mean, it isn’t news that I yell at my kids, but is it really news that other parents yell too?

I read an article today written by a woman who decided to stop yelling at her kids. Her reason was that her son said he felt fear whenever she yelled at him. Okay, I can totally get that. But here’s the thing…

We live in a world where it is not okay for a parent to smack their child. A world where if we as parents display anything other than perfect patience and serenity in regards to our children, we are judged. We are expected to be soft-spoken, our words are supposed to inspire our children to want to behave better.

Not me. Let me be clear, I’m not talking about those days we parents have from time to time when our children have managed to fray our last nerve before our first cup of coffee is in our bellies. Not every day is perfection and sunshine. That’s okay, but I’m not talking about those rare days. I am talking about discipline. I think my grandmother had it right…I was no angel. I misbehaved about as much as the average kid does. My grandmother rarely smacked me. I remember one time I said something that was really disrespectful, and she smacked me on the shoulder. To this day, I instinctively do not curse around her. Occasionally I will if I feel particularly strongly about something, but she’s like that too. She rarely curses, so when she does, I listen up.

Another time she smacked me was when I took a bunch of school papers with not so stellar grades (okay, okay…they were Fs.) and shoved them under a pine tree along our driveway. One smack on the bottom. Just one. Never hid those failing papers again.

The only time I ever really, and I mean REALLY got my butt whupped, and gosh, this is really, really embarrassing to tell…when I was 15, I left school at dismissal (though I was supposed to be at Mock Trial practice), and began walking. 6 miles later, I met a chain link fence. Took my sneakers off and tucked them in my backpack, then tossed it over the fence and began to climb. Except, I was used to climbing fences in the summer. In bare feet. It was the middle of December. My socks kept slipping, and my feet were COLD. I tearfully knocked on the door of a nearby home (because I grew up in an area where you could knock on someone’s door, ask for help, and not get injured or shot…as long as you knocked, and stood where someone could look out the window and see you), and called my grandparents. I got the butt  beating I deserved. But my tears that night as I cried myself to sleep weren’t in pain. I had run away because I was convinced no one would miss me, that everyone hated me as much as I hated myself. My grandmother told me as I went to go to bed, that my grandfather was so worried that he’d consumed nearly an entire bottle of antacid liquid. Someone cared, and I hurt them, and that was why I cried myself to sleep.

My point is, in my household, things get loud, and I can stand there and say “Let’s take the noise down a notch” until I’m blue in the face. Nothing will change unless I bark out a sharp “Be quiet!”. My girls do not feel fear when I yell, because I am not yelling to instill fear. I yell to get their attention. Want to know what actually affects my kids more than anything? When Mommy cries. I was trying to tell them why they should be thankful for what they have, and relating some experiences in my early childhood when I didn’t have what they have, and when KG asked me if I had three meals every day, I teared up and told her that yes, most days I did, but there were also many days when I didn’t always have an even remotely full belly. Seeing me cry jarred them greatly. My children don’t fear me, and trust me, there are some days when it’s just not a good day for anyone as Casa de Wench, and we all just are not in a good mood, but when I yell, it’s to get their attention, and when I have it, the voice level drops and I talk to them.

Am I not supposed to do that? SG has recently developed…an attitude. She seems to think she’s 13 or something. I don’t yell when she talks back. But last night, I broke up a food fight. Let’s get one thing clear: The Mister and I let them get away with a LOT. But the one cardinal rule in the house is thou shalt not waste thine food. This is Cardinal Rule Numero Uno, mostly thanks to the fact that food is not cheap so stop throwing that cheese at each other, gosh darnit! But it is also partly due to my memories of a time when my mother struggled to keep her kids fed, went hungry so we could eat, and sometimes, was simply not able to guarantee a meal. It happens. Tough times happen to the best of people. SG said to me “But what if we’d thrown just a crumb?”. Yes, dearies, I mentally twitched. But I simply said “Even if it was a crumb. We do not waste food”, and let it go, until later, when I was talking with her in her room, and I laid out the rules: You do not disrespect me, you do not disrespect Daddy or each other, and you don’t give Daddy or I any backtalk. Her response?

“Well, if I have something to say then I’m going to say it and if you don’t like it, oh well.”

What. If I’d said something like that to my grandmother, I think she would have backhanded me across the face.

I knelt down in front of her, looked her in the eye and told her that there is always a polite and respectful way to voice your opinion without being flippant about it. I then cupped her chin gently in my hand so she was looking me in the eye, and said: “Little girl, because yes, you are a little girl. You are 8, and you’re my kind, caring, smart, beautiful little girl…I know what it’s like to be 8, and I know how 8 year-olds work…trust me, I understand what it’s like. But…I was 21 when you were born. That means I have had 21 years more than you to perfect my attitude. If you want to give me attitude and backtalk, go right ahead, because I will give you my 21-years more practiced than yours attitude, and I can promise you that you won’t like it.” 

This article I was reading said that yelling is for the weak. I am not weak. If I were, I would allow my children to walk all over me. I would simply say “Don’t say that” when given a smart-aleck response. I would let the noise level in our tiny house exceed unbearable levels and we’d ALL go crazy. If I have to raise my voice after being ‘quiet’ or ‘polite’ about it to be heard in a household with zillions of distractions, that’s what I am going to do. I know what works with my kids, and maybe not yelling works for you. But it’s not an option in my house. Sometimes, Merry has to yell a bit simply to get the attention of the kids, and then she drops her voice right back down to a normal level.

Except the time I spent 15 hours cleaning their room. A lot of yelling was done that day, but my girls never trembled in fear. The thing that hurt them most was me uncontrollably bursting into tears when I told them how lucky they were to have all the things they had, that not every kid gets a present on Christmas or their birthday. I told them of the one Christmas where I did not get a present, and I told them that it hurt me deeply to see how they’d disrespected their things, taken them for granted by not taking care of their toys.

It was not a pretty day that day. It is not a day I am proud of. And it is a beast for another post.

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